So, John William Polidori (see fawning post a couple of days ago) brought you Twilight.
Well he didn’t bring you teenage angst (although he had a fair amount) and a rather bizarre attitude towards relationship dynamics, and he didn’t bring you Taylor Lautner’s abs although the early nineteenth century’s equivalent of Twilight moms were definitely squeeing all over Byron (in private of course).
He bought you Lord Ruthven; a suave and sinister aristocrat with a dreadful secret, clearly modelled on Byron and whose name Polidori lifted from a story by Caroline Lamb (one of Byron’s many slightly damaged exes) who’s hero is also clearly based on Byron. Caroline Lamb, poor poppet, became notoriously scandalous at the time for her shameless and desperate pursuit of Byron after he spurned her (he did a lot of spurning). Polidori in, I’m afraid, rather typically bitchy fashion slips her into his story in the guise of Lady Mercer; she becomes the mockery of polite society through her pursuit of Ruthven and is charitably described by our author as a “common adultress”.
Polidori’s hero, a young, talented and handsome orphan called Aubrey becomes an admirer of Ruthven (for what is a vampire story without a hint of heady homoeroticism) and accompanies him on his Grand Tour against the advice of his relatives who all caution him against the evil and corrupting influence of Byron…sorry, Ruthven. Interestingly enough Polidori’s own family advised against any association with Byron, such was his public reputation amongst polite society at the time. Polidori of course, secure in the knowledge of his own charm and intellect, ignored this advice.
In fairness to Byron, his reputation for being a thorough-going corrupter of all things possessing a pulse was largely untrue. It probably wasn’t such a great move to fall in love with him but in all other regards his conduct was in general, honourable, altruistic and even admirable (Greece very nearly ended up having him as their next king). Notwithstanding; William Michael Rossetti (Polidori’s nephew, also the brother of Dante Gabriel and Christina Rossetti, pre Raphaelite movers and shakers) read Polidori’s original diary manuscript and had some interesting insights into Byron’s behaviour regarding chambermaids and European dens of vice and sin.
Much of Polidori’s somewhat wounded behaviour can be attributed to the fact that Byron swiftly ran out of patience for his moods, frequent indispositions and colossal oversensitivity to any slight, real or perceived.
Byron finally got fed up around August 1816 and dismissed Polidori from his service, leaving them both free to pursue their various paths…Polidori’s unfortunately involved a variety of scrapes and misunderstandings including being expelled from Milan after a potentially fatal argument with an Austrian soldier (Byron rather charitably turned up in town and bailed him out on that occasion), a couple of abortive employment opportunities later Polidori ended up back in England, practicising medicine in Norwich…which is probably about as far from the Villa Diodati as it’s possible to get.
More to follow…