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John William Polidori

John William Polidori John William Polidori[1†]

John William Polidori (1795–1821) was a British physician and writer associated with the Romantic movement. Credited with pioneering the vampire genre, he authored "The Vampyre" (1819), initially misattributed to Lord Byron. Polidori's work remains a significant contribution to fantasy fiction[1†][2†][3†].

Early Years and Education

John William Polidori was born on 7 September 1795 in Westminster, the eldest son of Gaetano Polidori, an Italian political émigré scholar, and his wife Anna Maria Pierce, an English governess[1†][4†]. He had three brothers and four sisters[1†][4†].

Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at the recently established Ampleforth College in North Yorkshire from 1804[1†][4†][5†][6†]. In 1810, he went up 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 the age of 19[1†][4†][5†][6†].

His early education and family background played a significant role in shaping his future career and literary contributions. His Italian heritage and the scholarly influence of his father may have sparked his interest in the Romantic movement, which was popular during his time[1†][4†].

Career Development and Achievements

In 1816, which became known as the Year Without a Summer, Polidori entered Lord Byron’s service as his personal physician and accompanied him on a trip through Europe[1†]. Publisher John Murray offered Polidori 500 English pounds to keep a diary of their travels, which Polidori’s nephew William Michael Rossetti later edited[1†].

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[1†]. 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[1†]. 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[1†]. Mary Shelley worked on a tale that would later evolve into Frankenstein[1†].

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[1†][7†]. 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[1†].

Polidori left Switzerland for Italy in September 1816, where he traveled for nearly a year, returning to England the following spring, at which point he sought to practice medicine in Norwich[1†][8†]. But he was unhappy in his profession and thought, instead, of turning to law[1†][8†]. In the meantime, perhaps as his own response to the heady literary summer he had passed on the continent, he began a short, but productive literary career[1†][8†]. His first work was an extension of his interest in psychology, An essay on the source of positive pleasure (1818)[1†][8†]. The following year came a volume of poems – Ximenes, the wreath: and other poems – the novel Ernestus Berchtold, and the short story, “The Vampyre,” which, unfortunately, was passed off as the production of Lord Byron when it was published in the New Monthly Magazine[1†][8†]. When he found the work being published under a separate imprint, Polidori went to some lengths to claim the work as his own, but the scandal of imposture dogged him thereafter[1†][8†]. His final work, Sketches Illustrative of the Manners and Costumes of France, Switzerland, and Italy, was published in 1821 under the pseudonym of Richard Bridgens[1†][8†].

First Publication of His Main Works

John William Polidori’s most successful work was the short story “The Vampyre” (1819), which is considered the first published modern vampire story[1†][9†][10†]. Although the story was at first erroneously credited to Lord Byron, both Byron and Polidori affirmed that the author was Polidori[1†].

Here are some of his main works:

Polidori’s works had a significant impact on the Romantic movement and the development of the vampire genre in fantasy fiction[1†][9†][10†].

Analysis and Evaluation

John William Polidori’s work, particularly “The Vampyre”, has had a significant impact on literature, especially in the horror and Gothic genres[11†][12†]. His transformation of the traditional vampire of folklore into a humanistic monster has influenced countless works of fiction that followed[11†][12†].

“The Vampyre” is filled with deep Gothic elements, with horror being its central theme[11†][12†]. The story presents several traditional Gothic themes, including the mystery and fear experienced by the protagonist, Aubrey, as well as the supernatural elements surrounding Lord Ruthven[11†]. The story also includes an innocent girl in peril and an eerie forest where the vampire lurks[11†].

Polidori’s novel contains wholly original elements that significantly influenced subsequent genre fiction[11†][13†]. In particular, Polidori shifted focus from a passive, suffering protagonist to the compelling, dynamic figure of the vampire himself[11†][13†].

Polidori’s work has become a troubling authorial figure, a ghostly presence haunting the margins of Romanticism[11†][14†]. His heterogeneous significance is produced from both high literary and popular cultural traditions, as well as complex intergeneric networks of criticism and biography[11†][14†].

Personal Life

John William Polidori was born in 1795 in London, England, the oldest son of Gaetano Polidori, an Italian political émigré scholar, and Anna Maria Pierce, an English governess[1†][5†]. He had three brothers and four sisters[1†][5†][6†]. His sister Frances Polidori married exiled Italian scholar Gabriele Rossetti, and so John is the uncle of Maria Francesca Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Christina Rossetti, though they were born after his death[1†][5†].

Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at recently established Ampleforth College from 1804, and in 1810 went up 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 the age of 19[1†][5†][6†].

In 1816 Dr. Polidori entered Lord Byron’s service as his personal physician, and accompanied Byron on a trip through Europe[1†][5†]. Publisher John Murray offered Polidori 500 English pounds to keep a diary of their travels, which Polidori’s nephew William Michael Rossetti later edited[1†][5†].

Sadly, Polidori suffered from depression and committed suicide in his early twenties[1†]. He was an interesting person being chosen as Lord Byron’s personal physician. He graduated from medical school when he was only 19[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

John William Polidori’s life was tragically short, but his impact on literature, particularly the genre of fantasy fiction, is undeniable[1†][15†][16†]. His most successful work, “The Vampyre” (1819), is considered the first published modern vampire story[1†][15†][16†]. This story, initially mistaken for a work by Lord Byron, established the vampire as a charismatic and sophisticated creature, a concept that would later influence Bram Stoker’s Dracula[1†][15†][2†].

Polidori’s association with the Romantic movement and his close relationship with Lord Byron have also contributed to his enduring legacy[1†][15†][16†]. His experiences and observations during his time as Byron’s personal physician were not only significant in his own writing but also influenced the literary landscape of the time[1†][15†][16†].

Despite his early death, Polidori’s work continues to be studied and appreciated. His contribution to the vampire genre has had a lasting impact, shaping the portrayal of the vampire figure in literature and popular culture[1†][15†][16†]. His work, therefore, continues to resonate, demonstrating the enduring power of his brief but significant literary career[1†][15†][16†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - John William Polidori [website] - link
  2. Britannica - John Polidori: British writer and physician [website] - link
  3. FAMpeople - John Polidori - link
  4. WikiTree - [website] - link
  5. Cajsa C. Baldini - The Vampyre - John William Polidori [website] - link
  6. Goodreads - Author: John William Polidori (Author of The Vampyre) [website] - link
  7. IMDb - John William Polidori - Biography [website] - link
  8. University of Pennsylvania - KNARF Project - John William Polidori [website] - link
  9. Goodreads - Author: Books by John William Polidori (Author of The Vampyre) [website] - link
  10. Wikisource (English) - John William Polidori [website] - link
  11. Study.com - The Vampyre by John Polidori | Overview & Analysis [website] - link
  12. Unknwon error - link
  13. eNotes - John William Polidori Critical Essays [website] - link
  14. Érudit - “Prey to some cureless disquiet”: Polidori’s Quee… – Romanticism on the Net [website] - link
  15. Springer Link - John Polidori, “The Vampyre,” and the Rise of the Aristocratic Vampire [website] - link
  16. University of Hertfordshire Research Archive - The Lord Byron/John Polidori Relationship and the Foundation of the Early Nineteenth-Century Literary Vampire [website] - link
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