Byron, Frankenstein and The Vampyre!


There was no summer in Europe in 1816. The catastrophic effects of the Tambora eruption in Indonesia were the cause of that. The eruption had been so violent as to cause a fine layer of ash to block the sun. The earth became colder as a result, cold and dreary.

As it was, Lord George Gordon Bryon found a great many things dreary. He had spoken with his physician and friend, John Polidori about spending the summer at the villa. as usual. That was how it started. But because he was probably still bored when he arrived at his summer residence near Lake Geneva, Byron decided to invite some friends over.

Percy Shelley and his fiancée Mary Wollstonecraft, along with her step sister Clare Claremont, pregnant with Bryon’s child were eager to come. These young people were all free spirits, way ahead of their time you might say.

The weather was such that indoor pursuits were the order of the day, so what to do? They get into all sorts of stuff: drinking and cavorting and guess what–? During all that imbibing and frolicking two literary masterpieces get penned! The really interesting thing is they were penned by the two ‘dark horses’ who were there. I mean everyone expected great writing from Lord Byron and Percy Shelley, not Shelley’s 19 year-old fiancée, Mary nor Byron’s personal physician, Dr. Polidori!

The somewhat eccentric, but brilliant, British Director, Ken Russell made a gem of a film for us in 1986 depicting that time. Like a rare exotic fruit, this intoxicating film exposes for our discernment this remarkable time.


The film allows us a glimpse into the creative process. There are liberties taken, but the sense of drama is amazing. It’s definitely worth watching.

About those masterpieces: The Vampyre is actually a short story. It is considered to be the first story successfully to fuse the disparate elements of vampirism into a coherent literacy genre.  ~ Christopher Frayling.

The story is about Lord Ruthven who no one knows is a vampire; pretty interesting, considering Lord Byron was once described by Lady Caroline Lamb as ‘mad bad and dangerous to know!’ Perhaps Polidori was inspired to write such a tale.

Frankenstein, the iconic horror story about the creature that arose from dead tissue and a few well-placed electrical charges, is worth considering in light of the fact that there were actually experiments being conducted at the time by those who believed such things were possible.

Mary certainly would have known that and been interested. I think it both fascinated and troubled her and I think what came out of all of that was a vivid nightmare, a great and fantastic nightmare that she shared with the world.

As for Clare, she was in love with Byron who was not the sort our mothers tend to approve of. She went on (not depicted in this film), to bear his child that tragically died; a daughter that Bryon kept her from seeing.

But I digress. Suffice it to say, I feel Gothic is terrific because it captures something memorable–we get a look-in at mad genius and romanticism gone wild. Gothic is gothic in every way. It is for us as Byron was to Lady Caroline Lamb.

Danger and drama, genius and youth–what magic they weave!


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