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Vampires we know and love #4: The first English Vampire

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.

the players

Percy Bysshe Shelley
Mary Shelley
Claire Clairmont (She later bore Byron a daughter, Allegra.)
George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron
John Polidori

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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About teresawilde

Author of Young Adult Paranormals, Paranormal Romance, Historical Paranormal Romance, tragical- comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, and poem unlimited.

11 responses to “Vampires we know and love #4: The first English Vampire

  1. Thank you for all these cool blogs. Love the pic of Polidori. I can SO see him as a character in a book.

  2. teresawilde ⋅

    Very welcome, Barbara! I really enjoy writing them.

  3. Lawmonster ⋅

    Will you tell us about Bram Stoker’s Dracula in another post? — was it the first vampire novel, and why did it take another 80 years?

    And big kudos to Mary W for work ethic (in a time when women weren’t supposed to have one) and for sticking to her own story (when women weren’t supposed to have those, either).

    Thanks for another awesome post!

  4. teresawilde ⋅

    Just to be clear: we’re talking about the English language here. By the time Polidori wrote The Vampyre, there were lots of vampire stories–just not in English. Vampires are native to Europe, not the British Isles.

    Sure, I’ll talk about Dracula someday if you like. Nope, it wasn’t the first vampire novel in English. That distinction goes to the ‘Penny Dreadful’ serial novel of 1847 by Thomas Peckett Prest called “Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood, a romance of exciting interest.”

    By why was Dracula so popular… Well, if I’m going to write about Dracula, I’ll wait to give my theory. (Here’s a hint, another influential work had come out a couple of decades before, which was imprinting itself on the Victorian mindset and giving them a new perspective on their place in the universe. It was called “The Origin of Species.”)

    In the meantime, I’ve decided this should be Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley week, so watch for more on her!

  5. Excellent post. In defense of Claire Clairmont’s parents, however, that wasn’t the first name given her at birth; she changed it herself.

  6. teresawilde ⋅

    Didn’t know that, Margaret! Thanks for the info!

  7. Mrs Polidori ⋅

    Firstly, John Polidori was the person who glamourised vampyres and anglicized them. Before his story, no-one had heard of a sexy English vampyre and secondly, he didn’t steal Byron’s story. Byron abandoned his fragment and disowned it, John just made the idea better in a way. I should know, I’m his wife

    • teresawilde ⋅

      >Firstly, John Polidori was the person who glamourised vampyres and anglicized them.

      I believe that’s what my blog post says.

      >secondly, he didn’t steal Byron’s story

      I actually didn’t make that accusation. I said Polidori was inspired by Byron’s story. Some people have said that Polidori stole the story, but that’s not something I would say without proof. It’s a serious charge against a writer.

      >I should know, I’m his wife

      You’re looking fantastic for a 200+ year old woman!

  8. Sorry, I must have mis-read what you said, as I was high on opium with my husband and playing faro at the same time, well, it’s kind of a distraction. I will never get over those velvet eyes which my husband owns.

    • teresawilde ⋅

      I understand completely. Opium, you can’t live with it, you can’t live without it. Ditto for faro. As for the eyes, I saw them once. Wasn’t sure they were velvet. I thought that was just the case he kept them in.

  9. I can’t stop chasing the 19th century dragon now!

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