Accompanying episode of The FrankenPod : John Polidori and the Infinite Sadness
The Vampyre is one of those novels that has no chance of living up to its legacy. The fraternal twin of that famous ghost story competition that birthed Frankenstein, The Vampyre had a lot to live up to purely based on its genesis. John Polidori published the tragic tale of the Aubrey family and the monster that plagues them in 1819. The much-maligned novel is not as awful as many Byron scholars would have you believe, but it is a just proto-vampire narrative to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and its ilk. There is certainly much to be said for this short story which I can’t help but feel would have had lower expectations to strive for if it did not have the origin story it did, and might have been critiqued more charitably. Or simply forgotten.
What’s in a Name?
We don’t really come to care all that much about the characters, save possibly Aubrey. Lord Ruthven is suitably inaccessible and mysterious which is an excellent choice for a vampire that would be much more effective if Polidori had taken the time to juxtapose the removed otherness of the Lord with more fleshed out mortal characters. Unfortunately, we only get a cursory insight into many of the characters, and all except the damsel figure Ianthe are not given a first name. It’s a small omission but it sure makes a difference
The true origin of Polidori’s The Vampyre does not take place in Polidori’s room at the Villa Diodati but rather, Lord Byron as part of the ghost story challenge penned the discarded fragment that Polidori would then build on to create the predatory Lord Ruthven. When The Vampyre was mistakenly attributed to Byron, Byron published the fragment as a way to explain the confusion and distance himself from a story that he was embarrassed to have associated with his literary “genius”.
The Byronic Vampyre
The most interesting reading of Polidori’s narrative is the often alluded to in the reading of the text as a vengeful satire of Polidori’s cruel employer, notorious celebrity poet and letch, Lord Byron. Polidori watched Byron’s sexual exploits throughout his time as his consulting physician on his grand tour. For a less confident young man with substantially less social capital, it must have been at best annoying and frustrating. Polidori decided to render his vision of Byron as a kind of predatory parasite that drains the life from people, who seem oblivious to his evil machinations. The legacy of Polidori’s short story is the aristocratic, Byronic, vampire which would become standard in vampire fiction for many years to come.
So can I link The Vampyre to Frankenstein?
This was a tricky one. I didn’t want to go the route of the monster because I feel we’ve trod that territory so frequently that the land has become barren and infertile, so we will rest that particular section of land until it is capable of yielding a harvest.
This metaphor is OUT OF CONTROL.
Can we talk about the trope of the bride being killed by a monster on her wedding night instead? In the case of Frankenstein, Elizabeth is killed by the Creature her husband brings to life. In The Vampyre Miss Aubrey, who is presumably Lady Ruthven at this point, is killed by her husband. There is an uncomfortable lack of identity for Miss Aubrey, as she never truly exists outside of her relationships with first her brother, then Lord Ruthven. She has no name of her own. Elizabeth certainly had an identity even if her agency is crushed by the consequences of Victor’s hubris. But these dissimilar brides experience a similar fate. There is probably a whole rabbit hole we could go down about the fear of female sexuality and male commitment… but that is for another time I think.