REVIEW: The Vampyre (1819)

A story by John William Polidori

The story, misattributed to Lord Byron

Continuing on with my look at classic vampire literature, I decided to get into one of the many “firsts” of the genre – namely the first book in English published about vampires. You can argue there were others, considering there were poems and short blurbs going back another century, but The Vampyre was the first book that went out to specifically be about vampires. Polidori’s vampire, Lord Ruthven, is inspired by Lord Byron himself apparently, so its interesting to wonder how the dynamic between these two guys went considering he made a character about a predatory noblemen that steals the desire of women he comes across. It’s also interesting to not that this story is based on an unfinished story by Byron himself called “A Fragment”.

A young English gentleman of means, Aubrey is immediately intrigued by Lord Ruthven, the mysterious newcomer among society’s elite. His unknown origin and curious behavior tantalizes Aubrey’s imagination. But the young man soon discovers a sinister character hidden behind his new friend’s glamorous facade.

This is a short read, but dear Gods did it take me forever to get through. In my honest opinion, Polidori is one of the masters of what is called “Purple Prose“. I know this will likely ruffle some feathers of those that enjoy this style of writing, but I found this insanely hard to just skim around and read Wikipedia instead. There are entire paragraphs where Polidori describes something that could have easily been one well-constructed sentence. The mere twenty pages of this seem to take forever, as you keep reading, not certain you understood one word of what you just read. Things that should have been riveting, even exciting, have the soul ripped entirely out of them until you are left with a pile of pretentious meanderings. While I respect this story for what it is, I can see why Polidori did not have much of a writing career in terms of fiction. I’m sure his medical books were top-notch at the time – something that would warrant his verbose style.

I can’t say I was a fan of this, to be honest, but its cool to have read it. In many ways, I think the story behind this work is better and more interesting than the actual work itself seeing that this was part of the very same “meeting” wherein Lord Byron and all his writer friends tried to come up with scary stories – which resulted in Mary Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein. Next up, I plan to read the basis for the story, Byron’s A Fragment.

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