Friday, 8 August 2014

The Vampyre & Lord Ruthven

Most extracts are from Seán Manchester's unpublished Memoir:

Lord Byron, parodied as Lord Ruthven by John William Polidori in The Vampyre (1819), fortuitously crystallised an archetypal image that is centuries strong; yet he abhorred the vampire almost to the same extent as do I.
John William Polidori (7 September 1795 - 24 August 1821) is credited by some as the creator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction. Polidori was the oldest son of Gaetano Polidori, an Italian political émigré, and Anna Maria Pierce, a governess. He had three brothers and four sisters and was one of the first pupils at Ampleforth College. Polidori began his schooling in 1804 shortly after the monks, in exile from France, settled in the lodge of Anne Fairfax's chaplain in the Ampleforth Valley. He went on from Ampleforth in 1810 to Edinburgh University, where he received his degree as a doctor of medicine on 1 August 1815 at the age of nineteen.
In 1816, Dr Polidori entered Lord Byron's service as his personal physician, and accompanied Byron on a trip through Europe. At the Villa Diodati, a house Byron rented by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion Claire Clairmont.
One night in June, after the company had read aloud from the Tales of the Dead, a collection of horror tales, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley worked on a tale that would later evolve into Frankenstein. Byron wrote (and quickly abandoned) a fragment of a story, which Polidori used later as the basis for his own tale.
Rather than use the crude, bestial vampire of folklore as a basis for his story, Polidori based his character on Byron. Polidori named the character "Lord Ruthven" as a joke. The name was originally used in Lady Caroline Lamb's novel Glenarvon, in which a thinly-disguised Byron figure was also named Lord Ruthven.
Polidori's Lord Ruthven was not only the first vampire in English fiction, but was the first fictional vampire in the form we recognise today - an aristocratic fiend who preyed among high society.

Polidori's story, The Vampyre, was published in the April 1819 issue of New Monthly Magazine. Much to both his and Byron's chagrin, The Vampyre was released as a new work by Byron. The poet even released his own Fragment of a Novel in an attempt to clear up the mess, but, for better or worse, The Vampyre continued to be attributed to him.
Dismissed by Byron, Polidori returned to England, and in 1820 wrote to the Prior at Ampleforth; his letter is lost, but Prior Burgess' reply makes it clear that he considered Polidori, with his scandalous literary acquaintances, an unsuitable case for the monastic profession.

In 1821, after writing an ambitious sacred poem, The Fall of the Angels, Polidori, suffering from depression, died in mysterious circumstances on 24 August 1821 at approximately 1:10pm, probably by self-administered poison, though the coroner's verdict was that he had "departed this Life in a natural way by the visitation of God."
Polidori's fate has been to be remembered only as a footnote in Romantic history. Reprints of the diary he kept during his travels with Byron are available, but are rather hard to find for purchase on the internet.
Polidori's diary, titled The Diary of John Polidori, edited by William Michael Rossetti, was first published in 1911 by Elkin Mathews (London). A reprint of this book, The Diary of Dr John William Polidori, 1816, relating to Byron, Shelley etc was published by Folcroft Library Editions (Folcroft, Pa.) in 1975. Another reprint by the same title was printed by Norwood Editions (Norwood, Pa.) in 1978.
As well as being mid-wife to Frankenstein's monster, he was uncle to Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Christina Rossetti.

Three films have depicted John Polidori and the genesis of the Frankenstein and The Vampyre stories in 1816: Gothic directed by Ken Russell (1986), Haunted Summer directed by Ivan Passer (1988) and Remando al viento (English title: Rowing with the Wind) directed by Gonzalo Suárez (1988).

There is a genuine title of Lord Ruthven of Freeland in the Peerage of Scotland which is a subsidiary title of the Earl of Carlisle in the United Kingdom. The fictional characters are not related to the historical title holders.
As previously stated, the first fictional Lord Ruthven appeared in the 1816 Gothic novel Glenarvon by Lady Caroline Lamb. This character was based on the genuine Lord Byron and was not a vampire. Lady Caroline was a former lover of Lord Byron's and the novel did not offer a flattering portrait.

The pseudonym "Ruthwen Glenarvon" (note: the "v" becomes "w" in the forename) was used by some members of the Vampire Research Society throughout the 1970s and 1980s who wanted their anonymity preserved. It was infrequently - yet occasionally - employed in the 1990s, but not thereafter.
Lord Ruthven appears as a main character in Nancy Garden's young adult book Prisoner of Vampires. In this story, Ruthven uses the name "Radu" and is a relation and helper of both Count Dracula and Carmilla.

Lord Ruthven served as the inspiration for a 1945 film, The Vampire's Ghost, which was adapted into comic book format in 1973. Lord Ruthven also appears in the background of the Vampire: The Masquerade game system, under the name Lambach Ruthven.

Kim Newman uses the character of Lord Ruthven in his alternate history Anno Dracula series, having Ruthven serve as the Conservative Prime Minister after Count Dracula seizes the English throne. Ruthven holds the Premiership from circa 1886 until 1940, when he loses it to Winston Churchill. Ruthven later reclaims it following the war, losing it to Churchill again after the Suez Crisis. Ruthven later serves as Home Secretary under Margaret Thatcher and is poised to take over as Prime Minister again following her departure.

Ruthven also appeared in some Superman comics, notably in Superman: The Man of Steel #14 and #42 and Superman #70. He has also appeared in Marvel Comics. Originally, he appeared in the first issue of Vampire Tales, then as the possessor of the mystical book called Darkhold. An incidental character called Ruthven appears in later issues of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman comic; this Ruthven is a man with a rabbit's head, as well as prominent "vampire" fangs.

A comical "Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd" is the main character of Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore. In it, the pastoral Robin Oakapple finds that he is descended from an evil uncle and is forced to take up his ancestor's evil ways.

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