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John William Polidori
(1795-09-07)7 September 1795 London, England
24 August 1821(1821-08-24) (aged 25) London, England
John William Polidori (7 September 1795 - 24 August 1821) was an English writer and physician. He is known for his associations with the Romantic movement and credited by some as the creator of the vampiregenre of fantasy fiction. His most successful work was the short story "The Vampyre" (1819), the first published modern vampire story. Although originally and erroneously accredited to Lord Byron, both Byron and Polidori affirmed that the story is Polidori's.
John William Polidori was born on 7 September 1795 in London, the oldest son of Gaetano Polidori, an Italian political émigré scholar, and Anna Maria Pierce, an English governess. He had three brothers and four sisters.
Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at the recently established Ampleforth College from 1804, and in 1810, went to the University of Edinburgh, where he wrote a thesis on sleepwalking and received his degree as a doctor of medicine on 1 August 1815, at age 19.
One night in June, after the company had read aloud from Fantasmagoriana, a French collection of German horror tales, Byron suggested they each write a ghost story. Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote "A Fragment of a Ghost Story" and wrote down five ghost stories recounted by Matthew Gregory "Monk" Lewis, published posthumously as the Journal at Geneva (including ghost stories) and on return to England, 1816, the journal entries beginning on 18 August 1816. Mary Shelley worked on a tale with her husband that would later evolve into Frankenstein. Byron wrote (and quickly abandoned) a fragment of a story, "A Fragment", featuring the main character Augustus Darvell, which Polidori used later as the basis for his own tale, "The Vampyre", the first published modern vampire story in English.
Polidori's conversation with Percy Bysshe Shelley on 15 June 1816, as recounted in The Diary, is regarded as the origin or genesis of Frankenstein. They discussed principles, "the nature of the principle of life": "June 15 - ... Shelley etc. came in the evening ... Afterwards, Shelley and I had a conversation about principles - whether man was to be thought merely an instrument."
Dismissed by Byron, Polidori traveled in Italy and then returned to England. His story, "The Vampyre", which featured the main character Lord Ruthven, was published in the April 1819 issue of New Monthly Magazine without his permission. Whilst in London he lived on Great Pulteney Street (in Soho). Much to both his and Byron's chagrin, "The Vampyre" was released as a new work by Byron. Byron's own vampire story "Fragment of a Novel" or "A Fragment" was published in 1819 in an attempt to clear up the confusion, but, for better or worse, "The Vampyre" continued to be attributed to him.
Polidori died in London on 24 August 1821, weighed down by depression and gambling debts. Despite strong evidence that he committed suicide by means of prussic acid (cyanide), the coroner gave a verdict of death by natural causes.
His sister Charlotte transcribed Polidori's diaries, but censored "peccant passages" and destroyed the original. Based only on the transcription, The Diary of John Polidori was edited by William Michael Rossetti and first published in 1911 by Elkin Mathews (London). Reprints of this book, The Diary of Dr. John William Polidori, 1816, relating to Byron, Shelley, etc., was published by Folcroft Library Editions (Folcroft, PA) in 1975, and by Norwood Editions (Norwood, PA) in 1978. A new edition of The Diary of John William Polidori was reprinted by Cornell University in 2009.
A memorial plaque on Polidori's home at 38 Great Pulteney Street was unveiled on 15 July 1998 by the Italian Ambassador, Paolo Galli.
Appearances in other media
Multiple films have depicted John Polidori, and the genesis of the Frankenstein and "Vampyre" stories in 1816.
Polidori is a central character in Federico Andahazi's novel The Merciful Women (Las Piadosas in the original Argentine edition). In it, he receives The Vampyre written by the fictional character of Annette Legrand, in exchange for some "favours".
Polidori is a central character in Emmanuel Carrère's novel Gothic Romance (Bravoure in the original French edition), which, amongst other things, presents a fictionalised account of the events of 1816.
Polidori is also the central character in Derek Marlowe's novel A Single Summer With L B, which presents an account (fictionalised) of the summer of 1816.
Polidori appears as a minor and unsympathetic character in the Tim Powers' horror novel The Stress of Her Regard (1989), in which Polidori does not write about vampires but becomes directly involved with them. In Powers' sequel (of sorts), Hide Me Among the Graves (2012), Polidori is a vampire and a central villain menacing the novel's protagonists, his nieces and nephews in the Rossetti family.
Paul West's novel Lord Byron's Doctor (1989) is a recreation, and ribald fictionalization, of Polidori's diaries. West depicts him as a literary groupie whose attempts to emulate Byron eventually unhinge and destroy him.
Polidori was also portrayed by Noah McLaughlin in the 2016 web series Ungenial Summer, which fictionalized the events of the summer of 1816 in the modern day. In this version, Polidori serves as a personal assistant to Lord Byron, rather than physician.
Polidori, John William (2009), Rossetti, William Michael (ed.), The Diary of Dr. John William Polidori, 1816, relating to Byron, Shelley, etc.:, Cornell, NY: Cornell University Library, ISBN1-4297-9503-4.
Rieger, James. "Dr. Polidori and the Genesis of Frankenstein." Studies in English Literature 3 (1963): 461-72. The origin of Frankenstein was in a conversation between John William Polidori and Percy Bysshe Shelley on June 15, 1816.