Vampyre cover

Title page of John Polidori's "The Vampyre," originally attributed to Lord Bryon.

John William Polidori wrote "The Vampyre" in the summer 1816, and the story was published in 1819, at first attributed to Lord Byron.[1] The story features the first depiction of an aristocratic vampire, initiating the use of a romantic vampire character.

Characters Edit

Lord Ruthven :


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The character of Lord Ruthven, in the story “The Vampyre,” is thought to be based on Lord Byron. Lord Byron, the well-known British poet, was very influential in the Romantic literary movement.[2] Byron was criticized for having numerous love affairs throughout his life with women and men.[2] Polidori used Ruthven to portray Lord Byron to show his way of life and to paint how society saw Byron. They saw him as a life sucking person described by Polidori and other women that he had been with him in the past.[3] They described him as having a power that would obstruct their own identities and having a voice of evil.[3]  Ruthven was portrayed as a romantic vampire that would catch the attention of people. What made him stand out was his appearance as the story describes him as having a “deadly Hue to his face “and having “piercing eyes” that would pierce through someone’s heart.[4] Ruthvens eyes where “dead grey” and he had a hard time interacting with people in society even though he would be invited to many gatherings. He was considered in an outsider as he looked different and stood out from others. Even Aubrey’s guardians thought that Ruthven was evil, as they describe his character as “dreadfully vicious” and dangerous to society. The guardians try to warn Aubrey to leave his companion.[4] Ianthe, the woman Aubrey falls in love with, tells Aubrey a legend of vampires whichaccurately describes Lord Ruthven.  But in this story standing out and looking different attracted the women as It states in the story “form and outline of his face was beautiful” and women wanted his attention and affection.[4] Throughout the story of “The Vampyre” Ruthven tries to engage with women where the character Aubrey stops him from engaging with these women. Aubrey suspected that Ruthven had killed Ianthe due to her telling Aubrey the tale of a vampire. Ruthven was shot and killed before the truth could be revealed. Lord Ruthven was evil and able to come back to life to charm Aubreys sister and to kill her as well. 



"He was an orphan left with an only sister in the possession of great wealth, by parents who died while he was yet in childhood." (Polidori 1819) The family had arranged some guardians to look after things, but they focused on managing the money over caring for Aubrey's development. He was curious of the world but lacked a solid understanding of how it works. So he idealized it and believed that everyone lived by high standards of ethics. He would believe everything anyone said or wrote. Due to his wealth, looks and romanticized outlook, many people enjoyed his company and he was welcomed into elite circles. Women were happy to feed him lies to boost his confidence and keep up his idealized view of the world. During his many hours of reading stories about adventures around the world, his desire to be one of the explorers grew, which resulted in his choice to travel with the fascinating, Lord Ruthven. It was common for young, wealthy people in that time to do a grand tour to see the world and experiment before returning to society as an adult.[5]

During their travels Aubrey would notice more and more quirks in Lord Ruthven's character.[6] Aubrey to begin with knew very little about him, still he agreed to travel with the mysterious Lord. He began to notice that much of what he did was not exactly in line with his own morals. According to Jeffery Cohen's Monster Culture: Seven theses (1996) "The same creatures who terrify and interdict can evoke potent escapist fantasies; the linking of monstrosity with the forbidden makes the monster all the more appealing as a temporary egress from constraint." This describes well how Aubrey ended up on a trip with Lord Ruthven and stayed with him until the point where it was clear that he truly was a monster and lives were in danger. He was quick to speak up against the Lord when he questioned his intentions with Ianthe due to his focus on ideals of honor and honesty. 

Aubrey, the storyteller of this tale, draws parallels to how Polidori traveled with Lord Byron as his physician while what he really wanted to do was be a writer. He wished to be a poet, so he made 'his' character be a dreamer.[3] The author and Aubrey share a desire to explore the world; Polidori to write about it and Aubrey to see it.


When Aubrey visits Greece, he lived with a Greek family in order to continue his studies of Greek genealogies. Here, he meets Ianthe, “a being, so beautiful and delicate, that she might have formed the model for a painter wishing to portray…Mahomet’s paradise” (Polidori 1819). Ianthe, the daughter of the Greek man with whom Aubrey is staying, is stunningly beautiful, charming, and endearing. Her grace and innocence captivate Aubrey, often distracting him from his study of ancient literature. Her liveliness and innocence reflect her upbringing as an undeducated Greek girl, as she was free from the balls and constraints of English society. She is described with words of light and beauty, often compared to ancient figures of beauty like sylphs and nymphs. It is from Ianthe that Aubrey first hears the tale of the vampyre, a creature who achieved immortality by “feeding upon the life of a lovely female to prolong his existence” (Polidori 1819). While Aubrey is shocked to hear how closely his companion Lord Ruthven] fits the description of such a creature, he ignores the signs. Ianthe’s warning goes unheeded due to her beauty and charm. Unsurprisingly, Aubrey falls in love with Ianthe. One night, as Aubrey returns too late from his studies of Greek antiquity in an eerie forest, he hears a woman’s scream. It is Ianthe, attacked by an unseen assailant “whose strength seemed superhuman” (Polidori 1819). Upon her throat, Aubrey finds teeth marks – and it is revealed that Ianthe has been killed by the vampyre. Ianthe’s parents die broken-hearted, and Aubrey himself is taken ill by the horror of his belief that it is Lord Ruthven who has killed Ianthe. After Ianthe’s death, Lord Ruthven suddenly appears much rejuvenated, and the reader knows that he must indeed be the fearsome and loathed vampyre which Ianthe had warned Aubrey. Ianthe joins the the innocent murdered by the undead villain of her own myths. And yet, like John Cohen writes, while we see “the damage that the monster wreaks, the material remains…the monster itself turns immaterial and vanishes.” The fear of innocence overcome by an inescapable evil dominates vampire folklore.

