In 1819 a story called The Vampyre was published, in which the creature who traditionally looked like a hobbit and lived down a mole hole was refashioned as a melancholy aristocrat in riding boots and frock coat. The authorship was attributed to Lord Byron but The Vampyre was in fact the product of Byron’s physician, a troubled and troublesome scamp called John Polidori.
A fascinating exploration of one of the most significant moments in gothic history – the night when Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and their cohorts gathered together in Lake Geneva to tell ghost stories.
One of literary history’s legendary events really did happen on a dark and stormy night. While the “rain descended in sheets” on Lac Léman (now known as Lake Geneva, Switzerland), western culture’s most famous monster was conceived and the modern vampire first imagined. Andrew McConnell Stott’s “The Poet and the Vampyre” explores the sexual politics (and sexual relations) among the three men — Percy Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori — and the two women — Mary Godwin (soon to be Mary Shelley) and her stepsister, Claire Clairmont — who sat at a blazing fire telling ghost stories that night in 1816.
We will each write a ghost story, said Lord Byron, and his proposition was acceded to.” So wrote Mary Shelley in the preface to her first novel, Frankenstein, published in 1831, 15 years after one of the most mythologised events in literary history. That was the famous night at the Villa Diodati, near Lake Geneva, in 1816, when Byron, Mary Godwin, Percy Shelley and John Polidori, Byron’s doctor, gathered by the fire to make up ghost stories. Two of the horror genre’s most enduring monsters were born: the vampire and Victor Frankenstein’s unnamed creation. But Mary also wrote herself into fiction by mythologising further a group of writers who have been the subject of both biography and fiction, ever since.