October is one of my favorite months, bringing with it an interest in the fantastic and paranormal. Every year around this time I always turn to of some of my favorite Gothic pieces of literature, enjoying their focus on the supernatural. Edgar Allen Poe often reigns forefront in my wind with his The Pit and the Pendulum, The Black Cat, and legendary The Raven. And of course I always revisit Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
However, arguably the best pieces of Gothic literature all derive their origins from the same weekend nearly two centuries ago. In the summer of 1816, George Gordon Byron, better known as the famous Lord Byron, rented the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, Switzerland. There he played host to several guest, including his personal physician John William Polidori, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Shelley's future wife Mary Godwin (aka. Mary Shelley), and her stepsister Claire Clairmont.
Bored and closeted inside due to near incessant rain, the group spent their time reading horror stories and discussing the possibility of corpse reanimation. They decided to have a contest in which they would write their own ghost stories to entertain one another. Inspired by a dream, the eighteen year-old Mary Shelley wrote a short story that would later be fleshed into Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, one of the greatest examples of Gothic fiction of all time and a time-honored piece of classic literature.
For his own contest submission Lord Byron wrote a short, uncompleted piece which was vampiric in nature. Though it was quickly abandoned, this piece would later inspire John Polidori’s The Vampyre, a novel with an obscure history. Unfortunately, when published in the New Monthly Magazine in 1819 the piece was accredited to Lord Byron rather than the unknown Polidori. Despite the fact that Byron wrote of his personal dislike for vampires and published his original “Fragment of a Novel” in an attempt to clear up the misunderstanding, the tale remains strongly connected with him, an association made stronger by the fact that the main character, Lord Ruthven, resembles the Lord Byron himself. Despite its hazy origins and initial lack of recognition, The Vampyre goes down as the first British vampire novel and one of the progenitors of vampire literature, eventually inspiring Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
It continues to amaze me that one dreary weekend in 1816 would found two such important pieces of Gothic literature, paving the way for an explosion of writings and interest in the supernatural genre. To this day Frankenstein’s monster and the night-roaming vampires inspire constant fascination and allure.