"The Vampyre; A Tale" is a short work of fantasy horror fiction by the English writer and physician John William Polidori. It was first published on April 1, 1819 in The New Monthly Magazine, in which it was incorrectly attributed to Lord Byron. It was first published in book form later the same year, again initially attributed to Byron. The mistake was rectified on the cover of later editions.
Polidori wrote the story in June 1816 while staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland with Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary W. Shelley. 1816 became known in Europe as The Year Without a Summer, the consequence of the eruption of Mount Tambora in present-day Indonesia in 1815. To pass the time during the exceptionally rainy weather, the occupants of the Villa Dioodati read ghost stories to each other and then decided that they would each write a ghost story of their own, holding a competition to see who could write the best one. For the competition, Mary Shelley wrote the work that would later be expanded and published as Frankenstein. Lord Byron began writing a supernatural tale that he abandoned. The unfinished work would be published without Byron's permission in 1819 as "A Fragment". Polidori adapted and expanded upon Byron's unfinished work in order to write "The Vampyre".
The story concerns a nobleman known as Lord Ruthven who attracts the attention of London society because of his unusual appearance and personality. Lord Ruthven appears to be incapable of taking part in any kind of entertainment and seems to be singularly detached from everything and everyone that surrounds him. Due to his strangeness alone, he attracts the attention of some women who are notorious for their affairs, although he appears to prefer the company of virtuous women. A young man known only as Aubrey, an orphan whose only surviving relative is a sister, becomes especially fascinated by Lord Ruthven. In return, Lord Ruthven appears to take a liking to Aubrey and allows the young man to accompany him on a tour of Europe. While he is in Italy, Aubrey finds out that all of the virtuous women that Lord Ruthven knew in England have now admitted to scandalous behavior. Aware that Lord Ruthven also plans to seduce and then abandon a young Italian noblewoman, Aubrey decides to leave his company and travels alone to Greece. There he falls in love with a young woman named Ianthe. She tells him tales of vampires who must drain a young woman of her blood once a year in order to stay alive. Against Ianthe's wishes, Aubrey visits a forest that is said to be haunted by vampires. Seeking refuge during a stormy night, Aubrey hears a woman's cries and laughter coming from a hut. After a brief struggle with Aubrey, the occupant of the hut gets away. Ianthe's lifeless body is found there soon afterwards. The experience leaves Aubrey severely weakened. Lord Ruthven then reappears and cares for his friend. When Aubrey recovers, they continue their travels in Greece together. Lord Ruthven is killed by bandits. Before he dies, he makes Aubrey swear that he will say nothing about his death for a year and a day. When Aubrey returns to England, he finds Lord Ruthven there alive. Convinced that Lord Ruthven is a dangerous monster, Aubrey tries to warn others of the threat he poses but finds himself somehow unable to speak about him.
"the Vampyre" is widely considered to be the first work of modern vampire fiction. It is the first story to include a vampire character who can pass in society as an ordinary human and who can pass in polite society as a sophisticated but melancholy aristocrat. As the first work of its kind, it was enormously influential on Sheridan Le Fanu's 1872 novella Carmilla and Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula. As the first work of a literature to feature what many people would recognize as typical vampire, "The Vampyre" continues to influence the horror and fantasy genres directly and indirectly to this day. Polidori's "The Vampyre" has itself been adapted for the stage and screen.
Lord Ruthven is an unusual man. He always looks pale. He is unusually aloof and pays little attention to objects that surround him. While other people are enjoying themselves, he looks on without displaying any emotion. When women laugh, one glance from Lord Ruthven stops them. In spite of his peculiarities, or rather because of them, Lord Ruthven becomes very popular in London's high society and is invited to all the best parties. Some women who are notorious for the many affairs they have had make advances towards him. Lord Ruthven, however, prefers the company of famously virtuous women.
A young man referred to only as Aubrey arrives in London. Both of his parents died while he was still a boy. His only living relative is a younger sister, referred to only as Miss Aubrey. Aubrey's legal guardians were only interested in looking after his money and he has been largely self-educated. He comes to believe that the world is essentially a good place and doubts that suffering and wickedness really exist.
Aubrey becomes fascinated by Lord Ruthven and tries to befriend him. After Aubrey finds out that Lord Ruthven is planning to go on a journey, he gess his guardians permission to go on an extended tour of Europe, something that was considered an essential part of a wealthy young Englishman's education at the time at which the story takes place. Aubrey tells Lord Ruthven of his intentions to tracel around Europe. The young man is pleasantly surprised when Lord Ruthven says he can accompany him on his upcoming tour of the continent.
