The Byronic Gothic - The Gothics - Volume 1: From Gilgamesh to the End of the Nineteenth Century

Unutterable Horror - A History of Supernatural Fiction - S. T. Joshi 2014

The Byronic Gothic
The Gothics
Volume 1: From Gilgamesh to the End of the Nineteenth Century

The cardboard villains of Walpole and Radcliffe—Manfred, Montoni, Schedoni, and the rest—however influential they may have been, are in fact testaments to the literary deficiencies of their authors. As we have seen, Brockden Brown’s Carwin is a much more complex figure, to such an extent that he can scarcely be called a “villain” at all, but Brown’s influence on subsequent Gothic, especially the British school, was minimal. The figure of the towering colossus of a man (it is almost always a man) who seeks more-than-human control of life, knowledge, and society is of course not specific to the Gothic novel, and its roots can be traced to the hubristic characters of Graeco-Roman tragedy and elsewhere. But some of the Gothic novelists lent a particular distinction to the figure by bestowing supernatural powers upon him.

We might start our discussion of this figure with William Beckford’s Vathek (1786/1787), if only because there seems no other place to fit this anomalous work into the history of Gothic fiction. The publication history of this short novel is well known. Beckford (1760—1844), an even more wealthy, dilettantish, and architecturally ambitious Englishman than Horace Walpole—his construction of an immense Gothic tower at his palatial residence at Fonthill Abbey exceeded even Walpole’s dallyings with Strawberry Hill—wrote Vathek in French in 1782, shortly after his twenty-first birthday. He later appointed the scholar Samuel Henley to translate the work, with the understanding that the French text would be published first; but a scandal involving Beckford and his cousin’s wife led him to depart for the Continent, and Henley, understandably worried that his translation would never be published, issued it himself in the summer of 1786, full to the brim with his learned and ineffably pompous notes. Henley attempted to maintain that the work was a translation from an actual Arabic manuscript. Beckford, not pleased with this turn of events, hastily arranged for the publiction of the French work in Lausanne at the very end of 1786 (dated 1787); a more polished edition appeared in Paris in 1787. Given that Beckford worked closely with Henley on the English translation, and especially given that he made numerous revisions to it in the edition of 1816, the translation has rightfully been taken as definitive.

That this “Arabian tale” (conte Arabe) bears little relation to the entire corpus of Gothic fiction is clear; its influences hark back to the Arabian Nights, to Voltaire’s “philosophical tales,” and perhaps to Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas: Prince of Abyssinia (1759). Indeed, by making its protagonist, the Caliph Vathek, a grandson of Haroun al-Raschid (151), Beckford consciously connects his work not only to the Arabian Nights but to the historical record. (Vathek was in fact an historical figure.) But by today’s standards the work would be considered a fantasy: even in those scenes (the novel has no chapter divisions) prior to Vathek’s descent into halls of Eblis (the Islamic hell, presided over by Eblis, the Islamic devil), the supernatural is not portrayed realistically.

It would seem that Vathek’s punishment is the result of impiety. The curious entity labelled the Giaour manifestly becomes a tempter figure when he intones to Vathek: “’Wouldst thou devote thyself to me? adore the terrestrial influences, and abjure Mahomet? On these conditions I will bring thee to the Palace of Subterranean Fire. There shalt thou behold, in immense depositories, the treasures which the stars have promised thee; and which will be conferred by these Intelligences whom thou shalt thus render propitious’” (169). Vathek’s own mother, the sorceress Carathis, declares that her purpose is to “obtain favour with the powers of darkness” (183). And Beckford is careful to add a solemn moral at the very end: “Thus the Caliph Vathek, who, for the sake of empty pomp and forbidden power, had sullied himslef with a thousand crimes, became a prey to grief without end, and remorse without mitigation” (234—35).

The problem with this is that the account of Vathek’s “crimes” has been narrated with such sly irony and humour, and with such an obvious sense of relish at the immensity of Vathek’s appetite for perversion, that the tacked-on moral comes to seem unconvincing. At the same time, one cannot quite believe that Beckford intended us to regard the “moral” parodically, for the novel does develop a sense of dark and forbidding terror in the memorable scene in the halls of Eblis, shedding entirely the at times buffoonish humour of the earlier portions.

