I’ll go ahead and say it: Lord Ruthven makes Edward Cullen look like a moody punk.
Lord Ruthven is the suave star of The Vampyre, by Dr. John W. Polidori, published in 1819. An early (and now fragile) edition of the The Vampyre is housed in Milner Library’s Special Collections and Rare Books unit.
The Vampyre is believed to be the first English-language vampire tale, predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by almost 80 years (and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight by 186 years). It was hardly the first story told about a blood-sucker, but the move from disgusting monster to handsome monster was innovative, said Mark Schmitt ’96, who works in Special Collections and Rare Books at Milner.
“It puts an aristocrat in the role of vampire, feeding on people of his own class,” said Schmitt. “It’s the first instance of what you imagine a vampire (in popular culture today) to be.”
“It’s the dinner-jacket-wearing elegant vampire,” adds Maureen Brunsdale, also with Special Collections.
The plot moves rather quickly in the relatively short story. An orphan turned gentleman named Aubrey befriends the handsome and popular Lord Ruthven, who has an almost supernatural way with the ladies. They go traveling across Europe, where Aubrey sees Ruthven “die” but is asked by Ruthven to keep it a secret for a year. Ruthven then shows up again, seduces Aubrey’s sister, and Aubrey goes mad.
The story ends: “But when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared, and Aubrey’s sister had glutted the thirst of a vampyre.” So much for good conquers evil.
The Vampyre has a shared history with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. During a rainy trip together in 1816, the famed British poet Lord Byron suggested that his companions, who included Shelley and Byron’s physician-companion, Polidori, come up with scary, supernatural stories. Frankenstein was born, and so was The Vampyre, which was loosely built on an idea from Byron himself.
In fact, Byron was incorrectly credited with The Vampyre on and off for years. After protests were made about the authorship, the story was sold to Sherwood, Neely and Jones, which published the second edition. Milner Library bought that version of The Vampyre in 1970.
Ryan Denham can be reached at email@example.com.