The Poet and the Vampyre: The Curse of Byron and the Birth of Literature's Greatest Monsters by Andrew McConnell Stott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Vampyres have been around for centuries if not millennia. Traditionally they were portrayed as decaying corpses come to life only to drink blood and then hide back in their grave. John Polidori’s story changed all that and the vampire became an aristocratic figure full of charm and seduction. The birth of this new vampire coincided with the firth of a new kind of monster one created by man.
John Polidori, who wrote, “ The Vampyre” was trained traditionally to be a doctor. Forced by his Italian immigrant father to study medicine, the London born John first studied in Amplworth and then wnet to medical school in Edinburgh. Some things macabre jump out from this experience. To understand the anatomy medical students used to steal corpses from the local cemetery and cover up their crime so they would have something to work with.
Upon graduating from medical school, John Polidori became the physician to a fallen Aristocrat named Lord Byron. Lord Byron skyrocketed to fame with his poem “The Child Harolde” In this sudden rise to fame Lord Byron womanized, drank and held outrageous parties. Whenhe got married to Anna Milbanke the marriage lasted but two to three years. She filed for divorce and the rumors spread like wild fire. Lord Byron left for the European continent. Taking off by boat with John Polidori the two toured the countryside of France and Luxemborg going all the way to Geneva. The country was ravages by war with Napoleon and Austria.
It was in Geneva at Lake Leman in Switzerland that Lord Byron was slated to meet with Claire Clairmont, step sister of Mary Shelly. Mary Shelly was famous for writing “Frankenstein.” Her real name though was Mary Godwin. Wolstonecraft was the name of her grandmother. The family was of political free thinkers and feminists. Mr. Shelley her husband eloped with her leaving his first wife Harriet behind.
At the in a Villa called “Diodati” the group of people explored literary ideas, experienced boredom and had their dalliances. One such union was between Lord Byron and Claire. It produced a child but Byron would not recognize he child nor acknowledge it. One day they were all bored and decided to have a ghost story writing contest. This contest produced “Frankenstein” and the Vampyre.
The Vampyre was inspired by Lord Byron. He was a charming womanizer with a streak of cruelty. He lead a debaucherous life and was quite egocentric. While Polidor’s Vampyre story would hit big time he would barely scrape by. After being released from Lord Byron’s service he traveled Italy and wnet about Europe trying to procure employment. Lord Byron settled in Venice and sent his daughter via Claire to a nunnery where she dies of neglect. Lord Byron would die in 1824 helping the Greeks against the Turks. John Polidoria would die in his sleep a debt ridden wreck and the Shelley’s had a somewhat normal life. Claire eneded up dying in her 80’s shaken by her life experiences.
Awesome book especially if one wants a glimpse into the debauched life of the poet. It is not all riches and glory and the writing life is not always the best. Love the book though it is about the author not the vampires themselves.
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