The Keepsake, Mary Shelley and Eboli

Listen to The Keepsake

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In this episode of The FrankenPod, we talk a little bit about one of Mary Shelley’s works written for the literary annual The Keepsake. We already covered the ‘Mortal Immortal’ and Shelley published 7 or 8 stories in The Keepsake.

The 1828 edition of The Keepsake

The Keepsake was produced with a particular audience in mind, the relatively new reading demographic or young women. The increased literacy of women in the 19th century, despite the fact that their wandering wombs might be affected by scandalous novels and stories.

But basically, it was still considered relatively dangerous to be exposing women to literature, particularly literature that was scandalous, scary or not completely pious and religious.

Basically historically society has had a pretty dim view of educating women and allowing them to read. Because god knows what they might do if they gained an alternate world view from the ones prescribed by their husbands, fathers and brothers.

Back to keepsake. Because it was aimed at young women it was bound in red dress silk and had lots of pictures.

It was published between 1828, so 10 years after Frankenstein, until 1857, so 10 years after Sweeney Todd on The FrankenPod timeline

The publication was founded by Charles Heath who was actually an engraver, so those amazing pictures?

 

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It took some work but he was able to get Hurst, Chance, & Co to publish the first volume in 1828. It was edited by William Ainsworth who created Dick Turpin the highwayman and very unhelpfully does not list the authors of the stories and poems. We do know that one of the contributions was made by Percy Shelley, William Ainsworth and Felicia Heman who wrote the poem ‘Casablanca’ which starts

The boy stood on the burning deck,

Whence all but he had fled;

The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,

Shone round him o’er the dead.

Which is this gut punch of a poem about a kid who dies on a burning ship, but that I encountered as a child by my eternally classy father teaching me this version:

The boy stood on the burning deck

Picking his nose like mad,

Rolling it into little balls

And throwing them at his dad.

Anyway there a good 10 or twenty stories and poems in the 1828 The Keepsake that don’t have clear authorship which is a shame. The engravings, however, are all attributed, mostly to Charles Heath.

The Percy Shelley contribution was published posthumously presumably by Mary Shelley, he had drowned 6 years previously.

We do have the authors for the second edition in 1829.

They included Sir Walter Scott, Coleridge who wrote my favourite piece of Albatross inspired literature this is the last bit from Part 1 of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

‘God save thee, ancient Mariner!

From the fiends, that plague thee thus!—

Why look’st thou so?’—With my cross-bow

I shot the ALBATROSS.

But he hadn’t written that yet, that was 5 years away.

Other attributed authors included Felicia Hemon (Listed as Mrs Hemon) Wordsworth, Southey, so some pretty big names.

The 1829 edition also brings us the first 2 contributions by Mary Shelley – Ferdinando Eboli (pronunciation?) and The Sisters of Albano

There is much more information on Ferdinando Eboli.

It follows the story of Count Ferdinando Eboli who is saying farewell to his loved ones before leaving for the Napoleonic Wars.

At this point, I should probably tell you that the publication The Keepsake was said to showcase second-rate fiction from first-rate authors…

Reviews can be nasty.

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Desperatly Seeking Watson

Listen to The FrankenPod episode; Desperately Seeking Watson

It’s 1881 and 2010 the toll of the war in Afghanistan is being felt by returning veterans who are struggling to find their place within a society that has no frame of reference for their recent experience. One of the more disenfranchised of these returning veterans is one Doctor John Watson, a medical man who is suffering physically and psychologically due in large part to an injury he sustained to his shoulder/leg. He has no real home, no real family or friends. He is a man adrift waiting for the nearest high functioning sociopath to sweep him off his feet and into an implausible mystery.

Tonight we are talking about the character that his own creator resented, the man who popularised a fallacy about deductive reasoning, the frequent ejaculator Sherlock Holmes. 

Actually, I lie Watson is the frequent ejaculator that was rude of me.

