Friday, August 9, 2013

Lord Ruthven

A title page for Polidori's "The Vampyre."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.

1 comment :

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