09 September 2011

Book Review: The Vampyre

Title: The Vampyre
Author: John Polidori
Publisher/Year: ?? / 1819
Date Finished: 8 September 2011
Source/Format: B&N / NookBook
Book #: 71

Buy | Borrow | Accept | Avoid

Challenges: Gothic Reading

The Background Information
I just had to share with you guys the awesome story behind this novella. Polidori, the author, was Lord Byron's physician and accompanied him to Lake Geneva. There, the two met up with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Clare Clairmont. Bad weather kept the group indoors, so to pass the time, they - in Decameron-esque fashion - decided to swap ghost stories. The end result? Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and Polidori's The Vampyre (originally attributed to Lord Byron, possibly a marketing ploy).

Oh, and did I mention that this is the first real vampire story (at least in contemporary form). And we all know how damn prevalent those pesky blood suckers have been ever since.

The Short and Sweet of It
Audrey, an innocent, young aristocrat develops a boy-crush on a distant, but intriguing Lord Ruthven. Determined to learn more about the enigmatic man, Audrey accompanies him on his travels. When Audrey discovers Ruthven's plan to compromise a young woman, he foils the plot and leaves Ruthven. But he cannot escape the determined gentlemen so easily.

A Bit of a Ramble
What distinguishes this vampire tale from the ones published prior is the vampire himself. Originally vampires were animalistic creatures with horrible visages, driven by overpowering lust (for blood). Today vampires are suave, intelligent creatures driven by a pressing lust (for blood and sex). Lord Ruthven, Polidori's vampire, is a first incarnation of the contemporary vampire. He is removed, distant, but that lends an air of mystery which the aristocracy, and particularly the ladies, find irresistible. He has "a winning tongue" and is able to seduce when it pleases. And of course, he desires to feed from beautiful, virginal ladies. Yet he remains ruthless. No reluctant drinker here my fellow readers.

Speaking of the ladies, the book directly states a circumstance of romance which has pricked at my mind for ages: the male fascination with the childlike female. Aubrey's love interest is described:
...her innocence, so contrasted with all the affected virtues of the women among whom he had sought for his vision of romance, won his heart...Ianthe was unconscious of his love, and was ever the same frank infantile being he had first known.
This adoration of immaturity has always disturbed me. I can see the appeal described in the first sentence (if interpreted in a specific way). Simplicity (not of the mind, but of lifestyle and pretension) can be very refreshing after spending time amongst schemers. But that interpretation is set on its head when one reads further and hears that Ianthe was a "frank infantile being". Clearly what we are talking about then is Ianthe's childish nature, a lack of knowledge and experience which makes her easily led and almost amusing. I guess I've just never seen how that is attractive. Personally, the idea of dating even a 24 year old gives me chills.

Issues of this nature, however, are reasons I love reading the classics. Not because these issues only exist in the classics, clearly they do not (Bella and Ianthe would probably get along well), but because they lay it out so clearly for us to see, with no subtle suggestion or hidden interpretations; it's just right there on the page. And I do so love how it makes me think.

But back to the story itself. At a mere forty-some-odd pages, this novella still manages to summarize a story. That's right, I said summarize. The style here is that of relating what happened with minimal dialogue and detail. This is a style I find highly efficient even if not particularly entertaining. I would still suggest reading this one, however, both for its significance to such an important genre and because at its heart, it's still a good tale.

This Book Around the Web
If I've missed your review, let me know!

Other Blogger Reviews; Read it Online; Project Gutenberg


  1. I might read this one day solely for the connection to Lord Byron!

  2. I am almost certain I read this one a few years ago. I think I even still have a copy around the house somewhere. I should give it another read. All I remember, or think I remember, is that I enjoyed it.

    Have you tried Varley? It's the first really full-out traditional vampire novel. Publishes as a serial in the mid-19th century. Very pulpy, but fun. I'm slowly listening to it all via libravox.org recordings.

  3. I had no idea that this book was even out there! It sounds so different and interesting, but I do admit that having the main vampire character being attracted to the "infantile being" might wear on me a little bit. This was a lovely review, by the way.

  4. What fun background info! Can you imagine, being stuck weather-bound with a group like that?!!!

  5. I've long wanted to read this because I love Romantic lit (like, the movement, altho I do like romantic things, too). It sounds so over the top, too, which I also love!

  6. I love the back story behind this one. I had heard about the story swapping but didn't realize this book was the product of that.

  7. Oh SWEET LORD! I'm going to have to get my paws on this one -- especially since it's a Nook book. I hope it's super cheap or lendable (wink wink). :D

  8. I like vampires in their raw form -- once you sanitize them and give them too many scruples, you destroy the eerie mystique of it all.

  9. Poor old Polidori. He didn't have a very nice time of it, but at least he left us vampires.

  10. I do enjoy vampire books - real vampire not the sparkely kind (sorry Twilight fans, but that was one of the biggest turn offs in that series.) It's interesting to see how they've evolved through time. I recently attend a convention where there was a panel on vampires, one panellist mentioned she owned over 2000 books on vampires alone. Thanks for the review, going to add thi one to my list.

  11. I believe that Polidori was also the uncle of Christina and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Literary connections abound. Cool, huh?

  12. I'd heard the urban legend about the group getting together to tell scary stories, but the version I heard went something like this: the group set up a challenge to see who could writing the scariest story. I knew Frankenstein was the result of that challenge (or evening, or whatever it was), and I knew that other people had written stories as well, but I'd never looked to see what those other stories were.

    I'm glad to see that someone wrote a vampire story. :)

    The classics do tend to put the sexism right out there in the open, don't they? I like it when books give me something to think about, though. Or at least roll my eyes at.


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