Vampires: The Regency Bites Back

The 1819 title page of  Polidori's horror story,
including the false attribution to Lord Byron.

When it comes to the very first vampire in literature it's natural to think of the 1897 horror novel Dracula by Irish author Bram Stoker. But Stoker was influenced by a Regency story that may have started the romantic vampire fiction genre. That story is “The Vampyre,” written by John William Polidori and published in London in 1819.

When it first appeared in print, this horror story was falsely attributed to Lord Byron. The mix-up is understandable, since the story may have been inspired by some fragments of a story written by Byron in 1816. 

Contributing to the confusion is the fact that the story’s vampire hero is named Lord Ruthven, which is the same name Lady Caroline Lamb used to thinly disguise a character based on Byron in her 1816 novel Glenarvon. (Her portrait of Byron wasn't flattering – when she wrote it she was still upset with him for dumping her.)

In any event, the mistake in authorship was corrected in later editions of the story, and the story itself was a huge hit. It’s a real doozy of a tale, too, filled with seduction, murder, untimely death (and in the vampire’s case, undeath) and a doomed marriage. 

I confess I don’t really get vampire romance – to me it’s not especially romantic when a beautiful young bride dies on her wedding night, her life's blood drained from her body. I don’t care how handsome the vampire is.

The Vampire, by Sir Philip Burne-Jones, Baronet

But I’m clearly in the minority, as vampires have become a staple of romance fiction. In addition to Dracula, we have Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles and Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels. Many of these stories have been adapted into movies (Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Interview with a Vampire) or television programs (True Blood).  

Edward and Bella, the well-known vampires
of the Twilight film series

The tale of Dracula in particular has been filmed dozens of times, and fans of the story will be thrilled to know that there’s a new TV series featuring their undead hero premiering next week (Oct. 25) on NBC. Dracula is set in Victorian London and stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers (star of The Tudors). Produced by the folks behind Downton Abbey, Dracula promises to be both romantic and gory in the best tradition of the genre.

Here’s a preview:

Rhys Meyers appears poised to join some of Hollywood’s sexiest leading men who've been eager to portray vampires, actors such as Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson. 

I don’t know how Lord Ruthven would stack up against these Hollywood stars. But I do know that without him, these vampires that we've known and loved may have never materialized on page or screen.  

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


  1. Interesting! Who knew? Thanks for another enlightening post! xo Jennifer

  2. Dang it Maureen, Now I'm gonna have to watch this show too!!! Pretty soon I'm going to be watching TV all the time, just to keep up with Downton Abbey, Grimm, The Paradise, Selfridges, Sleepy Hollow, and now Dracula! I'll have to quit my job!

    - Momma Cat


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