Get ready for one of the weirdest moments in literary history! On one ghost-filled night on Lake Geneva, a small group of writers including Mary Shelly, John Byron, and John Polidori met to swap horror stories. From this meeting, Shelley came up with Frankenstein, the horror novel that redefined the genre. In the preface, Shelley writes that she’s the only one of these writers to create a full work based off this night, but this wasn’t true, for one year later, Polidori would write The Vampyre, the first modern vampire story to ever be written in English, and receive almost no credit.
After the story’s release, readers thought it was John Byron, a famous poet and celebrity of the time, who wrote it. This was because authors of this period didn’t sign their own stories, however, this confusion ended up making the work a big success. But the success wasn’t Polidori’s, Byron’s personal physician.
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The vampire in the story, Lord Ruthven, was based off Byron, as not only was Polidori a fan of his work, but he was also supposedly in love with him. I know, this technically makes the first vampire novel fan fiction. Because England was so fervently homophobic, Byron’s “more than two hundred homosexual encounters” were kept a secret. Polidori loved Byron, yet Byron never (it seemed) returned his feelings in quite the same way. How tragic.
Due to the widespread success of his story, Polidori thought of himself as a good writer. So good, in fact, that he decided to resign from his life as a traveling physician to focus on his craft. Having read the story, I would tell Polidori not to quit his day job but that may just be me. He spent the rest of his life as a sad, struggling artist. In August of 1821, he committed suicide, just two years after his story was written.
But the story doesn’t end there. The Vampyre was adapted for the stage in 1820 by Charles Nodier in a play called Le Vampire, which in turn inspired James Planché to write The Vampire, thus spearheading (or should I say steak-heading) a vampire craze in England, which I would argue prevails today with books like Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. So, the next time you watch an episode of The Vampire Diaries, think about John Polidori, the man who wrote the fan fiction that started it all.
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