Think vampires are all the same? Think again! Vampires come in more flavors than Baskin-Robbins ice cream. So, this special DotW feature, Vampires we know and love, spotlights different kinds of bloodsucking fiends from around the world.
The first English Vampire
Or should I say “vampyre?”
The most famous ghost story-telling session in the history of the world happened in June 1816, in a rented house, Maison Chappius, at Lake Geneva, Switzerland.
Present were poet Percy Bysshe Shelley; the author he would soon marry, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin; her half-sister Claire Clairmont (whose parents had obviously been drunk when they named her); the poet Lord Byron; and Dr. John Polidori, Byron’s doctor and traveling companion.
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Claire Clairmont (She later bore Byron a daughter, Allegra.)
George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron
It was rainy and the whole company was bored. They turned to reading a book of ghost stories out loud, “Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d’Histoires d’Apparitions de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes.” That means “Fanstamagoriana, or Collection of Stories of Apparitions of Spectres, Revenants, Phantoms.”
After reading this, Byron–or someone else–suggested that they all write ghost stories themselves and tell them to the group.
By the way, the lot of them were drunk/wasted most of the time.
According to Mary Shelley’s diary, Polidori’s story was pretty bad. But Byron told a story with vampiric elements that wasn’t.
Byron got sick of Polidori and fired him soon after.
A couple of years later, a vampire story appeared in New Monthly Magazine. It had Bryon’s name attached to it, but it was written by Polidori, ‘inspired by’ the notes he had taken on Byron’s ghost story from Geneva. Whether Polidori meant for it to published or not is up in the air. It was titled The Vampyre.
Also, Byron was listed as the author.
Byron was mad, mad, mad. Especially since the vampire villain seemed to have a lot in common with him. Goethe said it was the best thing Byron had ever written (except he didn’t write it).
Byron denied the story and wrote his own vampire tale “Fragment of a Story.”
But it would never change the fact that “The Vampyre” was the first English vampire story and “Fragment of a Story” was the second.
Polidori killed himself. Eventually someone wrote a story in which Byron is a vampire.
But the moral of the story should be this:
While Byron abandoned his tale, forever giving up the chance to write the first ever vampire story and Polidori had to borrow someone else’s name to get published… Mary Shelley kept working on her own story. She stuck to it and worked her arse off.
Eventually, hers was the only novel to come out of that story-telling session, and while The Vampyre and Fragment of a Novel became kinda famous, hers lives on to this day.
It’s a little something called Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus.
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- Rosemary Guiley, Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters, Checkmark Books, 2005