After they leave England, Aubrey finds out more about Lord Ruthven's character. Lord Ruthven always gives generously to beggars. It is clear, however, that he dislikes giving money to virtuous people and enjoys giving it to those who freely admit they will spend the money on, for example, alcohol or prostitutes. Unfortunately, all people who receive money from Lord Ruthven are sentenced to death or sink further into misery soon afterwards. Lord Ruthven enjoys playing cards for money. When he plays against a "youthful novice" or a "luckless father of a large family", he always takes all the money they have. Lord Ruthven never keeps any of the money he wins at cards, however, because he also plays against experienced gamblers and always loses when he does. Aubrey receives letters from England in which he is told that all the virtuous women that Lord Ruthven knew in England are now considered to be whores.
In Rome, Lord Ruthven courts the daughter of an Italian countess. When Aubrey finds out that Lord Ruthven plans to seduce the young woman and then abandon her, he decides to part company with him. Aubrey writes to the countess and warns her of Lord Ruthven's intentions rowards her daughter. Lord Ruthven is prevented from seeing the young woman again.
Leaving Italy, Aubrey travels to Greece where he enjoys studying the ancient monuments. He stays at a house in Athens that is also home to a young woman named Ianthe with whom he falls in love. Ianthe tells Aubrey many stories that she learned in her childhood, including the legend of the vampire. According to Ianthe, vampires live long lives but have to feed on the blood of a beautiful young woman once a year in order to stay alive for another twelve months. Ianthe is offended when Aubrey laughs at her story. She insists that vampires are real and says that people who have scoffed at the idea of their existence have always had good reason to believe in them later. Ianthe's parents later say that they firmly believe in vampires too. Ianthe gives a physical description of a vampire, which troubles Aubrey because it matches the description of Lord Ruthven exactly.
Aubrey plans an excursion that will take him through a forest where no Greek will go at night because vampires are said to haunt it. To reassure Ianthe and her parents, Aubrey promises to come home before it gets dark. he gets distracted by his study of ancient monuments, however, and does not notice that the sun is setting. It is dark by the time he is in the forest and a heavy rainstorm starts. Seeking refuge from the storm, Aubrey finds a hut. He hears a woman's scream and a mocking laugh comin g from inside it. He forces the door open. Aubrey cannot see anything inside the hut because it is completely dark. After a brief struggle, an incredibly strong man forces Aubrey to the ground and begins to throttle him. Some people carrying torches, looking for the missing Ianthe, arrive. Aubrey's attacker flees. At Aubrey's insistence, they search the hut for the woman whose scream he heard. They find Ianthe dead with bite marks on her neck. They declare it to be the work of a vampire. Aubrey is carried home, along with Ianthe's body. Both of her parents die of grief soon afterwards. Aubrey finds that he has taken an unusually shaped dagger out of the hut with him.
The weakened Aubrey becomes ill with a fever. Lord Ruthven arrives in Athens and nurses him back to health. Aubrey not wanting to stay in Athens any longer, the two men decide to continue traveling around Greece together.
The two travelers hear many stories of bandits. They think the locals are only telling such tales so that they will be hired as bodyguards. Unfortunately, the stories turn out to be true. Aubrey and Lord Ruthven are attacked while traveling through a narrow mountain pass. Lord Ruthven is wounded by a gunshot. In exchange for money, the same robbers who attacked them are persuaded to shelter Aubrey and his wounded companion.
As he lies dying, Lord Ruthven says to Aubrey, "Swear by all your soul reveres, n=by all your nature fears, swear that for a year and a day you will not impart your knowledge of my crimes or my death to any living being in any way, whatever may happen, or whatever you may see." Aubrey takes the oath. Lord Ruthven laughs before he dies.
Lord Ruthven had made the robbers promise to put his dead body on the top of a small mountain so that the first ray of moonlight would touch it on the night following his death. Aubrey goes to the top of the mountain and finds that the body has gone.
Aubrey examines the late Lord Ruthven's belongings. He finds several unusually shaped daggers. He finds a sheath with a design that matches that of the strangely shaped dagger he took from the hut. He finds the unusually shaped dagger fits the sheath exactly.
While passing through Rome on his way back to England, Aubrey finds out that the young woman Lord Ruthven planned to seduce has disappeared and her family fortune has gone.
By the time Aubrey returns to England, his younger sister is 18-years-okd and is ready to be presented to society. At the first party that Aubrey attends with her, he hears Lord Ruthven's voice say, "Remember your oath." He sees Lord Ruthven in front of him and flees in terror. Aubrey comes to believe that he must have imagined what he saw. He tries to make inquiries about Lord Ruthven but finds he is unable to say the name. At the next party he attends, Aubrey again hears the voice say, "Remember your oath." He does not wait to see if Lord Ruthven is there. He leaves at once and takes his sister with him.
