Thursday, February 12, 2015
The Poet and the Vampyre by Andrew McConnell Stott
In this earnestly plodding effort, Stott attempts to look at what one reviewer called "the most famous wet weekend in literary history," when, during the summer of 1816, five restless young British bohemians holed up in a house on Lake Geneva in Switzerland, decided to hold an impromptu competition and see who could write the best horror story.
George Gordon, Lord Byron, began and abandoned his tale, but that summer did manage to finish the final canto of his epic poem, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. Mary Godwin, the mistress and later wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, began the tale that would eventually, years later, be published as Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. Shelley spent the summer roaming the hills and the lake and produced several poems but no horror stories. Byron's personal physician, John Polidori, picked up Byron's discarded story and turned it into The Vampyre --- the predecessor and possibly one of the inspirations for Bram Stoker's much later and much more famous Dracula. While Claire Clairmont, step-sister to Mary Godwin, and the object of Shelley's poetic infatuation, threw herself into Byron's bed and became pregnant with his child.
Most of the book is devoted to the travails suffered by Polidori and Clairmont, caught up in the cult of personality that trailed clouds of miasma wherever Byron trod. For all his genius, the brooding Byron was, by most accounts, a miserable excuse for a human being; certainly it is very hard to summon any sympathy for a man who ruthlessly used every other person for his own convenience and discarded them afterwards.
However it is not any easier to summon sympathy for Shelley, Godwin, Clairmont or Polidori. They lived heedlessly, without regard for any thing but their own desires and ambitions, and they reaped as they had sowed. The private lives of these "Romantics" were as uninspiring as they were unromantic.
Lynn Shepherd's Victorian murder mystery, A Fatal Likeness, featuring Mary Shelley and Claire Clairmont in later life, is a much better read and perhaps a more illuminating portrait of these ill-assorted stepsisters.
Click HERE to read the Dallas News review of The Poet and the Vampyre.
Click HERE to read the UK Telegraph review of the books published in Britain under the title The Vampyre Family.