Friday, 26 July 2013

Book: The Vampyre; a Tale by John William Polidori

Often wrongly attributed to Lord Byron rather than to its true author, Polidori. Due to the short length of the story, there will be spoilers in the following review.

The Vampyr follows Aubrey on his trip to Rome with a mysterious English gentleman named Lord Ruthven, but when Ruthven seduces the daughter of a mutual acquaintance Aubrey parts ways with Ruthven and travels to Greece. While there he meets, and becomes infatuated with Ianthe, the daughter of an inn-keeper, who tells him legends about vampires. One night Ianthe is found dead of a vampire bite, and shortly after, and unsuspecting Aubrey resumes his travels with Ruthven. Ruthven is shot and subsequently dies, causing Aubrey to be shocked when he sees him alive and well upon his return to England. Aubrey is held by oath that he would not reveal the truth of Ruthven's passing, and so when he and Aubrey's sister become engaged he is helpless to do anything. Eventually he pens a letter revealing the truth about Ruthven, and then dies. On the morning after their wedding night, Aubrey's sister is found drained of blood and Ruthven is nowhere to be seen.

Link to Goodreads
Link to amazon

Often hailed as the start of the gothic literature trend, it is easy to see how the legend of the vampire, or vampyre, grew from this point. Here is the classic vampire that prays on virgins and virtuous women, and yet everyone is unsuspecting of his true nature. As with the later, though better well known Dracula, the vampire present in the story is a Lord, and so can be seen as in a position of power comparatively to other characters.

As with many short stories of this era, the writing can become a bit ponderous and confusing at times, leaving you a little unaware of exactly what is going on, but once events really start rolling it starts to get clearer and more understandable.

Again, as with many books and stories of this era, the characters all seem to be distanced from the narrative, there is no sense of feeling what they feel or reading what they think, and actually very few characters have anything really revealed about them, not even their full names. This isn't something I tend to enjoy in the books that I read, though in this case it is understandable because of the genre, and the era when it was written, that was the acceptable style at the time.

I enjoy, and choose, to read gothic fiction because of the horror part of the genre, there are no sparkly vampires here, they are scary and dangerous creatures not to be messed with, and tend to only be defeated through teamwork and bravery, some of the best human traits. What I found interesting with this tale was that there was no plan to defeat the vampire, and in the end he got away, that is very different from the gothic vampires I have previously read about.

Something else that I liked about it was the bravery that Ianthe was shown to have. Normally the women in gothic literature are helpless creatures that need to be saved, whereas in this story Ianthe was doing the saving by calling the vampire away from Aubrey and getting herself killed in the process. As I mentioned, this seems to be unusual for the genre and I only wish that more emphasis had been put on her part in the events.