Just a warning, this is NOT going to be a comprehensive exploration of holmes, we’re probably going to do other holmes episodes at some point, and I know that there will be people who know far more about Sherlock Holmes  listening to this, so I can only apologize for any inaccuracies and omission, and I extend an open invitation to come on the podcast and share your knowledge.

For this month’s episode, I read A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Brent watched the 2010 episode of BBC’s Sherlock and the unaired pilot.

Full disclosure, I have viewed the BBC Sherlock on numerous occasions, probably more often than I have read the story, but it’s pretty close. This is the story at the very beginning, the story in which Watson meets Sherlock, their eyes meet and a marketable franchise is born.

John Watson served in the Second Anglo-Afghan war. So the bulk of my information about this comes from the story itself and reading an article on garenewing.co.uk. Definitely not knowledgeable about war history so please bear that in mind. The conflict lasted for 2 years from 1878 to 1880

John Watson is said to be in Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers as an Assistant Surgeon. He was playing catch up of a kind, I’m sure that’s the technical term, and when he arrived at Bombay they were already in Kandahar. Then getting attached to another unit called the Berkshires. It’s after this that he goes to into the battle of Maiwand and incurs the injury and PTSD that he will be dealing with when he meets Holmes. He cites his orderly Murray as being instrumental in his survival after being wounded by a bullet.

Turns out that some war history research types have basically said nope, wrong place wrong time no Murray to nearly all of this, and have gone about systematically providing the actual information associated with Arthur Conan Doyle’s assertions and I just wanted to point out that we live in a world where someone bothered to do that and it’s beautiful and the internet is just swell sometimes. You can find that info here 

Also, Holmes says in his whole showing off how brilliant he is that he can tell all of the things about Watson including that ‘He has just come from the tropics’ which is bullshit because Afghanistan isn’t in the tropics so suck on that Sherlock.

In the novel, we meet Gregson and Lestrade who Holmes says try jealousy to outdo each other and are rivals on the police force. 

 

The emphasis on the ring is in both the novel and television show In the novel it is because it is the proof of the injustice and cruelty of the victim to the woman that is at the centre of the mystery.

Rache is German for revenge and Jefferson Hope adopts the use of this term and the crime scene as it is the modus operandi of a criminal in the United states that baffled the police and he hoped that he could utilize the same pageantry to throw off Scotland Yard.

There is a similar murder weapon, the two pills and the gun to enforce the choice.

The victims are Stangerson and Drebber. Drebber took the pill choice, stangerson attacked Jefferson Hope and so Hope had to stab him.

The cabby is still the murderer and he is about to die from an aneurysm in the aorta

Part two is very strange, we find out about Jefferson Hope’s motivation for murdering the two men. I’m going to do a bare-bones summary are you ready. There is lots of Mormon hating coming up:

John Ferrier and a tiny 4-year-old Lucy are dying of thirst and starvation on the plains of Utah, they were part of a larger group including Lucy’s parents, but they are the only two left alive. They are rescued by a large caravan of Mormons headed by real-life Mormon leader brigham young, who basically says that he will only save them if they follow all the tenants of the Mormon faith. John Ferrier Does pretty well out of the situation when they get to the ‘promised land’ he gets a portion of land and becomes very wealthy. He adopts Lucy and years pass with her growing up in a super creepy male gaze montage. She goes out one day on horseback and some shit goes down and she is rescued by Jefferson hope, who falls in love with her. He kind of proposes and then goes away for a job. Meanwhile Brigham young tells John Ferrier that Lucy will have to marry a Mormon dude or John Ferrier will be killed and lucy forced into matrimony. She has two to choose from, Drebber or Stangerson, both of whom are already in polygamous relationships They give them 30 days to comply, like some sort of weird notice to vacate and John Ferrier sends for Jefferson Hope to see if he can come and help. He turns up just in time in a weird face planting and crawling along the ground type situation which is ridiculous and I have a quote

They go on the run. But the Mormons catch up and while Jefferson hope is away from Lucy and killing John Ferrier and abducting lucy. Lucy dies not long after being forced to marry Drebber and so Jefferson Hope goes seeking revenge, even after Drebber and Stangerson go to England. And so that is the motivation of Jefferson Hope. He knows one of them killed John Ferrier and they forced Lucy into a marriage that was the apparent cause of her death. The ring at the crime scene is Lucy’s.

