John William Polidori

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John Polidori
John William Polidori by F.G. Gainsford.jpg
Born(1795-09-07)7 September 1795
London, England
Died24 August 1821(1821-08-24) (aged 25)
London, England
  • Writer
  • Physician

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 vampire genre 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. [1]



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. [2]

His sister, Frances Polidori, married exiled Italian scholar Gabriele Rossetti, and thus John, posthumously, became the uncle of Maria Francesca Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Christina Georgina Rossetti. William Michael Rossetti published Polidori's journal in 1911. [2]


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. [2]

In 1816, Dr. Polidori entered Lord Byron's service as his personal physician and accompanied him on a trip through Europe. Publisher John Murray offered Polidori 500 English pounds to keep a diary of their travels, which Polidori's nephew William Michael Rossetti later edited. At the Villa Diodati, a house Byron rented by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion (Mary's stepsister) Claire Clairmont.

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 . [3] 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. [4]

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." [5] [6]

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. [2]

Polidori's long, Byron-influenced theological poem The Fall of the Angels was published anonymously in 1821. [2]


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. [7]





The Vampyre; A Tale, 1819 Houghton EC8.P7598.819va (A) - Vampyre, 1819.jpg
The Vampyre; A Tale, 1819


Posthumous editions

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. [9]



A memorial plaque on Polidori's home at 38 Great Pulteney Street was unveiled on 15 July 1998 by the Italian Ambassador, Paolo Galli. [10]

Appearances in other media


Multiple films have depicted John Polidori, and the genesis of the Frankenstein and "Vampyre" stories in 1816.

Additionally, Polidori's name was used for a character in a television movie adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel: Frankenstein: The True Story (1973), directed by Jack Smight.


  • Polidori appears as one of several minor characters killed off by Frankenstein's creature in Peter Ackroyd's novel The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein . [11]
  • 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". [12]
  • Polidori appears as a character in Howard Brenton's play Bloody Poetry (though for some reason Breton calls him William.)
  • Polidori is a prominent character and the catalyst in events in Brooklyn Ann's historical paranormal romance novel, Bite Me, Your Grace .
  • 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.
  • He appears as a character in Susanna Clarke's novel Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell .
  • Polidori appears as an enemy of Lord Byron (who is a vampire) in Tom Holland's novel Lord of the Dead .
  • Polidori is also the 'hero' of the novel Imposture (2007) by Benjamin Markovits.
  • 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.[ citation needed ]
  • (2013): Polidori is a prominent character in P.J. Parker's internationally-acclaimed historic fiction Fire on the Water: A Companion to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
  • (2019): P.J. Parker's historic fiction Origin of the Vampyre pulls back the shroud of mystery surrounding the publication of Polidori's novel.


  • Polidori functions as narrator in John Mueter's one-act opera Everlasting Universe and has a speaking role in several scenes.



See also

Related Research Articles

Vampire literature literary genre

Vampire literature covers the spectrum of literary work concerned principally with the subject of vampires. The literary vampire first appeared in 18th-century poetry, before becoming one of the stock figures of gothic fiction with the publication of Polidori's The Vampyre (1819), which was inspired by the life and legend of Lord Byron. Later influential works include the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1847); Sheridan Le Fanu's tale of a lesbian vampire, Carmilla (1872), and the masterpiece of the genre: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). Some authors created a more "sympathetic vampire", with Varney being the first, and Anne Rice's 1976 novel Interview with the Vampire as a more recent example.

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1819.

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications of 1816.

<i>Gothic</i> (film) 1986 film by Ken Russell

Gothic is a 1986 British horror film directed by Ken Russell, starring Gabriel Byrne as Lord Byron, Julian Sands as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Natasha Richardson as Mary Shelley, Myriam Cyr as Claire Clairmont and Timothy Spall as Dr. John William Polidori. It features a soundtrack by Thomas Dolby, and marks Richardson's film debut.

