“The deadly hue of his face”: The Genesis of the Vampiric Gentleman and his deadly beauty; Or, how Lord Ruthven became Edward

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven has been identified as the beginning of the gentlemanly vampire. Unlike his progeny, Count Dracula, Ruthven is able to pass in polite society, making his seductive nature more insidious and damaging. Thus he predicts the arrival of late twentieth-century vampires such as Anne Rice’s much lauded ‘sympathetic vampires’, and the sparkling vampires of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels. By considering the intersection between gender, the Gothic and consumerism, an innovative reading of Meyer’s addition to the clan of literary bloodsuckers can be offered. Where Polidori’s narrative is focalised through Aubrey’s increasingly disgusted and disturbed viewpoint, Meyer’s novels usurp the masculine voice, replacing it with the object of the vampire’s desire, Bella Cullen. Aubrey’s sister, like Ianthe, is presented as the passive victim of vampirism; her desire for Ruthven is never confirmed nor explored. In comparison, Bella’s desire for Edward is explicit: Ruthven’s ‘deadly hue’ is replaced by sparkling attraction. Romantic tropes such as the blazon are used against Edward and female desire is a central theme within the text. The relationship between vampire and victim is inverted, as Edward becomes the passive object of Bella’s vampiric gaze. Moreover, he is complicit in this objectification, apparently receiving masochistic pleasure from being the centre of the gaze and denying his own desire. Two hundred years after its publication, Polidori’s narrative, and its critique of consumerism and social mores, is re-imagined for a twenty-first audience who are attracted rather than repulsed by the Other/ ‘other’. Like Ruthven, the Cullens are at once embedded within and yet permanently removed from their society. However, rather than being symbols of social degradation, they are held up as an aspirational, wholesome family. Thus Meyer’s vampires act as reflections of consumerist desire for a society shaped by social media and celebrity culture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Legacy of John William Polidori: The Romantic Vampire and its Progeny
EditorsSam George, Bill Hughes
PublisherManchester University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Twilight
  • vampires undead literature film
  • Literature
  • John Polidori


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