This is the point where I need to talk about the representation of Mormons. It’s pretty brutal, the taking of Lucy by force and the way Christianity is held up as the ideal and Mormonism is seen to be criminal and debauched is bad enough, but Conan Doyle attributes awful behaviour to real live people apparently based on sensationalised reports of the time that demonised the Mormons. As an atheist, I don’t think it’s fair for me to make value judgements about anyone’s religion, but the portrayal was so bad that apparently, Arthur Conan Doyle extended a personal apology to Brigham Young.

My Favourite Vampire with Sarah from Good Nightmare

This post accompanies The FrankenPod episode My Favourite Vampire

Dracula is one of those monsters who is so pervasive and terrifying, I’ve already explored how he has been contorted and manipulated to fit our social anxieties. Despite the very “of their time” nature of Dracula adaptations, the appeal of certain adaptations divisive, and not by the age of the reader or viewer and the contemporary adaptations of their time. The novel Dracula has a timeless appeal that may not be entirely the case with a movie. The 1931 movie has an enduring quality, but it has visibly aged and has lost its edge, the 1992 movie is still narratively compelling but the effects and augmentation of the original text place it firmly in the 90s. I asked a fellow Australian podcaster, Sarah, from Good Nightmare to tell me why the novel is such a favourite of hers.

In order to fully explore Dracula we would be remiss if we didn’t cover the 1931 movie

Fun fact the Spanish language Dracula was filmed on the same set, but at night, so they were able to perfect the shots that the American crew may have botched a little. Many many regard the Spanish version as the superior film. I have not watched the Spanish version but I instead watched the American Universal Studios Version of Dracula directed by Carl Laemmle jr. and starring Bela Lugosi as the titular Count.

 

The 1931 movie features a lot of close-ups of Dracula, with lights focused on his eyes. This way of depicting the hypnotic gaze is effective but more than a tiny bit ridiculous. Also, we never see a bite, we just see people leaning ominously in and the scene fades or the vampire moves slowly and ominously out of shot. The movie is as subtle as a brick, but let’s face it you don’t come to Universal Studios Monster canon for a nuanced story. They have very obviously styled Lucy as a “modern woman”, and carried out some serious 1930s slut-shaming, because she deserved to be bitten, unlike the pure and innocent Mina. Hey everyone, can we have an adaption of Dracula in which we don’t care about Lucy because she is less chaste or special than her friend Mina? Please. If there is one please let me know because I would love to see it.

I’ve said some nasty things about the film, but I do really appreciate some very special elements that the film brings to the Dracula narrative,

The movie gives us an origin story for Renfield (which means we get soooo much supernaturally crazed Dwight Frye which I am 100% here for)

Helen chandler’s performance is wonderful, over the top and just beautiful. Obviously, Bela Lugosi as Dracula and Eric Van Sloan as Van Helsing are the most iconic characters in the movie but Helen Chandler as Mina Harker almost mare me like the character of Mina more. The bushy moustaches of the Transylvanian villagers are something to behold, honestly, this movie’s moustache game may be the best I’ve seen. An honourable mention has to go to Jonathan’s Suits. They almost made him interesting.

The Brontës

This week The FrankenPod (rss feed for podcast app) episode is a conversation with Megan from Oh No! Lit Class on the literary family the Brontës. The gothic classic Jane Eyre was penned by Charlotte and Emily wrote the eerily gothic Wuthering Heights. It’s a bit of a rambling chat in which we also delve into the comedy sci-fi world of Douglas Adams, the childhood trauma of the Goosebumps series and the Byronic elements of Christian Gray, so I don’t have a script to publish. So here are some quotes from the works of the children of Patrick Brontë who survived to adulthood:

Photo by John Illingworth
Photo by John Illingworth. Branwell Brontë A wood statue by the canal depicting Branwell, the black sheep of the Brontë family, as well as other landmarks and characteristics of Calderdale. Branwell was for a couple of years a booking clerk at the nearby Luddendenfoot railway station but left under a cloud.

