Eugene Delacroix, The Vampire, 1825

In the summer of 1816, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley and John William Polidori (Byron’s personal physician) all vacationed together on Lake Geneva, having a legendary ghost story competition that was the impetus for incredible books such as Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1818) and Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ (1819). In Polidori’s story the vampire is Lord Ruthven, who seems to be killed by bandits while travelling with his friend Aubrey, but just before he croaks he makes Aubrey swear not to reveal his death for a year and a day. Aubrey returns to England and is surprised to see Lord Ruthven is hunky-dory and dating his sister, and they are to be married the day the oath ends. Aubrey has suspicions but is bound to his promise, has a nervous breakdown, and dies just before the wedding night. His sister is found drained of blood on her wedding night, Lord Ruthven having skipped town.
The name Lord Ruthven had made its appearance in 1816 in Lady Caroline Lamb’s book ‘Glenarvon.’ Ruthven was thinly-veiled disguise for her seedy ex-lover Lord Byron, who had spurned her before moving on to her cousin Annabella Milbanke. Milbanke and Byron married, but after he mistreated her they divorced and she revealed to the public in 1816 that he had slept with his half-sister!
Delacroix was a fan of Byron’s writing, so this painting is intriguing. On the night table there is a book open to the title page ‘Le Vampire,’ which must be Polidori’s book. Is this woman sleeping after having read the story? Or is she a character from the book? Is there a reference to Byron here?

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