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Old 07-04-2021, 06:55 PM   #15 (permalink)
Trollheart
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But let’s look further into A Fragment. More similarities to Count Dracula appear from the beginning, though of course that’s in reverse, so let’s say more elements that Stoker may have used, built on, or indeed robbed from His Lordship. First, Byron’s narrator tells us that Augustus Darvell is from a rich and powerful family, and gives the impression they have been this way for a very long time. This immediately establishes - in my mind anyway - the possibility that all of Darvell’s “family” are just him (or at least, include him), and that he is using what will become a time-honoured vampire trick to escape detection or avoid suspicion by changing his identity every generation and looking to the previous identities as forebears of his. Who knows how long he may have lived?

The narrator admits he is drawn to Darvell - perhaps even ensorcelled by him, under a glamour maybe - despite some “peculiar circumstances in his private history” which, he says, should have warned him off, but fail to do so. What these “peculiar circumstances” are, we are never told, and must draw our own conclusions about, as no doubt he intends we should. He also mentions “many and irreconcilable contradictions” in Darvell’s life, and we’re left under no illusion that the two men are friends, as Byron tells us his narrator tried to cultivate the older man’s friendship, but “this last appeared to be unattainable; whatever affections he might have possessed seemed now, some to have been extinguished”. We know from later tales that there are very many reasons why a vampire will shy from friendships, among them being the danger of being exposed if he says or does the wrong thing, wishing to remain as mysterious and aloof as possible, and of course, not having any real interest in the companionship of mortals whose lives are, after all, to his like that of the mayfly, and therefore hardly worth the effort.

Tantalisingly, though inaccurately, he tells us that “Where there is mystery, it is generally supposed that there must also be evil”, giving us perhaps another hint that his companion carries dark secrets within him, secrets that perhaps no man should ever be privy to. He uses specific language and words to describe, or ascribe to, the aristocrat: dark, cold, shadowy, morbid, a sense of disquiet, indifference, silent, wasting away, ghastly. Then there’s the main setting for the story, something that would come to symbolise and be the habitation and haunt of vampires down through the centuries in print and later on the screen. A graveyard is made to be almost home to Darvell, who evinces no fear of it, indeed no fear of dying (as perhaps he believes he cannot?) and rests his back against a tombstone. Indeed, Byron describes the cemetery, through his narrator, as a “city of the dead”, a very appropriate phrase when dealing with vampires.

I don’t understand the significance of the stork in the story, though given that storks are supposed to carry babies, and that this one has a snake in its beak, perhaps it’s an indication of the rebirth of the monster, the never-dying cycle repeating, a signal that Darvell is to undergo some change which will once again allow him to cheat death? The idea that he has been here before shocks the narrator, though why, considering how old and how supposedly well-travelled he is, I’m not sure. The allusion, too, to the death of Christianity - “the roofless walls of expelled Christianlty” (sic) - possibly point to Darvell’s existence pre-dating the birth of Christ, and perhaps he has been here before, long before, before the temple was a ruin.

It’s a pity the story was never finished, as Darvell tells the narrator to take his ring and On the ninth day of the month, at noon precisely (what month you please, but this must be the day), you must fling this ring into the salt springs which run into the Bay of Eleusis: the day after, at the same hour, you must repair to the ruins of the temple of Ceres, and wait one hour." The narrator, not unreasonably, asks "Why?" and Darvell replies enigmatically, "You will see." But we don’t. His wish - command (another telling point: vampires generally tell you what to do, they rarely request; perhaps a holdover from so many of them being originally from noble or high-class families, or perhaps simply because, being all but immortal, they consider us a much lower life-form, and you wouldn’t ask an ant or a spider to do something, would you, no more than you would make a request of a baby or a beggar) - that nobody be told of his death could be taken to indicate he is about to reinvent himself.

As I said earlier, and as we know from later vampiric literature, a man (or woman) who lives longer than the natural span of years draws attention, suspicion, fear. So in order to keep such suspicions off, vampires tend to change their identity, going from being, for instance, the grandfather to the father to the son, and only if someone really takes the time to look at photographs (if the vampire lives in an age of photography) and marks the extraordinary similarities between the generations is he likely to be discovered. Even then, it’s possible to laugh it off as mere coincidence, or a stronger family resemblance than might generally be expected. Darvell may be about to initiate another phase of his long life, and so the news that he had died might screw up his plans. Therefore he swears the narrator to secrecy.

