28 March 2007

Gothic tales

Rumour has it that, in 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, aged 19, along with her soon-to-be husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, had travelled to Switzerland to visit Lord Byron at the Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva.

There, Lord Byron, after having read an anthology of German ghost stories called ‘Fantasmagoriana’, had challenged the Shelleys, as well as his personal physician, John William Polidori, to a contest of writing the scariest tale possible.

Apparently, Percy Bysshe Shelley had conceded defeat right away.

On the other hand, Mary Shelley, after a dream of some sort, had written the story of a Dr Victor Frankenstein who had put together various human body parts and brought to life a monstrous ‘creature’, which had ultimately rebelled against the good doctor and created havoc around the countryside by killing people. This story by Mary Shelley, called ‘Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus’, had been first published in 1818 to become the most famous horror story in the world.

Rumour also has it that, at this meeting, Lord Byron himself had begun writing a story about vampire legends he had heard while travelling to the Balkans. Although he could not complete the story, his physician, John William Polidori, taking off from Lord Byron’s work, had written his own vampire legend, called ‘The Vampyre’, and had it published in 1819.

In so doing, both Mary Shelley and John William Polidori had become two of the early contributors of Gothic fiction.

[Citation: wikipedia]

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