Polidori's influence extended to the most famous of vampire novels, Bram Stoker's Dracula. Ianthe joins Aubrey, Lord Ruthven, and Miss Aubrey as inspirations for characters in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Lord Ruthven and Aubrey inspired the relationship between Dracula and Harker, Miss Aubrey mirrors Harker’s wife, and Ianthe inspired Lucy Westenra, as is described in the article Polidori & the Vampyre.

Miss Aubrey (Aubrey's Sister)

Aubrey’s sister has a small, but pivotal part in The Vampyre. She is 18, younger than Aubrey, and described as a person who “had not that winning grace which gains the gaze and applause of the drawing-room assemblies” (Polidori 1819)[4]. When Aubrey returns to London, after having vowed not to speak about the death of Lord Ruthven for a year and a day, he finds his sister conversing the Lord himself. Aubrey recognizes Lord Ruthven at a party and realized that the Lord must be a Vampyre, a monster who now hid among Aubrey’s friends and family. A combination of the inability to reveal his secret and being haunted by Lord Ruthven led to Aubrey’s nerves collapsing, and he only found solice in his sister’s company. He sought to warn her and protect her, but was unable to tell her who she must be careful around or why. His sister worries about his health, and also seeks to protect and help him in any way. She warns him not to return to the society which hurt him this way, and continues to visit him hoping he will get better. Though little is said about her, the context she is given shows Aubrey's sister to be a very gentle, kind-hearted lady who, although not dazzling to society, is loving and innocent.

While Aubrey lies suffering from poor mental health, his sister is courted by the Lord, under the guise of the Earl of Marsden, and the two get engaged. When Aubrey heard of this, he is at first joyous, but when he recognized Lord Ruthven in the picture of the groom his sister shows him, “he bade her swear that she would never wed this monster, for he—— But he could not advance—it seemed as if that voice again bade him remember his oath—he turned suddenly round, thinking Lord Ruthven was near him but saw no one” (Polidori 1819) . His sister winds up marrying the Vampyre, and when Aubrey is finally able to confess Lord Ruthven’s monstrous truth to his servants, they are unable to save her in time, and she is turned into a Vampyre. 

Polidori gained much inspiration for The Vampyre from his real life acquaintance Lord Byron. He especially drew influence from Glenarvon, a story written by Lady Caroline Lamb, who had been in a relationship with Lord Byron. The story was largely based off this relationship, and the cold deceptiveness of Byron. Another former lover described him as having “such a voice as the devil tempted Eve with; you feared its fascination the moment you heard it”[3].Byron was known as someone who could weigh his personality over others, who seemed to suck the life from anyone around him. He is the inspiration for Lord Ruthven, the vampire. Because of this, and Polidori’s influence from Glenarvon, it would make sense that Aubrey’s sister is meant to represent the women who fell for Byron’s charms. She may even represent Lady Caroline herself.

Polidori also wanted to emphasize the cruelty and heartlessness of the vampire. Aubrey’s sister is written as so young,innocent and sweet so that her being turned into a vampire is seen as cruel and unfair. On top of that, her entire role in the story is centered around Aubrey's attempts to protect her, so when his attempts fail and she becomes a vampyre, the tragedy is even stronger than if he had had no chance to save her. This tactic continues to be employed in vampire stories- typically there are kind, often female characters who become victims of the vampire to emphasize the cruelty of the monster. An example of this is Ellen in Nosferatu, who sacrifices herself to destroy the vampire[7]. The death of innocence often portrays the cruelty of the killer best, so it is likely Polidori used Aubrey's sister as a way to emphasize the evil of the vampyre- which is also the evil of Lord Byron.

Synopsis / Plot Edit

Aubrey, a young gentleman of London, meets a nobleman in London known as Lord Ruthven. Intrigued by Ruthven, Aubrey follows the lord to Rome. However, as Aubrey gets to know Ruthven, he finds that the lord has vices and determines that he will not continue traveling with Ruthven. Before leaving this lord alone, however, he prevents him from meeting with a young Italian woman whom he does not intend on marrying.

After Aubrey leaves Rome, he goes to Greece and meets a beautiful, nymph-like woman named Ianthe. He falls in love with her, and she warns him of "the living vampyre"[4] from tales she has heard when she was young. Aubrey shows disbelief, and "she begged of him to believe her, for it had been remarked, that those who had dared to question their existence, always had some proof given, which obliged them, with grief and heartbreaking, to confess it was true."[4]

The next night, Aubrey finds Ianthe dead in a hovel. Lord Ruthven is there, and not connecting him to the murder, Aubrey continues to travel with Ruthven. During this traveling, Ruthven is shot in the shoulder by robbers and seemingly dies. Before he is dead, Ruthven makes Aubrey promise not to tell those in London of his death for one year and one day.

However, when Aubrey returns to London, Ruthven is there, alive and courting Aubrey's sister. Aubrey falls ill – a nervous condition – and writes a letter to his sister to let her know the truth about Ruthven, that he is undead. The letter does not arrive in time, though, and Ruthven marries Aubrey's sister. On the wedding night, Aubrey dies after breaking a blood vessel and Aubrey's sister is found dead: "it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared, and Aubrey's sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!"[4]

(This text, referenced below, is available online through the Project Gutenberg website.)

References Edit

  1. Andrew McConnell Stott’s “The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire” on The Public Domain Review
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 John Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1819)
  7. F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922)

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