‘The Vampyre’ and Other Tales of the Macabre by John Polidori

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RATING: 4/5

BLURB: “John Polidori’s classic tale of the vampire was a product of the same ghost-story competition that produced Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Written in reaction to the dominating presence of his employer, Lord Byron, the story introduced the vampire into English fiction, launching a vampire craze that has never diminished. This edition also includes thirteen other tales of the macabre first published in the leading London and Dublin magazines between 1819 and 1838, including Edward Bulwer’s chilling account of the doppelganger, Letitia Landon’s elegant reworking of the Gothic romance, William Carleton’s terrifying description of an actual lynching, and James Hogg’s ghoulish exploitation of the cholera epidemic of 1831-1832.”

REVIEW: This collection of Gothic tales contains fourteen different short stories –  as there are so many stories in this collection, I have selected my three favourites to review in order to give you a flavour of the sorts of subjects that the stories deal with. First of these is ‘The Vampyre’ by John Polidori, which is probably the most famous of all these tales due to the fact that it was written after a stormy night in the Villa Diodati when Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley decided upon a competition to write the best ghost story. This night and its so-called competition is possibly one of the most famous moments in literary history; unfortunately, many people are not aware that Polidori actually played a part in it himself. Polidori’s vampire, Lord Ruthven, is clearly based on Byron himself; charismatic, domineering and handsome, he has no trouble finding beautiful women willing to fall prey to his schemes. Although the protagonist, Aubrey, becomes fascinated with Ruthven and sets off on his travels with him, he remains aware of the darker side of his companion’s nature, and his suspicions about Ruthven’s motives come frighteningly to life after Ruthven dies and is subsequently resurrected. Guessing that Aubrey has discovered his depravity, Ruthven sets out to make his next victim someone very dear to Aubrey, and his attack on this new victim takes place at the end of the tale. The story is well-written and gripping, giving the reader a sense of the supernatural as any Gothic story should. It is made all the more interesting for the reader with the clear parallels that take place not only between Ruthven and Byron, but also between Aubrey and Polidori.

Another of my favourite tales, and the one I found the most chilling, was Edward Bulwer’s ‘Monos and Daimonos’. This short but terrifying tale deals with a man who discovers his doppelganger and, despite his desire to be alone, cannot escape his frightening shadow by any means. When the two are stranded alone on an island, the nameless protagonist tries everything in his power to escape his demon; the doppelganger is banished to another part of the island, buried alive, injured, even murdered – but each and every time he manages to return to torment the protagonist. Even when the protagonist is saved and makes his re-entry back into society, the doppelganger stays with him, tormenting him at every turn. This tale is one of the darkest in the collection, and gives the reader a constant need to look over their shoulder that truly captures the essence of the Gothic genre.

Finally, ‘The Bride of Lindorf’ by Letitia E. Landon is a tragic reworking of the Gothic romance, and possibly my ultimate favourite in the collection. Ernest discovers a secret passageway that leads him to the dungeons of the castle belonging to his uncle, where he finds a beautiful young woman called Minna who claims to be being kept in captivity by his Uncle, whom she claims is violent and cruel towards her. Ernest and Minna fall in love and secretly marry after Ernest helps Minna to escape – only to find out the very next day that his Uncle is dead. Upon riding over to his Uncle’s house, Ernest discovers a letter that his Uncle was writing to him before his death, which commends the women of the house to Ernest’s care, including Minna. The letter reveals that Minna was kept captive due to the fact that she was seen to be mad and dangerous after she attempted to kill her baby sister at the age of fourteen. Ernest is shocked and horrified by the news, and is condemned to spend the rest of his days with a raging, jealous wife who murders those that she feels might get in the way of her husband’s affections.

Overall, this collection is dark and truly captures the essence of the Gothic. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would highly recommend it to fans of classic Gothic fiction.

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