Monday, October 08, 2012

Reader's Diary #877- John Polidori: The Vampyre

I think I've said it here many times before that while I like the idea of vampires, I've yet to find a piece of vampire fiction that really did anything for me.

Still, when I heard the history behind John Polidori's "The Vampyre" I had to give it a shot. First misattributed to Lord Byron in 1819, Polidori is now given his due. The story was born during three rainy summer nights spent Polidori spent with Lord Byron (Polidori was his physician), Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Claire Clairmont. To kill the time, the five shared "fantastical" tales. These fateful evenings lead to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and John Polidori's "The Vampyre."

I'd heard of Frankenstein, of course, but not of "The Vampyre," though it turns out to be a rather important piece of literature. Vampires had existed in folklore before this time, but the classic stylish, aristocratic image is often credited to Polidori. It is certainly one of the earliest known written fiction about the blood-sucking creatures, predating Bram Stoker's Dracula by 78 years (Twilight by 186 years).

But is it any good? It's not half bad. I thought I was in trouble with the first paragraph:
It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. 
Clearly the story shows its age and I wasn't sure I was up to understanding it. Fortunately the old vocabulary and style grew up me quickly and it wasn't too difficult to gather what was going on. What was going on wasn't altogether surprising (though I imagine at the time it would have been), nor scary, but I did enjoy the imagery of the piece, the style of the vampyre. And, like the better vampire stories, I like how such mythical beings seem to say more about us than them. In "The Vampyre" there is something intangibly sinister about the title character, but (perhaps even because of it) people are still drawn to him. Of course, like Eve's attraction to the forbidden fruit, like Pandora and the box, such attractions tend not to turn out so great.

(Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave a link in the comments below.)


1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I wasn't aware of this story either. Kudos to you for making it past that overwhelming opening paragraph.