Versions of the Byronic Hero
John Polidori: From “The Vampyre: A Tale” (1819)
After Byron, fleeing scandal, left England in 1816, the twenty-one-year-old Polidori joined him in his wanderings around Europe and filled for some months the salaried position of Byron’s personal physician. In “The Vampyre,” Polidori recast his experiences as the poet’s traveling companion and confidant in fantastic form: the result was a spectacularly popular tale that became the basis for vampire dramas and operas and also, later on, Victorian gothic classics such as Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Polidori wrote himself into his story as Aubrey, a naive young man who is forced by an ill-considered oath of secrecy to be complicit with the crimes of the mysterious and predatory Lord Ruthven. Ruthven is introduced in the passage that follows.
It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon a London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the
ton , a nobleman, more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. He gazed upon the mirth around him, as if he could not participate therein. Apparently, the light laughter of the fair only attracted his attention, that he might by a look quell it, and throw fear into those breasts where thoughtlessness reigned. Those who felt this sensation of awe, could not explain whence it arose: some attributed it to the dead grey eye, which, fixing upon the object's face, did not seem to penetrate, and at one glance to pierce through to the inward workings of the heart; but fell upon the cheek with a leaden ray that weighed upon the skin it could not pass. 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, either from the blush of modesty, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection . . .