Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Vampyre

About 200 years ago Byron, Shelley, Mary (surname kept changing; sometimes Godwin, sometimes Shelley and sometimes Wollstonecraft, unless I’m mixing her up with someone else) and assorted wives, girlfriends, and hangers-on were swanning around Europe, scandalized reports of their goings-on reaching England to the prurient delight of the public. One dull evening in, I think, Geneva, (most evenings in Switzerland are dull) they amused themselves by making up ghost and horror stories; some of them later wrote up their stories. The only one that’s still remembered and read was Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’.

However, at least one other story from the group got written up and even published, in London in 1819. This was Doctor John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’. Polidori was nominally Byron’s private physician, but mostly he was just along for the ride. He probably himself paid for the publication of his story: it was hardly the literary sensation of the year, and sank almost without trace. I say ‘Almost’ because I’ve managed to get hold of a copy and am currently reading it. The style has the pretentious verbosity of much writing of the period: for instance, the Vampyre and his companion, when they leave England, don’t ‘cross the channel’; they ‘pass the circling waters’. But the story is short and quite fun; certainly better than the film I watched half of last night: that cinematic classic ‘Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory’, featuring the popular song ‘There’s a Ghoul in School’.

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