Patrick Branwell Brontë

Thorpe Green by Patrick Branwell Brönte

I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,

And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago.Unwelcome cares, unthought-of fears,
Around my room arise;
I seek for suns of former years
But clouds o’ercast my skies.Yes-Memory, wherefore does thy voice
Bring old times back to view,
As thou wouldst bid me not rejoice
In thoughts and prospects new?I’ll thank thee, Memory, in the hour
When troubled thoughts are mine-
For thou, like suns in April’s shower,
On shadowy scenes wilt shine.I’ll thank thee when approaching death
Would quench life’s feeble ember,
For thou wouldst even renew my breath
With thy sweet word ‘Remember’!

Charlotte Bronte by G. Richmond 1850
Charlotte Bronte by G. Richmond 1850

Charlotte Brontë

Quote from Jane Eyre spoken by Jane herself:

“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again. […] I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.”

Disputed portrait by her brother Branwell; sources are in disagreement over whether this image is of Emily or Anne
Disputed portrait by her brother Branwell; sources are in disagreement over whether this image is of Emily or Anne

Emily Brontë

Quote from Wuthering Heights, taken from Nelly’s final narration:

Mr. Kenneth was perplexed to pronounce of what disorder the master died. I concealed the fact of his having swallowed nothing for four days, fearing it might lead to trouble, and then, I am persuaded, he did not abstain on purpose: it was the consequence of his strange illness, not the cause.

We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he wished. Earnshaw and I, the sexton, and six men to carry the coffin, comprehended the whole attendance. The six men departed when they had let it down into the grave: we stayed to see it covered. Hareton, with a streaming face, dug green sods, and laid them over the brown mould himself: at present it is as smooth and verdant as its companion mounds—and I hope its tenant sleeps as soundly. But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he walks: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you’ll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on ’em looking out of his chamber window on every rainy night since his death

Anne Brontë Drawn by Charlotte
Anne Brontë Drawn by Charlotte

Anne Brontë

From the introduction to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall:

I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.

Percy Frankenstein/Victor Shelley

When a novel like Frankenstein appears to come out of the blue and change the world of literature forever, finding the inspiration behind it can keep scholars and enthusiasts busy for centuries (yep, we hit year 200 of Frankenstein publication this year!). Finding the inspiration for the troubled and deeply problematic figure of Victor Frankenstein is one of the primary areas of interest. A pretty popular, and generally accepted theory of the doctor’s origins is that he is partially based on none other but Mary Shelley’s husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (yes, I blew the reveal in the title).

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845 Joseph Severn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Posthumous Portrait of Shelley Writing Prometheus Unbound 1845 Joseph Severn [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some of the cornerstones of the argument:

Victor was Percy’s Pen Name ¹

Percy used the pen name Victor in a collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth (writing as Cazire). You can read Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire on the internet archive. Check out the link in the references.

Percy Played with Electricity²

Percy took a keen interest in science since his early school days. His interests included astronomy, chemistry and… electricity. His interest was kindled by an assortment of teachers and tutors and he kept up to date with new developments in the scientific community, including the experiments of Erasmus Darwin as touched on in the 1831 introduction to Frankenstein³.

Antiquated Science and the Occult ⁴

In Frankenstein; Or the Modern Day Prometheus, Victor explains that at the foundation of his love of science is the, now outdated and viewed as occult, authors Agrippa and Paracelsus (see The Mortal Immortal for more on Mary Shelley and Cornelius Agrippa). Percy Bysshe Shelley was also familiar with the works of these specific writers and had more than a passing interest in their more outlandish hypotheses. He spent a good deal of money on books of witchcraft and magic when he was young, and you can certainly see that reflected in his poetry.

