Summary: Aubrey is excited to begin his Grand Tour with the mysterious and charming Lord Ruthven, until he learns his travelling companion is responsible for the seduction and ruin of several respectable young women. He parts company with him in disgust, but soon discovers the situation is worse than he thought; Lord Ruthven matches perfectly the Greek folkloric descriptions of a vampire.
Written as part of the ghost-story contest during which Mary Shelley composed Frankenstein.
Review: Although technically a horror story, John Polidori’s “The Vampyre” does not frighten readers with sudden plot twists or unexpected revelations. Instead, readers experience dread by watching a series of terrible events unfold that they already know must happen but which they can do nothing to stop. This experience mirrors that of the young protagonist Aubrey, who suffers watching as a vampire destroys those he holds dear, thereby allowing a certain degree of sympathy for Aubrey.
Polidori’s version of the vampire—a man who is simultaneously charming yet irrevocably outcast from society, who can calmly calculate and execute cruelties in order to further his self-interests—is in fact a terrible creature. Polidori’s presentation within “The Vampyre” will not raise fear; his story does not sound “real” enough to give any readers nightmares, even in spite of attempts to put them partially in Aubrey’s place. Yet Polidori’s ideas are horrifying and worth some consideration. One might conclude, for instance, that monstrosity is not something that comes with one’s nature, but is instead the choices one makes in reaction to one’s nature. There is certainly no indication within the story that the vampire must seduce and execute young women, only that he must do so if he would like to continue his abnormally long life.
“The Vampyre,” then, is not particularly good entertainment, not if one is in search of a deliciously creepy tale. It is, however, interesting in its portrayal of vampires, both within the work itself and because the story exercised a significant influence over later depictions of vampires. Best read by those looking to learn more about the Gothic genre or the origins of vampires, and not by those seeking thrills.