The Vampyre 1816 short story by John William Polidori

"The Vampyre" is a short work of prose fiction written in 1816 by John William Polidori as part of a contest between Polidori, Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, and Percy Shelley. The same contest produced the novel Frankenstein.The Vampyre is often viewed as the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre of fantasy fiction. The work is described by Christopher Frayling as "the first story successfully to fuse the disparate elements of vampirism into a coherent literary genre."

<i>Fantasmagoriana</i> book by Johann Karl August Musäus

Fantasmagoriana is a French anthology of German ghost stories, translated anonymously by Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès and published in 1812. Most of the stories are from the first two volumes of Johann August Apel and Friedrich Laun's Gespensterbuch (1811), with other stories by Johann Karl August Musäus and Heinrich Clauren.

Lord Ruthven is a fictional character. First appearing in print in 1819, in John William Polidori's "The Vampyre", he was one of the first vampires in English literature. The name Ruthven was taken from Lady Caroline Lamb's Glenarvon, where it was used as an unflattering parody of Lord Byron, while the character was based on Augustus Darvell from Byron's "Fragment of a Novel". "The Vampyre" was written privately, and published without Polidori's consent, with revisions to the story made by Polidori for an unpublished second edition showing that he planned to change the name from Ruthven to Strongmore. The initial popularity of "The Vampyre" led to the character appearing in many translations and adaptations, including plays and operas, and Ruthven has continued to appear in modern works.

<i>The Giaour</i> poem by Lord Byron

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Johann August Apel German writer and jurist

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<i>Frankenstein: The True Story</i> 1973 film by Jack Smight

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Villa Diodati villa

The Villa Diodati is a mansion in the village of Cologny near Lake Geneva in Switzerland, notable because Lord Byron rented it and stayed there with John Polidori in the summer of 1816. Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who had rented a house nearby, were frequent visitors. Because of poor weather, in June 1816 the group famously spent three days together inside the house creating stories to tell each other, two of which were developed into landmark works of the Gothic horror genre: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Vampyre, the first modern vampire story, by Polidori.

<i>Frankenstein</i> 1818 novel by Mary Shelley

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Percy Bysshe Shelley English Romantic poet

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Fragment of a Novel unfinished novel written by Lord Byron

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<i>Rowing with the Wind</i> 1988 film by Gonzalo Suárez

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"The Spectre-Barber" is a short story, written by Johann Karl August Musäus included in his satirical retellings of collected folk stories, Volksmärchen der Deutschen (1786). The story was translated into French by Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès as part of his collection of German ghost-stories Fantasmagoriana (1812), which inspired Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818) and John William Polidori's "The Vampyre" (1816). This French translation was then partially translated into English in Tales of the Dead (1813), followed by more complete translations from the original German, such as those by Thomas Roscoe (1826), and Thomas Carlyle (1827), with a child-friendly abridged version being published in 1845.


  1. Macdonald, DL (1991), Poor Polidori , Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN   0-8020-2774-1
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Polidori, John William (2009), Rossetti, William Michael (ed.), The diary, Cornell, NY: Cornell University Library, ISBN   1-4297-9503-4
  3. Rieger, James. "Dr. Polidori and the Genesis of Frankenstein." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, 3 (Winter 1963), 461-72.
  4. Praz, Mario, ed. (1968), Three Gothic Novels, Classics, New York: Penguin, p.  xxxix, ISBN   0-14-043036-9
  5. Frayling, Christopher. Vampyres: Genesis and Resurrection: from Count Dracula to Vampirella. London: Thames and Hudson, 2016.
  6. Rieger 1963, pp. 461-72
  7. "John William Polidori (1795-1821) - Find A Grave..." Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  8. Jøn, A. Asbjørn (2003). "Vampire Evolution". mETAphor (3): 21. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
  9. The Vampire in Folklore, History, Literature, Film and Television: A Comprehensive Bibliography.
  10. Green plaques, UK: Westminster, archived from the original on 16 July 2012
  11. Ackroyd, Peter (2008), The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein , Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, ISBN   978-0-385-53084-2
  12. Andahazi, Federeico (1998), Las Piadosas, Editorial Sudamericana


Further reading