07 December 2009

Mistaken Identity

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race... (Byron)

"Eight decades before anyone had heard of Dracula, the vampire Lord Ruthven" was unleashed "the world in the first vampire short story, 'The Vampyre,' published in 1819." Initially attributed to Lord Byron, 'The Vampyre' "was an immediate popular success" (Polidori vii). The true author, John Polidori had "accompanied Byron on a continental journey" and modeled his story after that sojourn. Lord Byron became Lord Ruthven, "a mysterious stranger who entered London society" and was eventually revealed to be a vampire.

Described as "the first story successfully to fuse the disparate elements of vampirism into a coherent literary genre", 'The Vampyre' "took the crude entity of European folklore and transformed it into a complex and interesting character, the first vampire in English fiction" (Frayling, Melton 589). The story "exploited the gothic horror predilections of the public" and helped establish a literary fascination that would last centuries (Polidori vii).

In 'The Vampyre', the creature exploded from the folkloric mold. "No longer was the vampire simply a mindless demonic force unleashed on humankind, but a real person--albeit a resurrected one--capable of moving unnoticed in human society and picking and choosing victims. He was not an impersonal evil entity, but a moral degenerate dominated by evil motives, and a subject about whom negative moral judgments were proper" (Melton 589).

In his story, Polidori transforms Lord Byron, the poet, into Lord Ruthven, the vampire, and he transposes the vampiric being from the scapegoat for natural and moral ills to the embodiment of evil. In this case of Polidori's tale, who is the victim of the greatest misidentification? Is it Polidori himself, whose initial glory was usurped by the name of Byron? Is it the romantic poet who was equated with a devilish creature? Or, is it the vampire who was forever transformed into Evil incarnate?

So long,

Byron, George Gordon. "The Giaour."
Frayling, Christopher. Vampyres: Lord Byron to Count Dracula.
Melton, J Gordon. The Vampire Book.
Polidori, John. 'The Vampyre'.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like an interesting story, will have to check it out sometime. Thanks for the fascinating info.