The Vampyre; A Tale (1819)
By: John William Polidori
This is a story about a man, Aubrey, who becomes fascinated with the mysterious Lord Ruthven. They go on trip to Greece where Aubrey falls in love with a local girl, Ianthe. Ianthe is murdered by a creature that Aubrey believes is Lord Ruthven. After the attack, Aubrey falls sick, but Lord Ruthven nurses him back to health. The two journey more, but are attacked by bandits. Lord Ruthven is mortally wounded. His body disappears soon after his death. When Aubrey returns home he finds his sister has been seduced by a mysterious newcomer.
This is story that has not aged well. The descriptions are often confusing and the characters are caricatures. That being said, there are many beautiful descriptions and this sets up many things that appear in vampire literature all the way to the present: their alluring nature, their aristocratic feel, their desire for blood and their cruel manipulations. Funny enough, most of these were carried over from his friend Lord Byron. One of my favorite things in the novel was the mention of how Lord Ruthven causes the women he's involved with to lose their inhibitions. The novella states "his partner, the victim of his guilt, should be hurled from the pinnacle of unsullied virtue down to the lowest abyss of infamy and degradation" and "thrown even the mask aside, and had not scrupled to expose the whole deformity of their vices to the public gaze." Interesting stuff that is rarely used effectively even with today's lascivious vampires.
Our Hero the Wuss
Aubrey is a romantic nobleman who develops a curiosity with Lord Ruthven. Aubrey takes the initiative to investigate the lord and is astonished that he wallows in vices such as gambling and seduction. Aubrey; however, seems to fall into those weird Victorian fits of emotional unhealthiness. He is in this state for over half the novella. We get some nice descriptions of his paranoia, but he goes from zero to bedridden in the space of a paragraph. He could have used some major expansion to his character.
Ianthe appears out of nowhere and dies just as suddenly.
Aubrey's sister doesn't even get a name. She appears and we do get some time to build up affection for her, but then the end of the novel gets pretty strange.
Lord Ruthven could be the most interesting character if we saw more of him. I like the idea of him being manipulative and viceful, but the novel doesn't give us enough time to fear or care about him. Most of the time he is just a mysterious and pretty noble.
Polidori's descriptions shift between being beautiful and being so wordy you have to read them a second time. One might chalk this up to the time period, but Frankenstein was developed at the same time and I do not find it nearly so unreadable. There are a few old and interesting words: a montebank is a person who deceives others usually to get their money and a voluptuary is a person devoted to luxury or sensual pleasure. Voluptuous was a common word back then when describing vampires and it appears several times in Dracula.
In the End
The end is abrupt, but fairly chilling, especially the sense of old time horror it evokes.
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is not a story that has aged well, but it is short. Reading it, including the preface, introduction and letters sections, takes about two hours. That is including rereading some sections. If you like vampire fiction and want to explore its roots this is nice and short, but not required.
And remember it is free for Kindle on Amazon or from Project Gutenburg!