It could also be supposed, assuming he is a vampire (which is never established, so far as I can see, in the story fragment) that there are others of his kind in the world, and he does not wish to communicate the fact that he is weak, perhaps recovering somewhere, vulnerable to attack. Since he asks - orders - the narrator to return on the ninth of the month (any month, he says, and when the narrator points out that it is the ninth today, he seems to dismiss it) we can perhaps assume that it will take him a month to regenerate. During this time, it’s safe to expect he is in potential danger, which is why he wants nobody, including the narrator, to come near him until then.

I must say though, I don’t personally think Byron meant Darvell to be a vampire. I of course know nothing about Byron, and I’m sure the question has been debated endlessly between people who could use my brain as a shuttlecock, and A Fragment has been accepted as one of the first examples of vampire literature, but I think the author merely meant his protagonist to be immortal. He doesn’t mention anything about drinking blood or rising from the grave, and Darvell, it appears, as I said earlier, can walk in the sunlight without any trouble. Again, we’re dealing with rules that have yet to be written, so you could discount that, but still, the lore Byron would have researched for this tale must have spoken of vampires being unable to abide the sun, so if Darvell is supposed to be one, the sun should kill him, and it doesn’t.

The idea of the narrator being told to throw Darvell’s ring into the salt springs and then wait the next day in the temple brings to mind, to me, the notion of a sacrifice to gods far older than Christianity, and points perhaps to Darvell being of that age, that he may in fact at one point have worshipped in, believed in - or even been, who knows, one of - these gods, and that it is through their power, or his faith in it, that he is to be either brought back to life or not allowed to die. It’s a pity the story was never finished, as it seems it was shaping up to be a really good one. Polidori, as mentioned, had his own ideas of where it had been intended to go, and given that he was present at its writing, maybe he told the truth.

The story was written as part of the famous challenge made in the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva on June 17 1816, when Byron suggested everyone there write a ghost story, and from this we get the classic by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. She was present there with her husband-to-be Percy Bysshe Shelley, as was Claire Clairmont. Although we’ve seen that Polidori and Byron parted on bad terms, and had a spat later about the former’s novel, it can reasonably be assumed that at this point the two had not fallen out (otherwise why would they share each other’s company?) and it’s entirely possible that Byron shared with his then-friend how the full story was supposed to develop. It’s equally possible, of course, that Polidori made the whole thing up.



Title: The Vampyre: A Tale
Format: Short story
Author: John William Polidori
Nationality: English
Written: 1819
Published: 1819
Impact: 9

Synopsis: Right. Well you can see why Byron was furious. Polidori basically took his story, it would seem, and added his own ending, of which more below. Here’s how it goes. Aubrey, a gentleman, meets the charismatic Lord Ruthven, and the two go on tour together to Europe. The trip doesn’t go well and the two part after it becomes clear to Aubrey that his travelling companion seduced the daughter of a man they both know. In Rome, Aubrey leaves Ruthven to his own devices and heads off to Greece, where he meets and falls in love with the beautiful Ianthe, however tragedy strikes as Ruthven arrives and Ianthe is killed, her throat torn open. Ianthe had been telling Aubrey of the legends of vampires, and Aubrey completely fails to put two and two together.

Reunited with Ruthven, he continues his travels but the two are set upon by bandits and Ruthven lies close to death. He extracts from Aubrey a promise not to reveal anything about his death for a year and a day, and Aubrey agrees. Rutheven dies, but when Aubrey returns to England he finds his friend alive, with a new identity as the Earl of Marsden, and in bed with his sister. Ruthven reminds Aubrey of his oath, and he is unable to protect his sister, so has a nervous breakdown. When he recovers he learns that his sister and Ruthven are to be married. Mortified, and finally getting it, Aubrey writes a letter to his sister, warning her as to what he believes her lover to be, in case he should die and not be able to warn her in person. His fears are not unfounded: he does die, and on their wedding night Ruthven rips out Aubrey’s sister’s throat and fucks off laughing.

