“I have never met a vampire personally, but I don’t know what might happen tomorrow”*…
Readers will know of the evening in 1816, on the shores of Lake Geneva, when a challenge from her husband-to-be and his friend Lord Byron led Mary Shelley (then, Mary Godwin) to create Frankenstein. What’s less well known is that this same challenge led another guest to create that other great figure of 19th-century gothic fiction – the vampire.
The first fully realized vampire story in English, John William Polidori’s “The Vampyre”… establishes the vampire as we know it via a reimagining of the feral mud-caked creatures of southeastern European legend as the elegant and magnetic denizens of cosmopolitan assemblies and polite drawing rooms.
“The Vampyre” is a product of 1816, the “year without summer,” in which Lord Byron left England in the wake of a disintegrating marriage and rumours of incest, sodomy and madness, to travel to the banks of Lake Geneva and there loiter with Percy and Mary Shelley (then still Mary Godwin). Polidori served as Byron’s traveling physician, and played an active role in the summer’s tensions and rivalries, as well as participating in the famous night of ghost stories that produced Mary Shelley’s “hideous progeny,” Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.
Like Frankenstein, “The Vampyre” draws extensively on the mood at Byron’s Villa Diodati. But whereas Mary Shelley incorporated the orchestral thunderstorms that illuminated the lake and the sublime mountain scenery that served as a backdrop to Victor Frankenstein’s struggles, Polidori’s text is woven from the invisible dynamics of the Byron-Shelley circle, and especially the humiliations he suffered at Byron’s hand…
Find the rest of this twisted tale (if not eternal life) at “The Poet, the Physician and the Birth of the Modern Vampire.”
* Bela Lugosi
As we make the Sign of the Cross, we might send metrical birthday greetings to Samuel Taylor Coleridge; he was born on this date in 1772. A poet, literary critic, and philosopher, Coleridge is probably best remembered for two poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, and for his prose work Biographia Literaria. Coleridge and his dear friend (and partner in founding the Romantic Movement) Wordsworth were contemporaries of Byron– who went out of his way to insult them in Canto III of Don Juan.