The year was 1816. Five young people were sheltered
from the incessant rain of an unseasonal summer at the
Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva. There was Lord Byron,
the infamous British poet; his friend and fellow-poet
Percy Bysshe Shelley; Shelley's wife, Mary
Wollstonecraft Shelley; Mary's stepsister, Claire
Clairmont; and Byron's personal physician John Polidori.
To pass the time, they decided to write ghost stories.
This was when Mary Shelley wrote her Frankenstein or
The Modern Prometheus and Polidori wrote "The
Vampyre." The publisher first credited Byron as the
author, but later printings removed Byron's name from
the cover page and substituted that of his physician.
The hero of the piece is a Byronic figure, Lord Ruthven.
The work had tremendous success and was published
across Europe, sparking an interest in vampires
comparable to the current craze.
Aubrey, a young Englishman, meets Lord Ruthven, who
marries his sister. On their wedding night, she is found
drained of her blood and Ruthven has vanished.
The poets and their friends at Diodati (left to right) Claire Clairmont, John
Polidori, Lord Byron (standing), and Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley in a
scene from Ken Russell's 1986 movie Gothic.
The Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake
I have been intrigued by Byron and the second
generation of Romantic poets from the time I was in
middle school. After graduating from college, I did
research on a book about Byron and his times at the
A chapter entitled "Lightning" dealt with Byron's ill-fated
marriage and with the events of the summer of 1816.