It is perhaps best to consider the only “purpose” of Vathek as an exercise of Beckford’s fantastic imagination—and, perhaps, for his skill at incorporating facets of his own life and circumstances into the work. His friend Cyrus Redding quotes Beckford as saying to him, in regard to the hall of Eblis:

Old Fonthill house had one of the largest halls in the kingdom, lofty, and loud echoing, whilst numerous doors led from it into different parts of the building, through dim, long, winding passages. It was from that I formed my imaginary hall—the Hall of Eblis being generated out of that in my own house. Imagination coloured, magnified, and invested it with the Oriental character. All the females mentioned in Vathek, were portraits of those in the domestic establishment at Old Fonthill, their imaginary good or ill qualities exaggerated to suit my purpose. (Memoirs of William Beckford 1.244)

Beckford scholars have busily traced many other features of the text to his wide-ranging readings in Oriental and pseudo-Oriental literature; indeed, the most celebrated image in the novel—the denizens of the hall of Eblis, with their hearts encircled by an inextinguishable flame—was borrowed from Thomas-Simon Gueullette’s Mogul Tales (1736) (see Mahmoud, “Beckford, Vathek and the Oriental Tale” 73). Beckford also borrowed from himself. He had written a text entitled The Long Story when he was seventeen (it was published in 1930 as The Vision), and it clearly contains numerous anticipations of some of the elements and themes of Vathek.

While Vathek is an eccentric masterpiece par excellence, I cannot see that it had the least influence on any subsequent weird writing for a century or more. This judgment appears to be confirmed by Roger Lonsdale, editor of the Oxford edition of the novel, who writes: “… there was nothing in Vathek which obliged the [original] reviewers to connect it with contemporary ’Gothic’ tendencies. Although later literary historians have frequently resorted to the assertion that such a relationship exists, it is not easy to see that Vathek sets out to exploit the imaginative terror, the suspense or psychological shock tactics which were entering the English novel at about this time” (“Introduction” to Vathek xxv). Of course, Vathek was written at a time when the Gothic movement had barely begun, and some scholars have maintained that the later popularity of Ann Radcliffe and, to a lesser extent, Matthew Gregory Lewis eclipsed Beckford’s mode of exotic fantasy. There seems to be some truth to this, for the novel itself was certainly not very successful: there were no editions in English between 1786 and 1809, and the latter edition was in large measure made up of unsold sheets of the earlier edition.

Frederick S. Frank, however, has made a case for the much greater relevance of Vathek to the Gothic tradition (see Frank’s “The Gothic Vathek”). His argumentation occasionally falls into the class of special pleading, but I believe his contention that the novel’s exemplification of the “Gothic villain” had a significant influence on subsequent Gothic literature can be accepted—with some reservations. Scholars have traced the degree to which Beckford himself identified with the figure of Vathek as representing a kind of emancipation from the bounds of social convention that he himself sought in his life, so that it can hardly be maintained that Beckford intended us to be unequivocally disapproving of Vathek’s mission. Nevertheless, aside from Beckford’s influence on Byron (who championed Vathek in the 1810s and manifestly borrowed from it in his poetic dramas, The Giaour and The Bride of Abydos), Southey, Thomas Moore (Lalla Rookh), and Disraeli (Alroy), it is difficult to trace Vathek’s direct influence on the Gothic novel.

As for the Episodes of Vathek—three appallingly long and not very compelling tales of love and damnation—perhaps Beckford was wise in omitting them from the text, as they seriously weaken the final scene of the novel. The tales were lost for nearly a century and a half until they were rediscovered by Lewis Melville in 1909, who arranged for an English translation of the French text and published it in 1912.

William Godwin (1756—1836) added to the Byronic villain topos with St. Leon (1799). Of his other novel generally considered Gothic, Things as They Are; or, The Adventures of Caleb Williams (1794), we need not be concerned, for it is a programmatic work designed to illustrate Godwin’s theories of social justice in its tale of a lowly servant, Caleb Williams, who acts as a kind of detective to prove his aristocratic master, Falkland, a murderer but ends up being pursued himself and is finally thrown into a dungeon. The novel is not ineffective, but in the entire absence of supernatural machinery it can at best be called a tale of psychological suspense, and perhaps even one of the earliest detective novels, although its intellectual substance is far greater than that designation would suggest.

