Polidori, John

Tagged: Author

(1795-1821) UK medical doctor who became the personal physician of Lord Byron (see Icons) in 1816; as an author his work is of more interest to the fantastic in general [for fuller entry on Polidori see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] than for its relevance to anything like sf. He is of interest initially for his participation – along with Bryon, Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley – in an evening gathering in 1916 at Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva, where they had been trapped by a storm, and told each other stories (for details, see Byron; Mary Shelley). Afterwards, Byron suggested that all four of them write similar stories of their own, and read them aloud to one another. This sequel may not have in fact evidence occurred; but all four did write, or began to write, tales initiated by these unusual circumstances. For an argument that these circumstances contribute to our understanding of the nature of the fantastic in general and of the beginnings of sf in particular, see Club Story. Mary Shelley's tale of course became Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus (1818).

On his part, Polidori seems to have written two pieces of fiction: Ernestus Berchtold; Or, the Modern Oedipus: A Tale (1819), a Gothic novel involving incest and Doppelgangers whose subtitle was clearly meant to echo Shelley's; and The Vampyre: A Tale (April 1819 New Monthly Magazine; 1819 chap) as by the Right Honourable Lord Byron. Byron was credited for the story by its publisher for commercial reasons, but denied authorship from the first. Polidori's tale may not be the first Vampire story ever written, but it proved catalytic in forming the model of the tormented Byronic vampire that dominated nineteenth-century renditions of the topos and the legend (see Alexandre Dumas; Charles Nodier; Bram Stoker; for full entries on Vampire Movies and on Vampires, see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy; but see also Clichés). Recent research suggests that Polidori may not have killed himself; but he died young, well before maturing – as he might well have – into a writer of strong interest. The Fall of the Angels: A Sacred Poem (1821 chap), a long Cosmological poem, provides evidence that his gifts lay in prose.

Films incorporating Polidori in their narratives of the Villa Diodati events include Gothic (1986) directed by Ken Russell, Haunted Summer (1988) directed by Ivan Passer (1933-    ) and Remando al viento ["Rowing with the Wind"] (1988) directed by Gonzalo Suárez (1934-    ). Lord Byron's Doctor (1989) by Paul West (1930-2015) is a fictionalized account of his life with fantastic elements. [JC]

Dr John William Polidori

born Westminster, Middlesex [ie London]: 7 September 1795

died Westminster, Middlesex [ie London]: 24 August 1821

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