|Born||7 September 1795|
Westminster, Great Britain
|Died||24 August 1821 (aged 25)|
St Pancras, London
|Alma mater||University of Edinburgh|
John William Polidori (7 September 1795 – 24 August 1821) was a British 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 the story was at first erroneously credited to Lord Byron, both Byron and Polidori affirmed that the author was Polidori.
John William Polidori was born on 7 September 1795 in Westminster, the oldest son of Gaetano Polidori, an Italian political émigré scholar, and his wife Anna Maria Pierce, an English governess. He had three brothers and four sisters.
His sister, Frances Polidori, married the exiled Italian scholar Gabriele Rossetti, and thus Polidori, 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.
Polidori was one of the earliest pupils at the recently established Ampleforth College from 1804. 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.
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. 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 that would later evolve into Frankenstein. 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.
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 "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."
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.
Polidori's long, Byron-influenced theological poem The Fall of the Angels was published anonymously in 1821.
Polidori died at his father's London house on 24 August 1821, weighed down by depression and gambling debts. Despite strong evidence that he died by suicide by means of prussic acid, the coroner gave a verdict of death by natural causes.
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.
A memorial plaque on Polidori's home at 38 Great Pulteney Street was unveiled on 15 July 1998 by the Italian Ambassador, Paolo Galli.
Multiple films have depicted John Polidori, and the genesis of the Frankenstein and "Vampyre" stories in 1816:
Additionally, Polidori's name was used for fictional characters in the following films:
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