Aubrey is certain that Lord ruthven has returned from the dead and is a vampire. He thinks of nothing else. He finds the oath he has taken prevents hin from warning anyone about Lord Ruthven. He is also aware that nobody would believe him if he could break his oath. He thinks of killing Lord Ruthven himself but decides it would be futile since he has already come back from the dead once. Aubrey stays in his bedroom for days. When he can no longer stand to remain indoors, he takes to wandering all day. In time, he does not even return home to sleep but just lies down wherever he is whenever he feels tired. His appearance changes beyond recognition. Eventually, Aubrey decides to reenter society to try to warn his friends about Lord Ruthven. Due to his strange appearance, however, Aubrey's sister asks him not to accompany her to any more parties. Although he ignores her pleas, Aubrey's guardians think he is going mad and keep him at home.
A doctor is employed to look after Aubrey full time. The distracted Aubrey barely notices him. The only person he seems to recognize is his sister. He says to her, "Oh, do not touch him.-if your love for me is aught do not go near him!" He is unable yo say who the man he is talking about is. Aubrey is sometimes seen counting on his fingers and smiling. He is happy because the year and a day during which he swore to be silent is almost at an end.
On the last day of the year, Aubrey suddenly seems to almost return to normal when he hears his doctor and his guardians talk about his sister's upcoming wedding. They tell him that his sister is to marry the Earl of Marsden, a name he thinks he recognizes, although they do not tell him when the wedding will be. Aubrey's sister arrives. She has a locket around her neck. Aubrey opens it and sees a picture of Lord Ruthven. He destroys it. Miss Aubrey asks why he did that to a picture of her future husband. Aubrey tries to make his sister promise not to marry Lord Ruthven but cannot explain why.
Lord Ruthven had heard of Aubrey's ill health and rightly assumed he was the cause of it. He was delighted to find out Aubrey was considered to be insane. Presenting himself as a good friend of her brother, he took the opportunity to woo Miss Aubrey.
Although he is unable to say what he knows to his sister, Aubrey is able to write a letter warning her. Aubrey's doctor, however, thinks it is best if the letter is not passed on to her.
From the sounds of preparations he hears, Aubrey knows it is his sister's wedding day. He is able to make his way to the part of the house where the wedding ceremony is to be held. he is so angry that he bursts a blood vessel. Lord Ruthven again reminds him of his oath and tells him that his sister will be dishonored if the wedding does not go ahead. Aubrey is taken away. Miss Aubrey and Lord Ruthven are married.
Midnight comes. The year and a day are over and Aubrey is able to tell his guardians everything he knows. he dies immediately afterwards. The story ends with the words, ""the guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared and Aubrey's sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!"
John William Polidori's "The Vampyre" was adapted by the French author Cyprien Bérard as the novel Lord Ruthven ou les vampires, first published in 1820. The same year, Bérard's novel was adapted for the stage by the French playwright Charles Nodier as Le Vampire. Nodier's play was in turn adapted by other European dramatists. The German playwright Heinrich Ludwig Ritter adapted it as Der Vampir oder die Totenbrait. Ritter's play inspired two different German operas. Der Vampyr, with music by Heinrich Marschner, was first performed in Leipzig on March 29, 1828. Der Vampyr, with music by Peter Josef von Lindpainter, was first performed in Stuttgart on September 21, 1828. Charles Noduer's play was adapted by the British dramatist James Planché as The Vampire, or The Bride of the Isles, first performed at the Lyceum Theatre in London in 1820, Planché's play and other melodramas of its kind are satirized in Gilbert and Sullivan's 1887 comic opera Ruddigore, in which a character named Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd has to commit a crime every day.
Polidori's The Vampyre was loosely adapted as the 1945 American horror film The Vampire's Ghost, starring John Abbott, Charles Gordon and Peggy Stewart, in which the setting is changed from England and Greece to Africa.
A new film adaptation of The Vampyre is scheduled for release in October 2021.
Heinrich Marschner's opera was adapted for British television as the miniseries The Vampyr: A Soap Opera, the first episode of which first aired on BBC 2 on December 29, 1992. The miniseries is set in present-day London and concerns Ripley (equivalent to Lord Ruthven), a successful businessman who, inknown to his associates, is really a vampire who has recently returned to life after being frozen for two hundred years.
Lord Ruthven appears as a character in the British author Kim Newman's 1992 novel Anno Dracula and its sequels. The world of Anno Dracula is one in which, after defeating and killing Abraham van Helsing, Count Dracula goes on to become King of England. Lord Ruthven serves as Prime Minister from the late 19th century until he is replaced by Winston Churchill in 1940. He is Prime Minister again from 1945 to 1956 and is set to take other the position from Margaret Thatcher in the 1990s.
- The name Lord Ruthven had previously been used in the 1816 novel Glenarbon by Lady Caroline Lamb in which it is the name of a character obviously based on Lord Byron.
- Text of John William Polidori's "The Vampyre" on Wikisource.
- Public domain audiobook of "The Vampyre" on YouTube.