The Illuminati Connection⁵

It seems that Mary sent Victor to Ingolstadt University which was known for a particularly atheistic movement headed by Prof. Weishaupt. A group was founded called … GASP The Illuminati in 1776. This group advocated for a more enlightened state not run by the government of their day or by the religious establishment, or some mix of the two. As you can imagine these ideas were fascinating to a radical (for his time obviously) atheist like Percy Shelley. So is the locating of Victor’s formative years in the Bavarian Ingolstadt a nod to Percy’s enthusiasm for the Illuminati? Possibly not, but it’s a nice idea.

Hubris⁶

It could be that Percy’s atheism was troubling Mary. She was more orthodox in her beliefs than Percy. It’s entirely possible, in fact probable, that Mary thought this desire to view the world without God was to greatly overestimate the role of human autonomy. The hubris associated with atheism and ideas behind self-determination certainly lends itself to a Frankenstein narrative when viewed through the lens of typically 19th century English sensibilities.

Grief⁶

Similar to Mary’s despair at Percy’s dismissal of the role of a God as an omnipotent creator, was her dismay at the apparent indifference he demonstrated after the death of their first child. This is demonstrated in her letters to others. She felt the grief intensely but Percy seemed willing to leave the whole devastating business behind them without moarning as she did. This ability to shut out the tragedy of their first child’s death could potentially be seen as being echoed in Victor’s rejection of his creation.

There a few other points of commonality that I am not going to get into here include; family structure, education and Percy and Victor perhaps sharing an Oedipal complex, that last one is really interesting, but I have plans for that topic!

But there is also an argument that the poet was the inspiration for Henry Clerval more on that another time.

These theories are not mutually exclusive, it is entirely possible that Mary Shelley put a little of Percy in every guy she wrote. He was the main adult male person she spent time with for years after all.

Inspired by:

Legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu. (2018). PercyModel. [online] Available at: http://legacy.owensboro.kctcs.edu/crunyon/CE/Frankenstein/Name/Prometheus/percymodel.htm [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

References

  1. Archive.org. (2018). Full text of “Original poetry by Victor & Cazire (Percy Bysshe Shelley & Elizabeth Shelley) Edited by Richard Garnett”. [online] Available at: https://archive.org/stream/originalpoetryby00sheluoft/originalpoetryby00sheluoft_djvu.txt [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].
  2. King-Hele, D. (1992). Shelley and Science. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London, 46(2), 253-265. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/531637
  3. Shelley, M. (2018). Frankenstein, or Modern Prometheus. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg.
  4. Bieri, J., 2004. Percy Bysshe Shelley: A Biography: Youth’s Unextinguished Fire, 1792-1816 (Vol. 1). University of Delaware Press.
  5. Vickery, M. (2018). The birthplace of the Illuminati. [online] Bbc.com. Available at: http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20171127-the-birthplace-of-the-illuminati [Accessed 1 Mar. 2018].
  6. CARSON, J., & Carson, J. (1988). Bringing the Author Forward: “Frankenstein” Through Mary Shelley’s Letters. Criticism, 30(4), 431-453. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/stable/23112085

The Shelley Kids

This article is part of an exploration of Frankenstein or The Modern Day Prometheus and it’s author Mary Shelley by The FrankenPod (A Frankenstein Podcast).

Top image: Nerijus Navickas [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Percy Bysshe Shelley was married twice in his short lifetime. He had two children, Ianthe and Charles from his doomed marriage with Harriet and four children with Mary, only one of which survived into adulthood. But what happened to these kids that came from one of the most discussed tragedies of the romantic movement. Prepare yourself for a lot of child death, it’s going to get grim.

