In June 1816 while John Polidori, Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley and Claire Clairmont were visiting the house Lord Byron had rented near Geneva, Byron suggested that each member of the party should write a ghost story. Both Frankenstein and The Vampyre were initiated as a result of this challenge. Polidori was Byron’s physician at the time.
As part of the challenge, Byron wrote a fragment of a story, which Polidori stated was the idea for his own tale. Polidori developed the idea, and seems to have written it down for the Countess of Breuss, who lived nearby, and from whom the publisher acquired the manuscript. It was first published in April 1819 in Henry Colburn’s New Monthly Magazine, under the title The Vampyre: A Tale by Lord Byron, later appearing as a book with Byron’s name on the title page of the first edition. His name was removed for the second edition. Byron disclaimed authorship, but the work’s immediate success rested largely on being attributed to him.
The story deals with aristocratic seduction and murder, the connection between a depraved young aristocrat and vampirism, the moral collapse both of the woman being seduced and her brother, and the inability of her family to protect her. There is a notable connection with Byron’s fragment in the injunction that the ‘death’ of the vampire/mysterious aristocrat must be kept secret. In Polidori’s story this must be for a year and a day (pp. 54–55), which turns out to be the day the vampire is due to marry/kill the narrator’s sister. It is widely accepted that Byron was the model for the vampire character, Lord Ruthven.
The Vampyre shares several motifs with Frankenstein: the superhuman strength of the monster/vampire (p. 47); a path of destructiveness leading to the death of those who surround Ruthven and the monster (p. 34, p. 63); the marriage followed by the death of the bride; the dead rising again (p. 61); and the use of the word 'monster'.
- Article by:
- Greg Buzwell
- Romanticism, The Gothic, The novel 1780-1832
Greg Buzwell describes the bizarre circumstances that gave rise to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and the other works that emerged from the ‘ghost story challenge’ at the Villa Diodati in the summer of 1816.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- The Gothic, The novel 1780-1832
Professor John Mullan examines the origins of the Gothic, explaining how the genre became one of the most popular of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the subsequent integration of Gothic elements into mainstream Victorian fiction.
- Article by:
- Roger Luckhurst
- The Gothic
Roger Luckhurst challenges the idea of the 19th century as one of secularisation, exploring the popularity of mesmerism, spiritualism and 'true' ghost stories in the period.