Second Name Basis – The Vampyre by John Polidori

Accompanying episode of The FrankenPod : John Polidori and the Infinite Sadness

The Vampyre is one of those novels that has no chance of living up to its legacy. The fraternal twin of that famous ghost story competition that birthed Frankenstein, The Vampyre had a lot to live up to purely based on its genesis. John Polidori published the tragic tale of the Aubrey family and the monster that plagues them in 1819. The much-maligned novel is not as awful as many Byron scholars would have you believe, but it is a just proto-vampire narrative to Bram Stoker’s Dracula and its ilk. There is certainly much to be said for this short story which I can’t help but feel would have had lower expectations to strive for if it did not have the origin story it did, and might have been critiqued more charitably. Or simply forgotten.

 

What’s in a Name?

We don’t really come to care all that much about the characters, save possibly Aubrey. Lord Ruthven is suitably inaccessible and mysterious which is an excellent choice for a vampire that would be much more effective if Polidori had taken the time to juxtapose the removed otherness of the Lord with more fleshed out mortal characters. Unfortunately, we only get a cursory insight into many of the characters, and all except the damsel figure Ianthe are not given a first name. It’s a small omission but it sure makes a difference

 

220px-A_Fragment_1819_Lord_ByronThe Fragment

The true origin of Polidori’s The Vampyre does not take place in Polidori’s room at the Villa Diodati but rather, Lord Byron as part of the ghost story challenge penned the discarded fragment that Polidori would then build on to create the predatory Lord Ruthven. When The Vampyre was mistakenly attributed to Byron, Byron published the fragment as a way to explain the confusion and distance himself from a story that he was embarrassed to have associated with his literary “genius”.

 

Byronharlow
Byron by Harlow

The Byronic Vampyre

The most interesting reading of Polidori’s narrative is the often alluded to in the reading of the text as a vengeful satire of Polidori’s cruel employer, notorious celebrity poet and letch, Lord Byron. Polidori watched Byron’s sexual exploits throughout his time as his consulting physician on his grand tour. For a less confident young man with substantially less social capital, it must have been at best annoying and frustrating. Polidori decided to render his vision of Byron as a kind of predatory parasite that drains the life from people, who seem oblivious to his evil machinations. The legacy of Polidori’s short story is the aristocratic, Byronic, vampire which would become standard in vampire fiction for many years to come.

So can I link The Vampyre to Frankenstein?

This was a tricky one. I didn’t want to go the route of the monster because I feel we’ve trod that territory so frequently that the land has become barren and infertile, so we will rest that particular section of land until it is capable of yielding a harvest.

This metaphor is OUT OF CONTROL.

Can we talk about the trope of the bride being killed by a monster on her wedding night instead? In the case of Frankenstein, Elizabeth is killed by the Creature her husband brings to life. In The Vampyre Miss Aubrey, who is presumably Lady Ruthven at this point, is killed by her husband. There is an uncomfortable lack of identity for Miss Aubrey, as she never truly exists outside of her relationships with first her brother, then Lord Ruthven. She has no name of her own. Elizabeth certainly had an identity even if her agency is crushed by the consequences of Victor’s hubris. But these dissimilar brides experience a similar fate. There is probably a whole rabbit hole we could go down about the fear of female sexuality and male commitment… but that is for another time I think.

Good talk

Morgan

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The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati

byron-greek-dress
Lord Byron in Greek dress

This article was written to accompany The FrankenPod episode “The League of Incense – The Villa Diodati” and our continuing exploration of Frankenstein, Or the Modern Day Prometheus and it’s author Mary Shelley.

In 1816 the after-effects of a devastating eruption of Mount Tambora the year beforehand were seriously messing with weather patterns and consequently the harvest. Farmers across the globe were struggling to make ends meet and cost of food and produce skyrocketed. Byron was still travelling. He left England in disgrace and he would never go back until they transported his cold lifeless corpse back to England against his wishes. Mary, her husband Percy and her stepsister Claire were travelling too. Referred to as the Shelley Party, or Shelley and his two little wives. The two parties would cross paths between 10 June to 1 November 1816 at Lake Geneva that would be intensely documented and scrutinised.

 

Whilst Mary and her novel may be our primary point of interest, she is not the driving force behind the gathering of these remarkable people. No, it is her persistent and enamoured 18-year-old step sister, who had organised for the two parties to meet up using the kind of Machiavellian manipulation that only a strong-willed 18-year-old woman can orchestrate. Claire Clairmont had, through written correspondence, pursued Lord Byron and, he, exhausted from the constant scandal was absolutely willing to have an affair with a pretty, chaperone-less young lady who was the stepdaughter of one of the most esteemed thinkers of his age.

Their affair was short-lived and Byron unceremoniously ditched her. Claire, however, was not done with him and she began to utilize all the social capital she had at her disposal. If you haven’t caught on yet Byron is an arse. He was accused of all sorts of adulterous and licentious behaviour including a rumoured affair with his half-sister. He spent his time hopping from scandal to scandal, leaving a path of destruction in his wake. His behaviour was particularly devastating to the women he had affairs with as the scandal could ruin their lives. He was very assured of his own genius and place in the world and he thought nothing of dismissing the affections of this young woman until she introduced Percy and Mary into the mix.

Byron, like Percy and numerous other young writers of the time, was fascinated by Mary. This daughter of two literary greats must be special indeed. And Percy had previously sent Byron a copy of Queen Mab in which the older poet saw a budding poetic voice emerging. Plus Byron had dealt with his fair share of public scandal so he felt a certain affinity with the young unwed couple.

However, Byron was leaving for Geneva and Claire was not going to give up just yet. She asked for the address.

He said no.

She asked again but this time she offered to bring Mary and Percy along.

This idea appealed to Byron and an invitation was extended to the Shelley party who by this stage was essentially on the run from Percy’s creditors and the scandalous reputation they had acquired in England.

Byron was not travelling alone, his laudanum addiction provoked him to retain the services of a doctor to accompany him in his travels, one Doctor John Polidori. Literary lore and Polidori’s own account of his time with the genius poet depicts a Byron as a potential sociopath who would constantly berate and belittle his paid companion, whilst demonstrating an easy charm and playfulness with others. He enjoyed toying with the young doctor, delighting in his failures and missteps. But Polidori had a secret; he had been paid quite a large sum of money by publisher John Murray to document the trip for publication. Byron gossip was a high priced commodity, and though his motives were far from pure, it is Polidori’s notes to which we owe a large portion of what we know of the events that transpired at the on the holiday…

Listen to The FrankenPod League of Incense – The Villa Diodati now.

Or keep reading… Or both

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