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Tracing the Vampiric Roots of Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'

When we think of the vampire of popular culture, we tend to conjure images of aristocrats, seducers, wanderers. Even the sparkling Cullens share these attributes! There is something Byronic about the rich, brooding, mystery man who suddenly moves to town.

In fact, John Polidori, intended to write a caricature of his employer Lord Byron and ended up with a literary innovation that paved the way for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Anne Rice’s Interview with a Vampire (1976), and many others works.

Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) is the result from the infamous challenge Byron issued to his companions in Switzerland—including Percy Shelley and Mary Godwin— to draft their own ghost stories.

At less than 10,000 words, Polidori’s story transformed the vampire of folklore in four lasting ways:

The Vampire by John Polidori is held up in front of a red shirt.
  • Instead of an animated corpse, the vampire becomes a monstrous human-like being.

  • Previously vampires were from humble backgrounds, in Polidori’s story he elevates him to the aristocracy.

  • The vampire is no longer confined to a homeland or specific haunt; he becomes a traveller, making no place safe.

  • Traditionally, vampires were associated with sexual violence, whereas Polidori presents his vampire as a seducer, having an infectious eroticism.

Now that I have read ‘The Vampyre’, I am so excited to re-read ‘Dracula’ this month! I can’t wait to see how the literary vampire tradition evolved from one to the next.

Can you think of other vampiric examples that fit this mould?


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