Friday, August 9, 2013

Lord Ruthven

Though most people associate the modern vampire with Bram Stoker's Count Dracula, the less well known, but equally suave and predatory Lord Ruthven from John Polidori's The Vampyre (London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1819) predates the Count by almost eighty years. Polidori's Ruthven is the first depiction of the vampire figure as an aristocratic man possessed of an almost irresistible power over others, especially women.

Ruthven has all of the, by now stereotypical, traits of the vampire. He is pale, attractive to women, ruthless, murderous, and ultimately indifferent to rest of the world.
In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint, either from the blush of modesty, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection.
Polidori was Lord Byron's personal physician and accompanied him on several of his trips abroad, including the famous trip to Lake Geneva in 1816 where Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was conceived. Polidori was inspired by a story fragment that Byron wrote at the time and used this as a basis for his own tale of the supernatural. This is alluded to in the introduction in an extract of a letter from an unnamed person in Geneva.
It was afterwards proposed, in the course of conversation, that each of the company present should write a tale depending on some supernatural agency, which was undertaken by Lord B., the physician, and Miss M. W. Godwin.
An asterisk next to Godwin's name leads to the footnote: "Since published under the title of "Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus."

Another interesting connection is the origin of the name "Ruthven" which was most likely borrowed wholesale from Lady Caroline Lamb's Glenarvon. The characters in Glenarvon were thinly disguised and often unflattering portraits of London society. The Glenarvon Ruthven is based on Lord Byron, with whom Lamb had a tumultuous affair in 1812 and about whom she coined the phrase "mad, bad, and dangerous to know."

Ask for Rare Book PR 5187 .P5 v36. Our earlier posts on the First Illustrated Frankenstein and A Dissertation Concerning Vampires may also be of interest.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Letters

In 1959, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, the German-born historian and social philosopher, stated in an addition to his bibliography that "the printed word was not radically different to me from the words spoken or written between friends. Fittingly, letters have played an immense role in my life. …Many books got started as letters."

Looking at his body of work, which we recently completed processing, one can find many examples that support his statement. Foremost among them is Judaism Despite Christianity: The Wartime Correspondence Between Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and Franz Rosenzweig, a seminal work, which delivers an insight into the intellectual minds of both men. Rosenstock-Huessy, like many of his generation, was an avid letter writer who often used this format to express his thoughts and ideas to friends and colleagues. Among his correspondents are Martin Buber, Helmuth and Konrad von Moltke, Julian Morgenstern, May Sarton and many others. Rosenstock-Huessy's long correspondence with former student and psychologist Cynthia O. Harris between 1943 and 1963 formed the basis for another book - the unpublished manuscript Letters to Cynthia.


The collection also includes correspondence known as the "Gritli" letters, though these involve Rosenstock-Huessy only tangentially. The primary correspondence is between Margrit "Gritli" Rosenstock-Huessy, Eugen's wife, and Franz Rosenzweig, the Jewish theologian and philosopher who was a close friend. Scholars consider the letters, that begin in 1917 and last until 1922, a vital resource into the thoughts and emotions of Rosenzweig during the time he wrote his major work The Star of Redemption. Rosenzweig had a passionate love for "Gritli" whom he considered to be his muse. The relationship appears to have been condoned by Rosenstock-Huessy but less so by Rosenzweig's wife Edith.

To learn more about Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and his writings ask for MS-522. A guide to the collection is available.