REVIEW by John C Adams
Ding, Ding, Round One!
In the blue corner, George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron. And in the red corner, an obscure doctor from Edinburgh who’s never previously had a story published.
The house party on Lake Geneva that led to two stories being published in 1819 under the name of Lord Byron is already notorious, as is the ensuing bun fight about whether Byron actually wrote both stories at all.
Byron’s resulting story Fragment of a Novel is fluent and subtle. Augustus Darvell and the unnamed narrator travel to Greece and Turkey. As they explore the ruins and soak up the local atmosphere, the narrator becomes concerned:
It was evident that he was a prey to some cureless disquiet; but whether it arose from ambition, love, remorse, grief, from one or all of these, or merely from a morbid temperament akin to disease, I could not discover.
There are hints that Darvell is a vampire but no more than that. It’s gentle, not unlike Byron’s poetry. Perhaps he wanted to distance himself from the hysteria of many earlier vampire poems. Perhaps he was too intellectual to be seen to write a Penny Dreadful!
By contrast, The Vampyre features the elements that will subsequently characterise the modern vampire story. The seduction of an innocent girl. The perpetrator rising from the dead. The physical characteristics of a vampire. They’re all there. And the suave, debonair and sophisticated man with a secret to hide anticipates much-loved modern vampires such as Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s le Comte de Saint-Germain. And it’s all underpinned with a very personal desire to identify Byron as the inspiration for Aubrey, the bloodsucking fiend:
In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint, either from the blush of modesty, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions.
When The Vampyre was first published, Byron was credited as its author. Polidori complained that the writing was actually his, and subsequent publications have accepted this.
The final bell rings. Neither has landed a knockout blow but after Byron belatedly admits that the story was Polidori’s after all, the scrappy little underdog wins on points against a towering figure of English literature.
Byron’s Fragment and Polidori’s The Vampyre are both included in The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories edited by Alan Ryan.