The Vampyre was first published on April 1, 1819, by Colburn in the New Monthly Magazine with the false attribution "A Tale by Lord Byron." The name of the work's protagonist, "Lord Ruthven", added to this assumption, for that name was originally used in Lady Caroline Lamb's novel Glenarvon, in which a thinly-disguised Byron figure was also named Lord Ruthven. Despite repeated denials by Byron and Polidori, the authorship often went unclarified.
The story was an immediate popular success, partly because of the Byron attribution and partly because it exploited the gothic horror predilections of the public. Polidori transformed the vampire from a character in folklore into the form we recognize today - an aristocratic fiend who preys among high society.
The story has its genesis in the summer of 1816, the Year Without a Summer, when Europe and parts of North America underwent a severe climate abnormality. Lord Byron and his young physician John Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva and were visited by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin and Claire Clairmont. Kept indoors by the "incessant rain" of that "wet, ungenial summer," over three days in June the five turned to telling fantastical stories, and then writing their own. Fueled by ghost stories such as the Fantasmagoriana, William Beckford's Vathek and quantities of laudanum, Mary Shelley produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron's and in "two or three idle mornings" produced The Vampyre.
Polidori's work had an immense impact on contemporary sensibilities and ran through numerous editions and translations. An adaptation appeared in 1820 with Cyprien Berard's novel, Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires, falsely attributed to Charles Nodier, who himself then wrote his own version, Le Vampire, a play which had enormous success and sparked a "vampire craze" across Europe. Edgar Allan Poe, Nikolai Gogol, Alexandre Dumas, and Leo Tolstoy all produced vampire tales, and themes in Polidori's tale would continue to influence Bram Stoker's Dracula and eventually the whole vampire genre.