[Home]John William Polidori

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John William Polidori, credited by some as the creator of the vampire genre? of fantasy fiction. Polidori, the son of an Italian political émigré, was one of the first pupils at [Ampleforth College]?. He began his schooling in 1804 shortly after the monks, in exile from France, settled in the lodge of [Anne Fairfax]?'s chaplain in the [Ampleforth Valley]?. He went on from Ampleforth in 1810 to [Edinburgh University]?, where he qualified as a doctor, and in 1816 entered Lord Byron's service as his personal physician.

In 1816, Doctor Polidori accompanied Byron on a trip through Europe. In Geneva, Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion [Clair Clairmont]?. One night in June, after the company had read aloud from a collection of horror tales, Byron suggested that they each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley worked on a tale that would later evolve into Frankenstein. Byron wrote (and quickly abandoned) a fragment of a story, which Polidori used later as inspiration for his own tale.

Rather than use the crude, bestial vampire of folklore as a basis for his story, Polidori based his character on Byron. Polidori named the character "Lord Ruthven?" as a joke. The name was originally used in [Lady Caroline Lamb]?'s novel Glenarvon?, in which a thinly-disguised Byron figure was also named Lord Ruthven. Polidori's Lord Ruthven was not only the first vampire in English fiction, but was the first fictional vampire in the form we recognize today---an aristocratic fiend who preyed among high society.

Polidori's story, [The Vampyre]?, was published in the April 1819 issue of [New Monthly Magazine]?. Much to both his and Byron's chagrin, The Vampyre was released as a new work by Byron. Byron even released his own [Fragment of a Novel]? in an attempt to clear up the mess, but, for better or worse, The Vampyre continued to be attributed to him.

Cruelly dismissed by Byron, Polidori returned to England, and in 1820 wrote to the Prior at Ampleforth; his letter is lost, but Prior Burgess' reply makes it clear that he considered Polidori, with his scandalous literary acquaintances, an unsuitable case for monastic profession. After writing an ambitious sacred poem, [The Fall of the Angels]?, in 1821, Polidori, suffering from depression, died in mysterious circumstances, probably by self-administered poison, though the coroner's verdict was that he had perished "by the visitation of God".

Polidori's fate has been to be remembered only as a footnote in Romantic history. He might be better known had his sister not destroyed the journals he had been keeping during his travels with Byron. As well as being mid-wife to Frankenstein's monster, he was uncle to [Dante Gabriel]? and [Christina Rossetti]?.

The text of The Vampyre can be found at http://gothic.vei.net/lordruthven/rvampyre1.htm

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Last edited November 5, 2001 5:37 pm by Hajhouse (diff)