Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire

Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Lord Byron, vampire, vampires, The Giaour, Fragment of a Novel, A Fragment, Byronic Hero, goth, goths, gothic, John Polidori, The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven

“The Giaour”

lines 757–768:

But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

Lord Byron, 1812 (published in 1813)

Happy World Goth Day! To celebrate, I’m exploring the life and work of George Gordon Byron, better known as Lord Byron: poet, adventurer, freedom fighter, the original celebrity, cursed soul, granddaddy of goths, and the first modern vampire (probably not literally).

If you weren’t aware, vampires weren’t always the charismatic, sexy, human-seeming creatures we know them as these days. The vampires of times past were generally monstrous, charmless, and often more like zombies than what we now consider vampires to be (take a look at my post A Further 5 Vampires You May Not Have Heard Of). That all changed with Lord Byron.

When Byron was born in 1788, he had a caul over his face. There are many superstitions about cauls. Some believe being born with one is lucky and the child is destined for greatness, some believe the child will have second sight. In Romania the belief is that those born with a caul become vampires after death.

Byron’s childhood was fairly traumatic by any standards. His father was rarely around (and when he was, his presence didn’t improve anything), his mother was an alcoholic, and his governess abused him. At age 10, he inherited the title Baron Byron of Rochdale, along with the family’s ancestral home, Newstead Abbey, which incorporated the ruins of a Gothic monastery. At some point he found a human skull in the building and took to drinking from it in front of friends, who he’d then dare to do the same.

Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Lord Byron, vampire, vampires, The Giaour, Fragment of a Novel, A Fragment, Byronic Hero, goth, goths, gothic, John Polidori, The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven
Portrait of Lord Byron by Théodore Géricault, 1811

As his popularity grew, Byron cultivated a “cult of personality” based on his invented romantic and heroic image. He had portraits painted of himself as different characters: Le Corsair, Scottish sailor, Egyptian bandit. He adapted his personality, his clothing, and even the way he spoke, to suit the occasion or who he was with. He presented himself as a tragic outsider with a mysterious past, a character out of his own books, and made sure never to let the persona slip.

Byron was one of the first to write about vampires in English. In his poem”The Giaour” (quoted above) he tells of a man cursed to become a vampire and destroy his own family. In notes with the poem, Byron comments on the belief in the Levant, Greece, and Hungary of the Vroucolachas (or Vardoulacha). After its publication, some expressed fear about Byron’s hypnotic, or vampiric, ability to control his admirers with his poetry.

This image Byron created of himself as the archetypal “Byronic Hero” would influence future literary characters such as Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights), Count Dracula, Batman, and Severus Snape, to name a few, as well as real-life celebrities and rock stars like Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain.

In his unfinished work “Fragment of a Novel” (also known as “A Fragment” or “The Burial: A Fragment) from 1819, Byron’s character, Augustus Darvell, brings vampires into the modern age. Darvell is wealthy, attractive, and blends easily into human society. Although Byron never completed the story, according to a letter by his doctor and ‘frenemy,’ John Polidori, Byron was planning on having Darvell’s friend bury him according to strange and ritualistic instructions, only to come back later and find Darvell alive and wreaking havoc (including seducing and killing the man’s sister).

Speaking of Polidori, Byron didn’t just write about vampires. he was portrayed as one in the works of others. Polidori’s story “The Vampyre” was strongly influenced by Byron’s ideas for the continuation of “Fragment of a Novel” (Byron was also wrongly given credit for “The Vampyre,” and Polidori struggled to correct the mistake). Besides Byron’s influences, the main character “Lord Ruthven” was an unflattering and exaggerated portrait of Byron. Ruthven is a sexual predator who is calculating and cruel. He revels in sin and degradation. Although he looks sickly and cadaver-like, he’s also compelling and hypnotic. In the end Ruthven gets away with everything, while those around him suffer.

