The first vampire story written in English was John Polidori’s The Vampyre written in 1819. What? Not Bram Stoker’s Dracula? That’s right. John Polidori, personal physician to Lord Byron, was touring Europe with Lord Byron when the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley. During their stay, Byron had an idea for everyone to write their own ghost story, after the group read aloud from a collection of horror stories. The end result was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre. The story was first attributed to Lord Byron, but both Byron and Polidori asserted that The Vampyre was actually written by Polidori. Polidori loosely based his vampire character, Lord Ruthven, on Lord Byron.
Following The Vampyre were several penny dreadfuls featuring Varney the Vampire (1845 – 1847), and the first lesbian vampire story Carmilla in 1871. These two vampires, like Lord Ruthven, were portrayed in a sympathetic manner. Finally in 1897 a man named Bram Stoker penned a novel you may have heard of called Dracula. The main character, Count Dracula, is based upon tales that Stoker had heard recounting the gruesome life of Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler. Vlad was know for being a tyrant who delighted in the torture of both men and women. The three crimes that topped his list of offenses were lying, stealing and adultery. Interestingly enough, when Dracula was first published in 1897, the first chapter was omitted, but later it was published as Dracula’s Guest in 1914.
In 1954 there was a new take on the vampire story in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. In this tale, set in the futuristic time of 1976, a vampiric bascilla (an airborn bacterial infection) is spread through the entire planet, wiping out almost the entire human race. Only Robert Neville seems immune to the virus. He begins to study blood, researching what may have caused the virus, and tries desperately to save what is left of humanity.
Stay tuned for more thoughts on vampire fiction!