 

 

ianthe_shelley_bw
Ianthe Shelley

Ianthe Elizabeth Shelley

Daughter of Harriet and Percy

Born: 28th of June, 1813, Middlesex, London, England

Died: 16th of June 1876, Gloucestershire, England

Commonly called Eliza, Ianthe married Sir Edward Jefferies Esdaile. Harriet left her some of Percy’s rough draft notebooks later referred to as “The Esdaile Notebooks”. There is also a book of Percy’s Sonnets addressed to her.

She had six children, one of which is listed as being born after Ianthe’s death on geni which is weird, not sure what is happening there. Her children were named; Ianthe Harriet, Eliza Margaret, Charles Edward Jefferies, William, Mary Emily Sydney, Una Dean (which is the one that is mysteriously born after her death? I think it might be an estimate. If anyone knows what is going on here please get in touch thefrankenpod@gmail.com)

 

Charles Shelley

Born: 12th (?) of November 1814

Died: Struck by lightning in 1826?

I can’t find any corroboration for the lightning, he would have been 12. He did however have tuberculosis so it is more likely he succumbed to that. Both Charles and Ianthe were in the care of their maternal family after their mother’s suicide.

 

Clara Shelley

Daughter of Percy and Mary

Born in 1815, died at 13 days old

 

William Shelley By Amelia Curran (1775-1849) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
William Shelley By Amelia Curran (1775-1849) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

William Shelley

Son of Percy and Mary

Born: 24th of January 1816

Died: 2nd of January 1819

Named after his grandfather, William Godwin, William travelled with his parents from the moment he was born. He was present at the holiday by Lake Geneva. He had the nickname Willmouse and in a time of high infant mortality was doing pretty well, until he contracted cholera in Italy. He died aged 2. There seem to be similarities between Willmouse and William, the younger brother of Frankenstein who is the creature’s first murder victim.

 

Clara Everina Shelley

Daughter of Percy and Mary

Born: 14th of May 1817

Died: 24th September 1818

Clara died as an infant whilst the family was travelling.

 

 Elena Adelaide Shelley

Daughter of Percy and “Marina Padurin”

Referred to by Shelley as his “Neopolitan ward”

Born: 27th of December 1818

Died: 10th of June 1820

The details of this baby girl are somewhat of a mystery, some claim she was Claire Clairmont’s baby (Mary Shelley’s sister), others claim that she was adopted by Shelley in a perhaps misguided attempt to distract Mary from the death of her children.  There is a further theory that perhaps she was the daughter of Percy and the Shelley family nursemaid Elise Fogg. Elena was left in the care of an Italian family and died a year and a half later.

 

Percy Florence Shelley

Born: 12th of November 1818

Died: 5th of November 1889

Percy Florence Shelley deserves a whole post of his own as he was largely responsible for Mary’s legacy after her death and his influence had shaped contemporary understandings of her authorship in much the same way a Charlotte Brontë “preserved” her family legacy. So we will come back to him at a later date.

Mary_Shelleys_Family_Tree
See page for author [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Bibliography

References

geni_family_tree. (2018). Ianthe Elizabeth Esdaile. [online] Available at: https://www.geni.com/people/Ianthe-Esdaile/6000000018078868508 [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Harriet Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/People/hshelley.html [Accessed 26 Feb. 2018].

Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). Percy Bysshe Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/PShelley/pshelley.html [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

Knarf.english.upenn.edu. (2018). William Shelley. [online] Available at: http://knarf.english.upenn.edu/People/wshelley.html [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

Wikitree.com. (2018). Ianthe Eliza (Shelley) Esdaile (1814-1876) | WikiTree FREE Family Tree. [online] Available at: https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Shelley-562 [Accessed 27 Feb. 2018].

John Polidori and the Infinite Sadness

Accompanying episode: John Polidori and the Infinite Sadness

John Polidori

Born on 7th of September, 1795 in London.

Died aged 25 on the 24th of August, 1821, in London

Polidori wrote his thesis on sleepwalking during his time studying at the University of Edinburgh (name-checked more than once in our Body Snatchers episode with Courtney from Cult of Domesticity). He became a qualified doctor of medicine at the age of 19.

