Monday, September 29, 2008


The Vampire (published in 1819) took Lord Byron as the model for the vampire Lord Ruthven. Everyone knew this. Byron's ex-lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, had attacked him as "Ruthven, Lord of Glenarvon" in her 1816 roman a clef Glenarvon. Lamb labeled him as "mad, bad, and dangerous to know."

One of the most famous and recognizable men of his time, thought by some to be the first modern-style celebrity, Byron's persona was known across Europe. By all accounts he had a mesmeric charm which inspired the strongest devotion in his friends. Born with a clubfoot, he was unable to dance, which might have damaged his attractiveness, but he managed to turn it to social advantage. Standing against the glitter of a drawing room or assembly hall, characteristically dressed in black (which he made a fashionable color for men's evening dress), sneering at the contemporary craze for the Waltz, he personified the lonely Fatal Man he created in his poetry. He was shy with strangers, which read as an interesting reserve of character. He was seldom seen to eat or drink, in a time where gentlemen and ladies enjoyed their meals freely. His meager diet left him pale and languid. It added to his supernatural aura, but was merely a prosaic attempt to fight a tendency to fat(Byron was overweight as a boy, until he entered Cambridge and started his lifelong starvation diet).

Lord Ruthven, the first vampire in the Western tradition, was, like Byron, tall, magnetic, pale, and aloof. He had a "penetrating eye", a keen sense of hierarchy and his own superiority, and a consciousness of his isolation from humanity. The "black romanticism" of Byron and Poidori had a permanent effect. Fireside tales of reanimated peasants forced into brutish existence were replaced with the image of the vampire familiar today from Dracula to Lestat: young, aristocratic, brooding, and attractive.