Lady Caroline Lamb, a married woman Byron had an affair with and then ignored, got back at him through her novel, Glenarvon. Again, a barely disguised Byron is portrayed as a vampiric (and somewhat ridiculous) character, howling at the moon and dressing as a monk. He seduces and ruins every woman he meets and betrays everyone close to him. Unlike Ruthven, he gets his comeuppance when he’s confronted by the ghosts of all the women he’s destroyed, and then throws himself into the sea out of remorse. Lady Caroline is credited with describing Byron as “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

Byron and Polidori transformed vampires from the grotesque undead to attractive and charming almost-humans. Bram Stoker was likely influenced by Byron when he wrote Dracula, and ever since, vampires in both print and onscreen are overwhelmingly “Byronic”: tragic, mysterious, dark, brooding, and embodying (or inducing) lust. Literary critic Tom Holland wrote in his 1999 essay “Undead Byron” that “vampires remain recognizably Lord Byron’s descendants.” He also comments, “…the modern genre of vampire fiction may be seen as perhaps the most vital and enduring of all the varied expressions of Byronism.” As violent and bloodthirsty as the modern vampire can be, fans are under their spell, as much as Byron’s fans were under his.

Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Lord Byron, vampire, vampires, The Giaour, Fragment of a Novel, A Fragment, Byronic Hero, goth, goths, gothic, skull, human skull, skull cup, John Polidori, The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven
Lord Byron’s skull cup (Photo: devonlive)

Even in his own time, it didn’t go unnoticed that Byron had more than a few vampiric qualities. People around him complained that he was draining the life from them, and overshadowing them with his “almost supernatural magnetism.” Critics claimed he hypnotized and subjugated his followers. Byron himself felt he was cursed, pointing out that many of the people closest to him suffered misfortune, or died tragically.

Amelia Opie, a woman Byron had charmed, claimed he had “such a voice as the Devil tempted Eve with; you feared its fascination the moment you heard it.”

And like a true vampire, Byron was immune to conventional life and the rules and judgments of polite society.

He was seductive and insatiable, not unlike vampires, although his appetite was for sex, not blood. He was openly bisexual and had a particular taste for married women, but not so particular that he didn’t also sleep with admirers, servants, prostitutes, and his half-sister. It was rare that anyone turned him down.

In a letter from 1819, Byron claimed to have no interest in vampires:

“I have besides a personal dislike to ‘Vampires,’ and the little acquaintance I have with them would by no means induce me to reveal their secrets.”

Reading this, I can’t help thinking that “little acquaintance” indicates that there was some acquaintance. And what secrets of theirs was he keeping, exactly? It’s not difficult to imagine that as he toured Europe and came into contact with many of the cultures that had strong vampire folklore, he might have encountered a creature that wasn’t quite human. At one point in his travels, he was claiming that “spies” were following him through Geneva and Flanders. Were they journalists looking for hot gossip to publish, or maybe something more?

In 1823 Byron went to Greece to fight for Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire. He spent 4,000 pounds (equivalent today to about 477,000 USD or 382,000 GBP) of his own money to refit the Greek naval fleet. He also took command of a Greek unit of elite fighters. Unfortunately, he fell ill with a “fever” on 15 February 1824. Ironically, doctors bled him to treat the illness, which most likely led to his death.

Byron died on 19 April 1824, aged 36. Some say his heart was cut out and kept in Greece, where, to this day, he’s a national hero. In any case, his body was returned to England. He was supposed to be buried in Westminster Abbey, but the Dean of Westminster refused on the grounds of Byron’s “questionable morality.” (They did add a memorial plaque to Byron in 1969.) He was instead buried in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall.

Lord Byron: The First Modern Vampire, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Lord Byron, vampire, vampires, The Giaour, Fragment of a Novel, A Fragment, Byronic Hero, goth, goths, gothic, John Polidori, The Vampyre, Lord Ruthven, Westminster Abbey
Lord Byron memorial
This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library
Image © 2022 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

His death didn’t end the vampire rumours about Byron. Because people kept insisting that his coffin was empty, in 1938– more than a century after his death– the vicar of Hucknall agreed to open the casket. Byron was inside, naked and well-preserved, The vicar stated:

‘Reverently, very reverently, I raised the lid and before my eyes lay the embalmed body of Byron in as perfect condition as when it had been placed in the coffin … his features and hair easily recognisable from the portraits with which I was so familiar. The serene, almost happy expression on his face made a profound impression on me … I gently lowered the lid of his coffin – and as I did so, breathed a prayer for the peace of his soul.’