St. Leon is a somewhat different matter. Godwin announces at the outset that his purpose in the novel is to “mix human feelings and passions with incredible situations” (xxiii). The implication is that we are in for some supernaturalism, and sure enough we are. The novel is a searching treatment of the elixir of life, although more in its effects than in its essential nature. Beginning in the year 1520, it tells of Reginald de St. Leon, who is so beset with a succession of misfortunes that he and his family are reduced to penury. In the year 1544 a man bearing the name Francesco Zampieri encounters St. Leon and tells him that he is endowed with great powers. As St. Leon sums it up apocalyptically:

The talent he possessed was one upon which the fate of nations and of the human species might be made to depend. God had given it, for the best and highest purposes; and the vessel in which it was deposited must be purified from the alloy of human frailty. It might be abused and applied to the most atrocious designs. It might blind the understanding of the wisest, and corrupt the integrity of the noblest. It might overturn kingdoms, and change the whole order of human society into anarchy and barbarism. It might render its possessor the universal plague or the universal tyrant of mankind. (135)

That power is, of course, the “art of multiplying gold, and the power of living for ever” (160), and once Zampieri has bestowed it upon St. Leon, he can die in peace—and does so. In relating the knowledge that Zampieri has passed on to him, St. Leon appears to be a bit coy (“The detail of these secrets I omit; into that I am forbidden to enter” [160]), but probably no amount of mystical or alchemical mumbo-jumbo could have convinced even the most credulous of late eighteenth-century readers that St. Leon actually had such a power. As it is, the novel’s chief purpose is to reflect upon that power’s effects; for it becomes quickly evident that, although the ability to make gold lifts St. Leon’s family out of poverty, the mystery of his sudden acquisition of wealth creates a variety of other difficulties that, as the plot twists and turns over many chapters, lead to the death of his wife, Marguerite, his confinement in the Inquisition for twelve years, and the threat of his destruction in an auto da fé (although presumably he would somehow survive the punishment). Escaping, he manages to return to his ancestral estates—but before he does so, he takes the elixir of life to rejuvenate himself, and the effect is transformative:

Yesterday I was fourscore; to-day I was twenty. Yesterday I was a prisoner, crippled in every articulation; to-day I was a citizen of the world, capable of all its delights… . What was most material, my mind was grown young with my body. Weary of eternal struggle, I had lately resigned the contest, and sunk under the ill-fortune that relentlessly pursued me. Now I felt within me a superfluity of vigour; I panted for something to contend with, something to conquer. My senses unfolded themselves to all the curiosity of remark; my thoughts seemed capable of industry unwearied, and investigation the most constant and invincible. (352)

This, really, is the one genuinely supernatural moment in the novel. But presently St. Leon realises the true nature of his situation: “I possessed the gift of immortal life; but I looked on myself as a monster who did not deserve to exist” (363). St. Leon is a by no means ineffective piece of work, although it is handicapped by excessive length and excessive moralising. The overall influence of Godwin can be seen in the work of Charles Brockden Brown, but perhaps more directly upon his own daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

There is not much reason to waste time on what H. P. Lovecraft rightly referred to as Percy Shelley’s “schoolboy effusions” (S 33), Zastrozzi (1810) and St. Irvyne (1811). Zastrozzi is a drearily florid, overwritten, hysterical, and confused bit of rubbish about the titular figure, a giant, whose sole mission in life appears to be to pursue his normally sized half-brother, Verezzi. This work, more than any other, announces the wretched death of Dr. Johnson’s century. St. Irvyne also features a giant, in this case Ginotti, the leader of a band of robbers who happens to have the secret of eternal life. He needs to pass it on to someone else in order to die in peace, but his chosen victim, Wolfstein, refuses to renounce the Creator as a precondition of obtaining the secret. (Let us recall that in the very year this novel was published, its youthful author issued the pungent essay The Necessity of Atheism.) The novel is only minimally redeemed by its climatic underground scene, where Ginotti is incinerated by a bolt of lightning but will nevertheless continue living—“a dateless and hopeless eternity of horror” (199). It is just as well that Shelley stuck to poetry hereafter.

