John William Polidori

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
John William Polidori by F.G. Gainsford
Born7 September 1795
London, England
Died24 August 1821 (aged 25)
London, England
  • Writer
  • Physician


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 was the uncle of Maria Francesca Rossetti, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Christina Georgina Rossetti, though they were born after his death. 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]


Houghton EC8.P7598.819va (A) - Vampyre, 1819
The Vampyre; A Tale, 1819
  • A Medical Inaugural Dissertation which deals with the disease called Oneirodynia, for the degree of Medical Doctor, Edinburgh (1815)
  • The Diary of Dr. John William Polidori (1816, published posthumously in 1911)
  • Cajetan, a play (1816)
  • Boadicea, a play (1816)
  • On the Punishment of Death (1816)
  • An Essay Upon the Source of Positive Pleasure (1818)
  • The Vampyre: A Tale (1819) - a text that is "often even cited as almost folkloric sources on vampirism".[8]
  • Ernestus Berchtold; or, The Modern Oedipus: A Tale (1819)
  • Ximenes, The Wreath and Other Poems (1819)
  • The Fall of the Angels: A Sacred Poem (1821)
  • Sketches Illustrative of the Manners and Costumes of France, Switzerland and Italy (1821)

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.
  • (2013): P.J. Parker's internationally-acclaimed historic fiction "Fire on the Water: A Companion to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein"


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



  • Polidori, John William (2009), Rossetti, William Michael (ed.), The Diary of Dr. John William Polidori, 1816, relating to Byron, Shelley, etc.:, Cornell, NY: Cornell University Library, ISBN 1-4297-9503-4.

See also


  1. ^ Macdonald, DL (1991), Poor Polidori, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ISBN 0-8020-2774-1
  2. ^ a b c d e 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

External links

1795 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1795.



was a common year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar and a common year starting on Saturday of the Julian calendar, the 1821st year of the Common Era (CE) and Anno Domini (AD) designations, the 821st year of the 2nd millennium, the 21st year of the 19th century, and the 2nd year of the 1820s decade. As of the start of 1821, the Gregorian calendar was

12 days ahead of the Julian calendar, which remained in localized use until 1923.

Ben Hardy (actor)

Ben Jones (born 2 January 1991), better known as Ben Hardy, is a British actor. He is known for playing Peter Beale in the BBC soap opera EastEnders (2013–2015). Hardy made his film debut as Archangel in the superhero film X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), and played Roger Taylor in the biographical film Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).

Byron (play)

Byron is a historical play by the British writer Alicia Ramsey, which was first performed in 1908. It depicts the life of the early nineteenth century writer Lord Byron.

Christina Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti (5 December 1830 – 29 December 1894) was an English poet who wrote a variety of romantic, devotional, and children's poems. She is famous for writing "Goblin Market" and "Remember". She also wrote the words of two Christmas carols well known in the British Isles: "In the Bleak Midwinter", later set to music by Gustav Holst and by Harold Darke, and "Love Came Down at Christmas", also set by Harold Darke and other composers.

Dark romanticism

Dark Romanticism is a literary subgenre of Romanticism, reflecting popular fascination with the irrational, the demonic and the grotesque. Often conflated with Gothicism, it has shadowed the euphoric Romantic movement ever since its 18th-century beginnings. Edgar Allan Poe is often celebrated as one of the supreme exponents of the tradition.


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.

It was read by Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John William Polidori and Claire Clairmont at the Villa Diodati in Cologny, Switzerland during 1816, the Year Without a Summer, and inspired them to write their own ghost stories, including "The Vampyre" (1819), and Frankenstein (1818), both of which went on to shape the Gothic horror genre.

Fragment of a Novel

"Fragment of a Novel" is an unfinished 1819 vampire horror story written by Lord Byron. The story, also known as "A Fragment" and "The Burial: A Fragment", was one of the first in English to feature a vampire theme. The main character was Augustus Darvell. John William Polidori based his novella The Vampyre (1819), originally attributed in print to Lord Byron, on the Byron fragment. The vampire in the Polidori story, Lord Ruthven, was modelled on Byron himself. The story was the result of the meeting that Byron had in 1816 with Percy Bysshe Shelley where a "ghost writing" contest was proposed. This contest was also what led to the creation of Frankenstein according to Percy Bysshe Shelley's 1818 Preface to the novel. The story is important in the development and evolution of the vampire story in English literature as one of the first to feature the modern vampire as able to function in society in disguise. The short story first appeared under the title "A Fragment" in the 1819 collection Mazeppa: A Poem, published by John Murray in London.

Gothic (film)

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 (Mary Shelley's stepsister) and Timothy Spall as Dr. John William Polidori. It features a soundtrack by Thomas Dolby, and marks Richardson's film debut.

The film is a fictionalized retelling of the Shelleys' visit to Lord Byron in Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, shot in Gaddesden Place. It concerns their competition to write a horror story, which ultimately led to Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein and John Polidori writing "The Vampyre." The same event has also been portrayed in the films Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Haunted Summer (1988), among others.

The film's poster motif is based on Henry Fuseli's 1781 painting The Nightmare, which is also referenced in the film.

Haunted Summer

Haunted Summer is a 1988 drama film directed by Ivan Passer.

Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès

Jean-Baptiste Benoît Eyriès (French: [ʒɑ̃ ba.tist bə.nwa ɛː.rjɛs]; 24 June 1767 – 13 June 1846) was a French geographer, author and translator, best remembered in the English speaking world for his translation of German ghost stories Fantasmagoriana, published anonymously in 1812, which inspired Mary Shelley and John William Polidori to write Frankenstein and The Vampyre respectively. He was one of the founding members of the Société de Géographie, a member of the Société Asiatique, admitted to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, awarded the Legion of Honour, elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1841, and has a street named after him in Le Havre and a mountain near Humboldt Bay.

Lady Caroline Lamb (film)

Lady Caroline Lamb is a 1972 film based on the life of Lady Caroline Lamb, lover of Lord Byron and wife of William Lamb, 2nd Viscount Melbourne (later Prime Minister). The film was written and directed by Robert Bolt and starred his wife, Sarah Miles, as Lady Caroline. The fim also stars Jon Finch, Richard Chamberlain, Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson, John Mills, Margaret Leighton and Michael Wilding.

Mary Shelley

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (née Godwin; 30 August 1797 – 1 February 1851) was an English novelist who wrote the Gothic novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818). She also edited and promoted the works of her husband, the Romantic poet and philosopher Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her father was the political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.

After Wollstonecraft's death less than a month after her daughter Mary was born, Mary was raised by Godwin, who was able to provide his daughter with a rich, if informal, education, encouraging her to adhere to his own anarchist political theories. When Mary was four, her father married a neighbour, with whom, as her stepmother, Mary came to have a troubled relationship.In 1814, Mary began a romance with one of her father's political followers, Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was already married. Together with Mary's stepsister Claire Clairmont, Mary and Shelley left for France and travelled through Europe. Upon their return to England, Mary was pregnant with Percy's child. Over the next two years, she and Percy faced ostracism, constant debt, and the death of their prematurely born daughter. They married in late 1816, after the suicide of Percy Shelley's first wife, Harriet.

In 1816, the couple famously spent a summer with Lord Byron, John William Polidori, and Claire Clairmont near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein. The Shelleys left Britain in 1818 for Italy, where their second and third children died before Mary Shelley gave birth to her last and only surviving child, Percy Florence Shelley. In 1822, her husband drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm near Viareggio. A year later, Mary Shelley returned to England and from then on devoted herself to the upbringing of her son and a career as a professional author. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, most likely caused by the brain tumour which killed her at age 53.

Until the 1970s, Mary Shelley was known mainly for her efforts to publish her husband's works and for her novel Frankenstein, which remains widely read and has inspired many theatrical and film adaptations. Recent scholarship has yielded a more comprehensive view of Mary Shelley's achievements. Scholars have shown increasing interest in her literary output, particularly in her novels, which include the historical novels Valperga (1823) and Perkin Warbeck (1830), the apocalyptic novel The Last Man (1826), and her final two novels, Lodore (1835) and Falkner (1837). Studies of her lesser-known works, such as the travel book Rambles in Germany and Italy (1844) and the biographical articles for Dionysius Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia (1829–1846), support the growing view that Mary Shelley remained a political radical throughout her life. Mary Shelley's works often argue that cooperation and sympathy, particularly as practised by women in the family, were the ways to reform civil society. This view was a direct challenge to the individualistic Romantic ethos promoted by Percy Shelley and the Enlightenment political theories articulated by her father, William Godwin.


Polidori is an Italian surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Ambra Polidori, Mexican artist

Frances Polidori, daughter of Gaetano, mother of Maria, Dante, William and Christina Rossetti

Gaetano Polidori, Italian writer

Giancarlo Polidori, Italian cyclist

Gino Polidori, American politician

John William Polidori, Italian-English physician and writer, son of Gaetano

Paolo Polidori, Italian cardinal

Robert Polidori, Canadian photographer

Rowing with the Wind

Rowing with the Wind a.k.a. Remando al viento (Spanish title) is a 1988 Spanish film written and directed by Gonzalo Suárez. The film won seven Goya Awards. It concerns the English writer Mary Shelley and her circle.

The Fall of the Angels

The Fall of the Angels is a Miltonesque epic poem by John William Polidori concerned with the creation of the world.

It was published anonymously in 1821 only months before Polidori's suicide. The only known contemporary review of the poem was a negative one, published on May 5, 1821. After Polidori's death, a version of the poem with his name on the title page was published.

The Vampire

The Vampire may refer to:

The Vampire (novella), a Gothic novella by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy

"The Vampyre," an 1819 short story or novella by John William Polidori

The Vampire (play), an 1820 drama by James Planché

The Vampire (1957 film), a black and white 1957 horror film

The Vampire (1915 film)

The Vampire (1913 film)

El vampiro (The Vampire), a 1957 Mexican horror film

Le Vampire (The Vampire), an inverted roller coaster at La Ronde amusement park in Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Vampire (novella)

The Vampire (Russian: Упырь, Oupyr) is a gothic novella by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, first published in Saint Petersburg in 1841 under the pseudonym of Krasnorogsky.

The Vampyre

"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."

"The Vampyre" by John William Polidori (1819)
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