And so Lord Byron rests in peace…or maybe not.

What do you think? Did Byron become a vampire, or just play one on the page? Share in the comments…

Celebrate World Goth Day with some new books:

Aspasia S. Bissas books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw, book, books, free book, free books, freebies, freebie, free ebook, free ebooks, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, dark romance, historical fiction, gothic fiction, gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, horror, dark reads, indie author, indie fiction, strong female protagonist, aspasiasbissas.com

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer paperback, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

🧿

Further Reading

Wikipedia: Fragment of a Novel

Was Lord Byron England’s 1st Vampire?

On the Very Scary Rise of the First Literary Vampire

Lord Byron’s Image Inspired Modern Take on Vampires

Lord Byron in Popular Culture

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know”

Biography: Lord Byron

Lord Byron: Westminster Abbey

First Look at My New Book

First Look at My New Book, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com, Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, gothic, paranormal, horror
Photo by Alex Fu on Pexels.com

Although there’s still work to be done, some parts of my new book (no title yet) are ready to share! I thought I’d give you all a taste of the opening chapter. This book continues the story started in Love Lies Bleeding, introducing some new characters along the way. Fair warning, if you haven’t read Love Lies Bleeding yet, this excerpt contains spoilers. (And a trigger warning for anyone sensitive to violence.)

Spoilers Ahead

Mara was hungry and lonely. Hungry, she could take care of.

She was in London. She’d been there for what felt like months, but really was only a little over a week.

Nigel and Dominic were dead.

She’d killed them.

They’d deserved it, she reminded herself as her anxiety started to spike. Dom had betrayed her, and both of them were threats to her and Lee. Even more than vampires usually were.

Her mind, as it so often did, latched on to Lee. How was he doing? Was he all right? Did he forgive her for leaving, for abandoning him?

It was for the best, all for the best. Always for the best.

An image of a bashed-in skull appeared in front of her. Nigel’s unseeing eyes staring, judging. She blinked and Dominic was there, lying on the ground, a dagger with a broken handle buried in his chest.

No, she muttered; not real.

 But it was real. Or had been. She could still feel Nigel’s skull shattering under the iron poker, could still feel the handle of the blade breaking off as she tried to twist it in Dominic’s heart.

She knew it had happened; she just couldn’t believe it. Maybe because it felt as though they were still with her. Or maybe because she hadn’t bothered to check to make sure Dom definitely wouldn’t be coming back. Either way, she’d felt as though she was being followed ever since.

Part of her hoped Lee had tracked her down, not only because she desperately wanted to see him, but also because the alternative didn’t bear considering.

Was Dominic still out there? Was he her ghost, her shadow, her hunter? Leave it to him to keep chasing her from beyond the grave.

Or had all her victims broken free, the restless shades of her centuries of slaughter? She’d come home and unlocked their tombs.

The edges of her vision started tinting red. Right, she was hungry. Blood first, ghosts later.

The bars were always good for an easy meal. The streets were already full of rowdy patrons heading to the next place, or getting into brawls, or stumbling home, heads fuzzy and defenses down. It wouldn’t take much to get one to follow her instead, to wander off into a dark corner of the city where prying eyes didn’t reach.

She’d have to play the game a few times tonight, if she wanted enough to be sated without taking too much from anyone. It wasn’t how she usually fed—how she used to feed—but she was trying something new. Feeding without hunting, without killing. Without the thrill. No matter how much blood she drank this way she was always left empty. But she survived, and it kept any more ghosts from haunting her.