His wife, Mary (1797—1851), did a rather better job with Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). This richly complex tale fully justifies the mountains of commentary it has inspired, especially in recent decades; the aesthetic failures of the great majority of the imitations it has spawned should surely not be held against it. The apparent inspiration of the work needs little rehearsal. In 1816 the two Shelleys, along with Byron and Dr. John Polidori, gathered at the Villa Diodati, a chalet on the banks of Lake Geneva, and proceeded to have a ghost-story writing contest after reading Fantasmagoriana (1812), a French translation of some German ghost stories. All four claimed to have ideas, but Percy Shelley ended up writing nothing, Byron wrote only a small fragment, and Polidori eventually wrote the novelette “The Vampyre.” Only Mary wrote a work of length and substance.

The difficulties in interpreting Frankenstein begin with its subtitle. What does it mean that Dr. Victor Frankenstein is deemed a “modern Prometheus”? On the whole, the figure of Prometheus—the demigod who brought fire to humanity, thereby incurring the wrath of Zeus, who condemned him to eternal punishment—is a positive figure in his benevolence toward humankind, his symbolic quest to expand the boundaries of knowledge, and his defiance of tyranny. One could imagine Mary Shelley sharing this view, especially in light of her husband’s manifestly sympathetic portrayal of Prometheus as a figure of moral perfection in Prometheus Unbound (1820), a work he wrote in 1818—19, apparently just after Mary completed Frankenstein. And while Mary Shelley makes no secret that her novel has a general moral purpose (Frankenstein himself declares, “I imagine that you may deduce an apt moral from my tale” [285], although he neglects to specify what that moral is or should be), she explicitly denies taking a stance one way or the other, as she states in the original preface to the work: “The opinions which naturally spring from the character and situation of the hero are by no means to be conceived as existing always in my own conviction; nor is any inference justly to be drawn from the following pages as prejudicing any philosophical doctrine of whatever kind” (268). Perhaps this means nothing more than the elementary principle that the sentiments expressed by her characters—whether Frankenstein or anyone else—should not be unthinkingly attributed to herself; but we shall discover that identifying where Shelley’s sentiments do lie is a singularly difficult business.

The crux of the issue—made quite clear in the subtitle—is Frankenstein’s usurpation of the role of God as creator. Although it is unclear whether Mary Shelley was an atheist, like her husband, she probably had some tendencies in that direction; but the course of the novel itself strongly suggests that Frankenstein has exceeded his moral status as a human being by the creation of another human being. A standard feminist reading of Frankenstein, found so early as Robert Kiely’s The Romantic Novel in England (1972), declares that Dr. Frankenstein is to be held culpable because he has usurped the woman’s role as childbearer, and that the various misfortunes of the creature (I will not call him a “monster,” as Shelley herself never does so) are a result of his lack of a mother. I will frankly say that there does not seem to be anything explicit in the text to justify this intrepretation, although that by itself does not mean it is erroneous. But what the text does declare, repeatedly, is that Frankenstein has taken over the role of God in his scientific pursuits.

The portrayal of Frankenstein is, indeed, singularly complex. Robert Walton, the ship captain who comes upon him in the Arctic ice, initially has nothing but praise for his moral virtues: “He excites at once my admiration, and my pity to an astonishing degree… . How can I see so noble a creature destroyed by misery without feeling the most poignant grief?” (283). At the outset, however (although we must bear in mind that the scene with Walton occurs toward the chronological end of the story), Frankenstein is full of warnings against the dangers of knowledge. When Walton expresses the belief that “One man’s life or death were but a small price to pay for the acquirement of the knowledge which I sought” (283), Frankenstein snaps back: “Unhappy man! Do you share my madness? Have you drunk also of the intoxicating draught? Hear me; let me reveal my tale, and you will dash the cup from your lips!” (284).