All right then, if you’ve been paying attention you’ll have realised there are a few similarities between this story and Byron’s. Hell, unless you’ve been asleep or lent out your brain to someone more deserving, you’ll see that it’s all but identical! The guy totally ripped Lord Byron off! Not content with that though, he also stole - if what he claims is true - the ending Byron was going to use if he ever finished the story. And it must be true, or at least there’d be no point in him mentioning it otherwise, as it would certainly cast suspicion on him and considering nobody up to then knew how, if at all, A Fragment was supposed to develop, well, it would be stupid to plant the seeds of plagiarism in people’s minds, wouldn’t it? So not only could he not write his own story, it seems he couldn’t even come up with an ending of his own devising and had to rob Byron’s.

Let’s look at this in a little detail, shall we? Yes, I’m afraid we must, as this is stunning to me. How this guy got away with this I just don’t know. Or maybe he didn’t. Anyway, the story follows the exact same lines, with some very minor changes, that we read in A Fragment.

Young gentleman meets older, influential aristo. Check.
Both gentlemen go on a Grand Tour. Check.
Older gentleman extracts oath from younger to keep his death a secret. Check.
Older gentleman dies, or seems to. Check.
Now the rest is based on what Polidori says was to be the conclusion of the story, so as I say we only have his word for this, but why say it if it was going to put him in a bad light?
Younger gentleman returns to England and finds older gentleman a lot less dead than he had expected. Check.
Older gentleman seduces younger gentleman’s sister. Check.

I mean, it is the same story. If Byron had written A Fragment to its supposed conclusion, there would have been very little to tell them apart, other than the fact that Ruthven dies violently and suddenly, and Darvell dies relatively peacefully in a graveyard. Also, Ruthven does not charge Aubrey with any responsibility, other than keeping his death secret.

And this, then, is the story generally believed to be one of the first vampire novels? I read that originally it was attributed to Byron, but that later Polidori claimed Byron was his “inspiration” but the tale was his. There is no doubt that Polidori did expand on A Fragment, perhaps guessing where Byron was going or perhaps just using his (or Byron’s; remember, at one point they were friends and the peer may have shared his experiences and what he learned of east European folklore with Polidori) knowledge of folk tales and belief to construct the character of Lord Ruthven. Whatever is the case, we must attribute to Polidori the first instance of a vampire being an aristocrat, a figure who would loom large and stride confidently and arrogantly through the world of vampire literature and film in the centuries to come.

Also broached here for, I believe, the first time, is the idea that the vampire is suave, sophisticated and that people are drawn to him, sometimes helplessly, sometimes simply because he exudes the kind of power, charm and even sense of danger that attracts interest; in this, you can see why Ruthven was so easily identified as Byron, of whom it was once famously said he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know”, three almost irresistible elements in any man, particularly attractive to women.

“His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house; all wished to see him, and those who had been accustomed to violent excitement, and now felt the weight of ennui, were pleased at having something in their presence capable of engaging their attention. In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint . . . though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions.”

Another point to note here is one which was vaguely touched upon by Byron in A Fragment: the deadly pallour of a vampire’s skin, which from this on, would almost always be cold, white, pale, even sickly looking, and would never flush or show any kind of real emotion. You could equate early literary vampires, to some extent, with Vulcans, in which case, the idea of the neck pinch takes on new significance indeed. But from shambolic, monstrous creatures lurking in and lurching through the shadowy tales told to frighten children (and not only children either) around the hearths of eastern European homes, through the art of the novelist the vampire had already begun to metamorphose into something far more attractive. I noted earlier that few people - let’s say, few women - would be expected to be enthralled by or fall in love with those creatures from the folk tales (and indeed, those creatures themselves would neither be interested in such pursuits nor capable of them, being merely reanimated shells bent on destruction), so a more palatable, attractive, let’s say sexier version of the myth had to be fashioned.

Much as I resent Polidori for basically ripping off Byron, it has to be admitted and accepted that it was the former who designed and refined Byron’s sketch of the vampire. In fact, let’s be honest here: you’d have to say that Polidori invented the modern vampire. He took little really from Byron’s Darvell, other than a sense of mystery and the idea that he had lived longer than is usual for humans, as well as the oath to be kept about his death. So Ruthven can be said, in fairness, to be almost entirely Polidori’s creation, and in that, however reluctantly I might be to do so, he has to be considered as the father of vampire fiction, something we will be looking at later on.
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Last edited by Trollheart; 07-12-2021 at 06:59 PM.
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