Rising voices caught her attention: a man and a woman’s. The man’s voice was laden with threat; the woman’s, distress. Mara’s pulse quickened. Maybe she’d be playing a different game tonight, one where a predator would get bled. It was always nice when people got what they deserved. And so rare.

She approached the area where she’d heard the voices, making sure to look innocuous. Just a girl out late, alone, quick steps and head down—no threat to anyone. Or so they’d think—so they always thought—until it was too late to think at all. But when Mara reached the spot, an unlit path next to a park playground, she found a woman standing calmly facing the other direction. No one else was around. Had they already left, or had Mara misheard and gone to the wrong place? She stopped, confused. The woman turned to look at her.

Too late.

(© Aspasía S. Bissas)

Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below. If you haven’t read Love Lies Bleeding, or my free stories “Blood Magic” and “Tooth & Claw,” download them now:

Aspasia S. Bissas books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw, book, books, free book, free books, freebies, freebie, free ebook, free ebooks, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, dark romance, historical fiction, gothic fiction, gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, horror, dark reads, indie author, indie fiction, strong female protagonist, aspasiasbissas.com

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer paperback, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

🧿

Give from Your Heart (Vampire Approved)

Give from Your Heart (Vampire Approved), blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com.  Give blood, donate blood
Photo by Magdaline Nicole on Pexels.com

Considering how much of it exists in the world, it’s surprising (or maybe not) that blood banks are perpetually short of their key product. Blood and blood components are needed to help people with various medical conditions (including those with blood cancers), for surgery, and for emergency situations, like during childbirth or after a car accident. When there isn’t enough blood to go around, the consequences are devastating. So today’s post is to ask you to please consider donating blood, if you can. You’ll be rewarded with the warm sense of having done some good in the world (and a cookie). Your local vampires would approve 🧛

For more information on donating blood:

Canadian Blood Services: https://www.blood.ca/en

Société canadienne du sang: https://www.blood.ca/fr

American Red Cross: https://www.redcrossblood.org/

NHS Blood Services: https://www.blood.co.uk/

If your local agency isn’t listed, try doing an online search for blood services in your country/region.

(By the way, veterinary clinics need blood too. Find out more here, or search for pet blood donations in your local area: https://www.canadiananimalbloodbank.ca/#!cabb )

Wishing you a bloody good weekend…

Aspasía S. Bissas

🧿

Calling All Vampires…

Calling All Vampires, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Dracula, Guinness World Records, vampire gathering, Whitby, England, Bram Stoker, English Heritage
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

In honour of the 125th anniversary of the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, English Heritage is hoping to break the world record for “Largest Gathering of People Dressed as Vampires.” The current record involves 1039 people, and EH hopes to get 1897 participants of all ages (1897 being the year Dracula was published).

The event will take place at Whitby Abbey in northeastern England. Stoker spent time in Whitby, finding inspiration there for parts of Dracula.

Would-be vampires must adhere to a dress code: “full traditional vampire fancy dress costume,” which includes black pants or a dress, waistcoat and white shirt, a black cape or collared overcoat (lining doesn’t need to be black), black shoes, and fangs over your top teeth.

Calling All Vampires, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas, aspasiasbissas.com. Dracula, Guinness World Records, vampire gathering, Whitby, England, Bram Stoker, English Heritage

There will also be performances of excerpts of Dracula and live music.

Details

Date: 26 May 2022 (World Dracula Day)

Time: 6 pm to 9 pm (record attempt will take place from 6:45 pm to 7:15 pm)

Cost: Tickets are free to anyone in costume, but they do need to be reserved in advance

Find out more and book your tickets here.

Will you be part of the world’s largest vampire gathering? Share in the comments…

In the meantime, get into the vampire mood by downloading my books:

Aspasia S. Bissas books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw, book, books, free book, free books, freebies, freebie, free ebook, free ebooks, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, dark romance, historical fiction, gothic fiction, gothic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, horror, dark reads, indie author, indie fiction, strong female protagonist, aspasiasbissas.com

Love Lies Bleeding: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Blood Magic: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books
FREE Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer paperback, use this link to order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

🧿
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