The vampire (Polidori)

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Der Vampyr , German first translation, Verlag Leopold Voss, Leipzig 1819, still with the wrong subtitling by Lord Byron as the author
First English edition, Sherwood, Neely, and Jones in London, Paternoster-Row, 1819

The Vampyr ( English original title: The Vampyre ) is a short story written in 1816 by the English writer John Polidori . With this story Polidori created the first vampire story of world literature and justified to speak with the main character of Lord Ruthven the type of the modern vampire .


Aubrey, a young Englishman, meets Lord Ruthven in London society, a mysterious nobleman who at first appears to be a perfect gentleman with the best manners and extreme delicacy. Aubrey woos the lord and eventually accompanies him to Rome. His guardian informed him by letter that the lord had revealed a highly dubious character, which was also later revealed in London. So they ask him to leave Lord Ruthven. Aubrey travels alone from Rome after believing he has prevented Ruthven from seducing the daughter of a mutual acquaintance.

Aubrey travels to Greece, where he studies antiquity and falls in love with Ianthe, the daughter of an innkeeper. Ianthe tells Aubrey about legends of vampires and is desperate when she is ridiculed by Aubrey, because according to the legend it is mainly the doubters of vampires who would be taught better in a cruel way. Shortly afterwards Ianthe is killed by a vampire, Aubrey falls seriously ill from a feeling of guilt, but is torn from his lethargy by the suddenly appearing Lord Ruthven. Aubrey does not associate Ruthven with the murder, suppresses his antipathies towards him and accompanies the lord again on his travels, on which Ruthven's formerly evil character seems as if transformed.

The two are attacked by bandits in the forest for some time, and Ruthven is fatally wounded. Before he dies, the Lord takes an oath to Aubrey that for a year and a day he will not mention his death or anything else about him, nor will he say that he knew the Lord. At Ruthven's behest, Aubrey lays his body in the forest in the moonlight, where it can no longer be found in the morning. On the way home he learns that the young woman who wanted to seduce Ruthven in Rome disappeared without a trace immediately after his departure.

When Aubrey returns to London, his beloved sister tells him that she wants to marry the Earl of Marsden; Aubrey is touched at first, but after a short time realizes that the Earl of Marsden is none other than Lord Ruthven, who allegedly recently received this title. Ruthven's earlier escapades seem to have been forgotten by society. Aubrey is appalled to see the man believed dead and wants to forbid marriage, but the lord reminds Aubrey of his oath to keep Ruthven's death a secret. Aubrey has another nervous breakdown that leaves him deemed insane. When Ruthven and Aubrey's sister are about to get married on the day the oath ends, Aubrey writes his sister a letter revealing the lord's story. But the letter is handed over to Aubrey's doctor. Then Aubrey reveals the secret to the guardians and dies. The guardians fail to warn Aubrey's sister in time to go on her honeymoon to the location of Ruthven's alleged new diplomatic post. They learn that Aubrey's sister and Ruthven never arrive where there is no knowledge of Lord Ruthven or the Earl of Marsden and his alleged post; the two remain lost forever, thus fulfilling the prophecy of Ianthe's legend.


The wrong subtitles at the beginning of the story in the German edition

In 1816, the year without a summer , the story The Vampyre was created in the Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva from a poetic contest with Lord Byron , Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley . The story of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus , sprang from Mary Shelley's pen , while Percy Shelley and Lord Byron drafted a gloomy tale that remained only a fragment. John Polidori called his work The Vampire , it was only later finished by him. He was influenced by Byron's work Fragment of a Novel and the eponymous hero of his story, Lord Ruthven, was equipped with Byron-like features.

The Vampire was published by Colburn Publishing on April 1, 1819 in The New Monthly Magazine without Polidori's permission. The story was incorrectly subtitled and referred to as A Tale by Lord Byron ("A Tale of Lord Byron"). The name of the main character Lord Ruthven led to this confusion because this name was originally used in Caroline Lamb's novel Glenarvon , which was published by the same editor with a drawing by Lord Byron. Lamb's works were published anonymously at the time, and so Colburn publishers assumed that The Vampire might have come from Byron. This mix-up and the initially unclear authorship of the story were intentional by both Polidori and Byron. Both refused to pay a corresponding fee for the publication, because with Byron's name as subtitling, the narrative had a greater success. Even Goethe described the work as "best product" Byron.


The story was a great success because it was published under Byron's name and was a typical Gothic novel that hit the taste buds of black romanticism at the time. Vampire representations were already known earlier, as in poems by Heinrich August Ossenfelder ( My dear girl believes , 1748), in Bürgers Lenore (1774), Goethe's The Bride of Corinth (1798) or Hymns to the Night of Novalis (1800), in but where vampires appear rather ghostly . 1797 is only a marginal phenomenon in Thalaba the Destroyer of Robert Southey described a vampire. Samuel Taylor Coleridge depicts the female vampire in his story Christabel from 1797/1800 and Ignaz Ferdinand Arnold's novel The Vampire from 1801 has not survived. Also in a passage from Byron's epic poem The Giaour (1813) only the traditional popular idea of ​​vampires is used. Before The Vampire , therefore, in the tales of popular belief mostly vampires were predominant, which had a wild, animal character. In contrast, Polidori endowed his vampire with aristocratic and elegant features for the first time and created the archetype of the Byronic hero .

Polidori's work influenced contemporary literature and several editions and translations of The Vampire appeared . In 1820, Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires appeared , an unauthorized sequel by Cyprien Bérard falsely attributed to Charles Nodier . In 1820, Nodier himself wrote Le Vampire , a stage melodrama that, in contrast to Polidori's original, is set in Scotland. The English melodramatist James Planché adapted the piece in 1820 and performed it under the title The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles in what was then the Lyceum. In 1822 the German play Der Vampyr or die Todten-Braut by Heinrich Ludwig Ritter appeared. The success finally led to opera adaptations by Heinrich Marschner ( Der Vampyr , 1828), as well as by Peter Joseph von Lindpaintner and Caesar Max Heigel ( Der Vampyr , 1828). In 1851 Alexandre Dumas brought out the play under the title Le Vampire . The character of Lord Ruthven was also used in Dion Boucicault's melodrama The Vampire: A Phantasm in 1852 and later by other authors in their works.

The subject of the posh vampire in Polidori's tale influenced the whole of the vampire genre that followed. Edgar Allan Poe ( Berenice , 1835), Alexei Konstantinowitsch Tolstoi ( The Vampire , 1841), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu ( Carmilla , 1872) and finally Bram Stoker ( Dracula , 1897) also wrote vampire stories whose vampires came from the aristocracy and no longer they wild beasts of popular belief.

The events surrounding the creation of The Vampyr and Frankenstein were thematized in Ken Russell's 1986 film Gothic .



Web links

Wikisource: The Vampyr  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Commemorative edition of the works, letters and conversations. August 28, 1949. Ed. Ernst Beutler. 26 volumes. Zurich: Artemis 1948-71. Volume 23: Goethe's Conversations. Second part, p. 70 (Diary entry by Friedrich von Müller, February 25, 1820).
  2. a b Frayling 1992.