As Frankenstein tells his story, the reasons for his outburst become clear. While at university, he finds himself attracted to the “forgotten alchemists” (306). (He had earlier expressed an enthusiasm for Paracelsus and Albertus Magnus.) In a sense, this appeal to the mediaeval alchemical philosophers is an attempt to tie Frankenstein to the Gothic tradition, although in virtually every other regard it is a radical departure from it. But Frankenstein’s tutor, Professor Waldman, inspires him with the wonders of modern science:

“The ancient teachers of this science,” said he, “promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera. But these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.” (307)

This passage is of the highest importance, for it explicitly signifies Shelley’s departure from her Gothic predecessors’ reliance on mediaeval superstition as the source for terror. It is now the findings of modern science that hold both wonders and terrors—a point that justifies one in regarding Frankenstein as a landmark in the protohistory of science fiction. And that glancing reference to “unlimited powers” also hints at the dangers that Frankenstein is about to bring upon himself.

For his goal is nothing less than this: “Whence, I often asked myself, did the principle of life proceed?” (311). It may perhaps be a bit of a disappointment—even a copout—that Frankenstein stumbles upon it so quickly (“I became myself capable of bestowing animation upon lifeless matter” [312]), and even more so that he fails to tell it to Walton and, therefore, to the reader (“listen patiently until the end of my story, and you will easily perceive why I am reserved upon that subject” [313]); but, as with St. Leon’s similar coyness in regard to the elixir of life, any technical or pseudo-scientific enunciation of the point was bound to be unconvincing. In any case, Frankenstein’s rueful censure of the man “who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow” (313) looks forward to his moral condemnation of himself, both for devoting attention to science while ignoring all other human concerns (“I seem to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit” [315]; and again: “I wished, as it were, to procrastinate all that related to my feelings of affection until the great object, which swallowed up every habit of my nature, should be completed” [316]), and his blasphemous usurpation of the function of God, made most explicit in his thundering statement: “A new species would bless me as its creator and source” (314). It is of note that Frankenstein is, at this early juncture, already envisioning the production of an entire race of creatures rather than just a single entity.

At this point it is worth jumping ahead to the conclusion of the novel, where Frankenstein, after telling the long story of his own confrontation with the creature and his ultimate refusal to build the creature a female that would keep him company and might bear him offspring (which Frankenstein refers to as “a race of devils … who might make the very existence of the species of man a condition precarious and full of terror” [435—36]), provides a self-justification for his acts. He states:

“During these last days I have been occupied in examining my past conduct; nor do I find it blameable. In a fit of enthusiastic madness I created a rational creature and was bound towards him to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and well-being. This was my duty; but there was another still paramount to that. My duties towards the beings of my own species had greater claims to my attention because they included a greater proportion of happiness or misery. Urged by this view, I refused, and I did right in refusing, to create a companion for the first creature. He showed unparalleled malignity and selfishness in evil; he destroyed my friends; he devoted to destruction beings who possessed exquisite sensations, happiness, and wisdom; nor do I know where this thirst for vengeance may end.” (490)

This is of intense interest. Frankenstein clearly absolves himself of guilt in the central issue at hand—the seemingly blasphemous creation of a “rational” creature—and only faintly admits culpability in failing to “assure” the creature “his happiness and well-being.” And his motive for refusing to allow the creature to propagate his kind rests upon a striking enunciation of the utilitarian doctrine of “the greatest happiness of the greatest number” that Jeremy Bentham was only then in the process of formulating. But the crux of the issue is Frankenstein’s refusal to acknowledge any hubris in the actual creation of the entity—a point underscored by Walton’s characterisation of Frankenstein as “noble and godlike in ruin” (484).

The great merit of Frankenstein, of course, is the extensive self-justification provided by the creature himself for his own acts, with the result that the creature’s outward hideousness is mitigated by a sense of his moral complexity. The creature, indeed, has much to answer for; how can he justify his killing of Frankenstein’s brother William, his fiancée Elizabeth, and his close friend Clerval? It is a tall order, and it is not entirely clear that the creature fully turns the trick. His chief assertion rests upon the fact of his loneliness and the wretchedness that his isolation from the rest of humanity has engendered; as he puts it succinctly, “I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend” (364). But the creature damages his own case both by his murder of William (and, more so, by his conniving to implicate the nurse Justine as the perpetrator, with the result that she is tried and convicted) and by making veiled threats to Frankenstein of further destruction if the latter does not bring him “relief” by the creation of a female being. (It is at this point, incidentally, that Frankenstein becomes fully aware of his own responsibility toward the creature: “For the first time, also, I felt what the duties of a creator towards his creature were, and that I ought to render him happy before I complained of his wickedness” [366]. But Frankenstein’s later use of the utilitarian calculus renders this point moot.)

