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John Polidori's The Vampyre: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:00 John Polidori
  • 1:03 The Plot of ''The Vampyre''
  • 5:02 Romantic and Gothic Elements
  • 6:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Abigail Walker

Abigail has taught writing and literature at various universities. She has an M.A. In literature from American University and an M.F.A. in English from The University of Iowa.

In John Polidori's ''The Vampyre,'' two men decide to travel together in Europe. On their journey, one of the men notices that his companion has troubling habits-- including one which is deadly.

John Polidori

Born in 1795, John Polidori shared his family's enthusiasm for literature but chose a career in medicine. During his short life (his death at 25 apparently was the result of self-inflicted poisoning), Polidori became the friend and doctor or Romantic poet Lord Byron. In literature, romantic means characterized by emphasis on individualism, emotion, nature, and the past.

The two men traveled together in 1816 to Villa Diodati, Byron's home in Italy. Here, Polidori met another Romantic poet, Percy Bythe Shelley, and his fiancé, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. To amuse themselves one summer evening, the group decided to compose frightening stories. While Godwin wrote a first draft of what would become the Gothic novel Frankenstein, Polidori composed The Vampyre, although some readers mistakenly assume Lord Byron was the author.

The Vampyre was the first published story about vampires and went on to have a profound influence on famous works of fiction, including Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The Plot of the The Vampyre

The Newcomers

The beginning of The Vampyre reveals that two newcomers begin appearing at London parties. One, Lord Ruthven, likes to stare gravely at any bare skin that comes into view. Although unnerving, Ruthven fascinates everyone because of the eerie intensity of his gaze and his strange appearance. Lord Ruthven, though remarkably handsome, is alarmingly pale. Like Ruthven, the second newcomer, Aubrey, is quite attractive, but unlike Ruthven, Aubrey is joyful, always viewing the best in everyone. Still, despite their differences, the two men decide to tour Europe together.

The Travelers and the Greek Girl

Traveling through Belgium, Aubrey discovers that Ruthven likes to gamble and then give his money to the poor, but only those wanting money for their vices, not to those truly needing it. Then, in Rome, Aubrey discovers that Ruthven is trying to make love to an innocent Italian girl. After preventing the seduction, Aubrey distances himself from Ruthven by traveling alone to Greece.

In Athens, Aubrey meets Ianthe, an exquisite Greek girl. She goes with Aubrey on his frequent excursions, and he loves to watch her as she pirouettes on sunlit fields. She often tells him stories about vampires inhabiting a nearby forest. Ianthe believes these stories, but Aubrey does not. Tragically, Aubrey discovers her words prove true! One day, riding through the forest, it suddenly turns dark and begins to storm. He tries to hurry his horse towards town, but it stops.

Aubrey hears a woman scream. Then, a man hoists Aubrey in the air before slamming him to the ground. Dazed, Aubrey soon notices townspeople rushing toward him holding flares. One flare illuminates the pale, lifeless face of Ianthe. Seeing her throat drenched with blood, the townspeople shriek, 'Vampyre!'

Ianthe's death causes Aubrey to take to his bed. Tormented, he has horrible visions of the vampyre and pleads with him not to kill Ianthe. Sometimes he shouts curses at Ruthven from his bed. When Aubrey recovers his senses, he is shocked to find the real Ruthven caring for him. Aubrey, still quite frail, accepts Ruthven's kindness and apologizes for past disagreements. In fact, he decides to travel again with Lord Ruthven.

The Oath

Together, they set off to unfamiliar areas of Greece. They have been warned about bandits; and climbing through rugged terrain, they hear gunfire. Ruthven is shot. Mortally wounded, Ruthven makes Aubrey swear that he will not say a single negative word to anyone about Ruthven for a year and a day after his death.

After learning Ruthven's body has mysteriously disappeared, Aubrey begins his journey home to see his younger sister. She's about to make her first appearance in society, and she is pleased her brother will escort her. When he accompanies her to her debut, Aubrey is startled when someone grabs him and says, 'Remember your oath.' It is Lord Ruthven!

The Bride, the Groom, and the Brother

Seeing Ruthven unhinges Aubrey. He cannot tell anyone, even his sister, the truth about Ruthven. Surely they would think Aubrey mad. Yet he now realizes that Ruthven is dangerous.

As the days passed, Aubrey became increasingly isolated and confused. A doctor attends him constantly as Aubrey remains in bed, crying a warning to his sister to stay away from Ruthven. Aubrey's condition does not improve until he hears a comment, when a year and a day have almost passed, about his sister's upcoming marriage. Immediately, Aubrey asks the name of the groom and is very pleased it is not Ruthven.

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