Even though the Count Dracula ideated in 1897 by the writer Bram Stoker is considered as the vampire par excellence, it is actually nothing but the representation of one of the many scary creatures present in the ancient legends of several populations made up throughout history.
Bela Lugosi in the role of Count Dracula
The term vampire started to be used around the 18th century, however, mythological creatures which were not called in such a manner but still had similar features can be found in the Jewish, Greek and Latin cultures, and before them even in the one from Mesopotamia. But it is from the legends from Eastern Europe that the figure of the vampire becomes that “undead” monster feeding off of human blood.
Such convincing legend to give start to some sort of collective hysteria, which pervaded Europe in the early 1700’s. The illuminist Voltaire described the vampire in his Philosophical Dictionary with these words:
“These vampires were corpses, who went out of their graves at night to suck the blood of the living, either at their throats or stomachs, after which they returned to their cemeteries (…)”.
However the aspect of the mysterious nobleman who would use his charm to enchant his victims, i.e. the modern representation of the vampire, was far off from the traditional idea of the undead from the Slavic folklore, not exactly described with a good looking appearance.
Even though Stoker’s Count Dracula is more popular, the very first vampire from the British literature was Lord Ruthven, main character of the tale “The Vampyre” by the doctor- writer John Polidori.
Polidori, personal doctor of George Byron, was inspired by a briefly outlined character that the same Byron had created in 1816, in that famous dark and stormy night of June during which the British poet invited his guests to write ghosts stories. At the time Byron had rented Villa Diodati, on Lake Geneva, where he met the poet Percy Shelley, his future wife Mary and the stepsister of hers, Claire, subsequently his lover.
Villa Diodati, on Lake Geneva
Above; picture shared via Wikipedia – licence Creative Commons
In that exact evening of June there was a violent storm, while 5 writers were gathered under the same roof to read horror tales. The storm would prevent them from going anywhere else, hence Byron suggested to all his guest to write down a scary story. Mary Shelley gave life to Frankenstein, while Byron briefly sketched the profile of a vampire, which then he dropped.
By drawing inspiration from that fantasy as well as the person of the same Byron, Polidori created Lord Ruthven, seductive aristocratic vampire which would somewhat embody the character of the beautiful and damned rebel, picture so dear to the British poet who would in fact was his very personification. Polidori got inspired also by Caroline Lamb’s novel, that after a complex relationship with Byron, wrote Glenarvon, where the main character that resembles in all his aspects the poet, was not described as a good person.
Polidori’s vampire is a dangerous and dark figure, protected by the night; however at the same time he is fascinating and bewitches easily the innocent girls, always belonging to the high society. The story begins in England, continues in Italy and Greece like in the classic Gran Tour, so appreciated by the young British noble people, and then ends tragically with a comeback in Great Britain: Lord Ruthven guides to madness and death the young Aubrey who fails on saving his sister, killed by the vampire.
The tale, published in 1819, had an immediate success, perhaps as it was initially attributed to Lord Byron, but he gave back the credit to his friend Polidori. In 1897 then, Bram Stoker published his Dracula, and the Vampyre was forgotten, swallowed by a stormy night like the one that had seen it emerging from.
Dracula’s 1st Edition