In the creature’s long story of his “life” following his creation, there are a few paradoxes. Why, for example, should the creature revert to the intellectual status of a baby, being unable to speak and knowing nothing of the world? Frankenstein had, after all, endowed him with the brain of an adult human being. But this is manifestly a rhetorical device that allows the creature to see the world from a naïve point of view similar to that, say, of Montesquieu’s Persian Letters (1721), so that the frequently absurd and irrational conventions of life that we take for granted can be highlighted. In any event, at the end of his narrative, and after Frankenstein has initially refused to make a mate for him, the creature again enunciates his moral status with simple eloquence: “I am malicious because I am miserable” (412).

The question is whether this is in fact so. Perhaps Shelley does not expect us to come to any definitive conclusion; the posing of the query is sufficient for her purposes. But at the end of the novel, after Frankenstein has died and the creature comes to look at his corpse, he makes some extraordinarily compelling remarks. Perhaps overcome by his emotions, he actually asks forgiveness of his creator (“Oh, Frankenstein! Generous and self-devoted being! What does it avail that I now ask thee to pardon me?” [492]) and, after Walton chides him for his “diabolical vengeance” (493), the creature continues with a long self-justification. He first states that his own agonies have been far greater than Frankenstein’s and that he gained no pleasure out of the murders he committed; but he could not endure to see Frankenstein attain happiness (through his impending marriage with Elizabeth) while he remained in misery. And so he killed her: “’Yet when she died! Nay, then I was not miserable. I had cast off all feeling, subdued all anguish, to riot in the excess of my despair. Evil thenceforth became my good. Urged thus far, I had no choice but to adapt my nature to an element which I had willingly chosen. The completion of my daemoniacal design became an insatiable passion. And now it is ended; there is my last victim!’” (493). That casting off of all feeling relates the creature directly to Frankenstein himself, who also admitted to putting aside “all that related to my feelings of affection” while constructing the creature.

Frankenstein is an inexhaustibly interpretable novel; it may be the sole genuine contribution of Gothic fiction to the great literature of the world. The issues it raises—the proper role of knowledge; the quest for the secrets of creation; the need for human sympathy; the moral responsibility to our fellow creatures—are of eternal validity, and Shelley is wise in providing no simple solutions, instead letting her characters express their perspectives and leave it to the reader to gauge their effectiveness and validity. In the history of weird fiction, the novel is crucial in withdrawing terror from the remoteness of the Middle Ages and placing it fully in the contemporary world. More significantly, Shelley herself attests that her prime motive is the creation of fear and the exercise of imagination. Even though, in her original preface, she declares, “I have not considered myself as merely weaving a series of supernatural terrors” (267), she reverses herself in the preface to the 1831 edition, stating that her goal was to fashion a story “which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart” (262). To be sure, there is far more in Frankenstein than mere shudders; and Shelley’s triumph is in eliciting fear in the very act of posing the moral conundrums implicit in her story. As she herself states in the 1831 preface: “Invention consists in the capacity of seizing on the capabilities of a subject; and in the power of moulding and fashioning ideas suggested to it” (262).

The descent from Frankenstein to Polidori’s “Vampyre” (New Monthly Magazine, April 1819) is indeed a precipitous drop; but that harmless little tale is not without its charms. It is by now well known that the central figure in the story, the vampire Lord Ruthven, is a rather unkind portrayal of Lord Byron, as this passage alone would suffice to demonstrate: “[Lord Ruthven’s] character was dreadfully vicious, for that the possession of irresistible powers of seduction, rendered his licentious habits more dangerous to society” (291). It is of some interest to note, in this first significant vampire tale in English, that Lord Ruthven’s victims are exclusively women—a point that emphasises the importance of the vampire figure as a symbol of seduction and rape, and something that Bram Stoker was not shy in adopting. Otherwise, the tale is slight and uneven. Polidori fails to lay down any of the constricting features of a vampire’s life (inability to walk in the daytime, allergy to garlic, and so forth), these all being Stoker’s inventions. Ruthven walks about like any other human being, his only departure from normality being his requirement of blood to maintain his anomalous life-in-death.