For readers with Victorian sense and Gothic sensibilities, these three pre-Dracula vampire stories are not only delightfully dark and darling tales in their own right, but also influenced Bram Stoker in his own work, laying the literary foundation upon which Castle Dracula now stands as the pinnacle of gothic horror.
The Vampyre by John Polidori (1819)
The first true vampire story in the English language, The Vampyre was written during the same famous horror-writing contest that inspired Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. With this short story, Polidori reinvented the vampire, turning him from the savage ghoul of old folklore into the elegant and debonair Lord Ruthven, who preys on the blood and virtue of upper-class ladies.
Varney the Vampyre by James Malcolm Ryder (1845)
This immense novel was originally published serially as a Penny Dreadful, cheap and lurid stories published for the average reader in Victorian England. Varney established many of the tropes commonly associated with vampires today, such as hypnotic powers and immortality, as Sir Frances Varney terrorizes wealthy families all over Europe in a series of thrilling supernatural adventures.
Le Fanu mingles gothic horror with tender romance while telling the tale of a lonely English girl raised in a crumbling castle in the wilds of eastern Germany, who befriends a mysterious and lovely young lady named Carmilla. Dripping with gothic atmosphere and mystery, this short novel elevated the vampire story from campy thriller to exquisite gothic romance.