The Lord Byron/John Polidori Relationship and the Foundation of the Early Nineteenth-Century Literary Vampire
John William Polidori (1795-1821) was appointed as the personal physician to Lord George Noel Gordon, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) in April 1816. Byron was not in the best of health, and Polidori was recommended to him by Sir William Knighton, who had previously treated him. Placing himself in self-imposed exile, Byron left England for good, taking Polidori with him and travelling in Europe. They settled in Switzerland, on Lake Geneva, where soon they were joined by the Shelleys and Claire Clairmont for the now infamous ‘Summer of Discontent’, spent largely at the Villa Diodati. At Diodati, Byron allegedly challenged the party to each write a ghost story, Mary Shelley writing what would become Frankenstein and Byron starting a tale of a vampire that he subsequently abandoned. After Polidori was dismissed, in September 1816, he was challenged on the request of ‘a lady’ to turn the fragment of the story started by Byron into a more complete piece – the result was The Vampyre, published in 1819 under Byron’s name. In this thesis I explore the relationship between Byron and Polidori during their time together, and seek to understand what led Polidori to cast Byron as his fictional vampire Lord Ruthven. I also analyse the controversy around the publication, which some believe contributed to Polidori’s death in 1821. In order to fully understand their relationship, I dedicate the first part of the thesis to an exploration of the lives, education and works of the two men, before finally reflecting on the legacy of The Vampyre, a legacy which changed the literary vampire from the folkloric Undead corpse into the Gothic figure so easily recognised today.
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