The Vampyre: A Tale by John William Polidori
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The history of this short story might be even more intriguing than the actual writing itself. Mr. Polidori was the personal physician of the infamous Lord Byron, and this work of fiction was conceived on that famous holiday event in which Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin (who would later become Mary Shelley) issued a challenge to each other to write Gothic stories. This was Mr. Polidori's result.
I have little doubt that Lord Ruthven was inspired by Lord Byron. Polidori's feelings towards his debauched past employer are quite clear. In this case, Lord Ruthven has a supernatural ability to ruin, damage, and destroy anything he lays his hands on, and enjoys doing so in the process. This does not speak well of Lord Byron, and based of what I have read of him, I can see some echoes of him in this character. Lord Caroline Lamb, the incredibly outrageous for her times, cast-off mistress of Byron is immortalized in a character who appears briefly in the beginning of the story, at least in my opinion.
As far as the writing, I didn't feel that it was particularly inspired or brilliant. This short story is all telling and little showing. This created a distance between the characters in this story and myself. It was hard to feel much sympathy for Aubrey, his sister Miss Aubrey, Ianthe, or anyone else because the narrative was too much like a bland newspaper article, with little connection to the intense emotions of the persons involved. I had a distant feeling of dislike and disgust for Lord Ruthven, which with more active, vivid writing could have been outright disgust. That is a sadly wasted opportunity for a writer, in my opinion.
It's hard to say much overall about this story. It wasn't bad. I can't say I was disappointed, because I didn't have high expectations. Regardless of the issues as far as the writing, Mr. Polidori has earned his place in the vampire fiction canon. Sadly, he lived a short, disappointing (to himself) life. Although he could not be aware of the famous status of this story, it is some comfort to me that he has created something that endured two hundred years later. For that I will respect and appreciate The Vampyre. And also for its commentary of Lord Byron, a man whose antics pretty much created its own character archetype in literature, the Byronic hero. Admittedly in this case, there is nothing at all to recommend Lord Ruthven. Lord Byron himself, I cannot say yay or nay to that question.
End verdict: Any vampire fiction aficionado should take the opportunity to read this story at least for its historical value.
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