Sleep-walking plays a role in 19th and 20th-century vampire mythology, but this isn’t attributed to Polidori. Dracula, Carmilla and Varney all use sleepwalking as a kind of hypnotic state induced by the Count.

The young doctor was employed by on Lord George Gordon Byron, to accompany him while he was on his Grand Tour of Europe which would eventually lead them to The Villa Diodati, we’ve covered that here, so I’m going to go ahead and skip this bit. Except I better mention that Polidori was paid 500 pounds to keep a diary of the exploits of the “rockstar” poet by publisher John Murray.

The Fragment Debacle

Byron wrote a Fragment as part of the infamous ghost story challenge, Mary started Frankenstein and both Percy and Polidori started stories that they gave up on soon after. But when Byron discarded the fragment, Polidori used it as a springboard for his novel The Vampyre. Utilizing aspects of the fragment such as the character Arthur Darvill he created a full narrative, a far cry from the discarded document. Polidori took that fragment and turned it into what is believed to be the first vampire story written and published in English. The Vampyre was published a magazine without his permission (CORRECTION ALERT: I stated he gave permission in the Villa Diodati episode but that doesn’t seem to be true) and attributed it to Byron. I’m not sure how The New Monthly Magazine got hold of the manuscript but publishers had heard of this lost fragment of Byron’s and seem to have presumed that The Vampyre was it.

Byron and Polidori both printed corrections but the damage was done, particularly to Polidori’s psyche. He had tried to appeal to Percy and Byron to help him with his writing career and Byron annihilated him. The once The Vampyre was no longer attributed to Byron the public and critical reception turned bad. People no longer wanted to read it and actively condemned it.

Embarrassed and depressed he tried to enter the monastery and become a monk but that didn’t work out, then he tried to study law, but that didn’t work out either. He began to accumulate gambling debts and eventually felt so hopeless that he drank prussic acid and died aged 25.

Excellent Public Domain Article on this By Arthur McConnell Stott

His some of his published works were his thesis, The Vampyre (attributed to Byron), a poem The Fall of Angels (published anonymously in 1921) and his diary which would only be released in edited form in 1911 by his nephew.

ReWriting History

Mary Shelley disagrees Polidori’s actions at the Villa Diodati. In her 1831 introduction to a reprint of Frankenstein she says that it was a conversation between Byron and Shelley:

“Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley, to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these, various philosophical doctrines were discussed, and among others the nature of the principle of life”

-Mary Shelley 1831

William Rosetti’s edited version of Polidori’s Diary indicates it was likely Polidori:

The conversation between Shelley and Polidori about “principles”and “whether man was to be thought merely an instrument” appears to have some considerable analogy with a conversation to which Mary Shelley and Professor Dowden refer, and which raised in her mind a train of thought conducing to her invention of Frankenstein and his Man-monster. Mary, however, speaks of Byron (not Polidori) as the person who conversed with Shelley on that occasion. Professor Dowden, paraphrasing some remarks made by Mary, says: “One night she sat listening to a conversation between the two poets at Diodati. What was the nature, they questioned, of the principle of life? Would it ever be discovered, and the power of communicating life be acquired? Perhaps a corpse would be reanimated; galvanism had given token of such things. That night Mary lay sleepless,” etc.

-William Rossetti 1911

He must have really upset her, possibly when he propositioned her while she was on holiday with her boyfriend and her small child? That could do it!

Or alternately was Polidori misattributing Byron’s conversation to himself?

She also mentions Byron’s Fragment without making so much as a mention of The Vampyre, simply judging Polidori for his abandoned attempt at the lakeside Villa that night. Shelley does not owe Polidori any charity, but it is curious how willfully she avoids attributing him with even the slightest value.

Family Legacy

Polidori, continued to be a footnote in literary and cultural history as his nieces and nephews would go on to be much more critically acclaimed; Dante (poet and artist), Willian (writer), Maria (writer) and Christina Rossetti (Poet; My essay on Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market) Polidori never met them, he died before they were born.