Poor Polidori: The Toxic Relationship that Inspired The First Vampire Story

Stephanie Weber
9 min readOct 26, 2020

I am obsessed with the story of John Polidori. I’ve been working on a play for a few years about this story called Poor Polidori (contact me to produce when theater is alive again). I write about it briefly in my upcoming book (details to come). I’ve talked about it drunk at bars because I had great conversation skills even in The Before Times and usually one person would say, “this story is crazy! Why isn’t there a movie about it?”

There isn’t a movie about John Polidori’s life because it gets overshadowed by the other, bigger story that was present at the time of this story which is essentially how this story comes to be made to begin with. The major theme here in Polidori’s footnote in history is about being overshadowed, feeling like his life-force was being drained by someone bigger and flashier than he was. This is the story of how literature came to meet the very first vampire story in literature, The Vampyre.

First let us set the scene. It was a dark and stormy summer when the biggest literary giants in 1816 gathered together in Switzerland at Villa Diodati. Does this sound familiar? How about the cast of characters which includes Mary Shelley, Percy Blythe Shelley, Lord Byron and his physician John Polidori. WHAT A BUNCH OF ALL-STARS, RIGHT?!

A bunch of stars plus this random dude. So who was John Polidori? He was a young Italian-English gentleman who studied at the University of Edinburgh were he did studies on sleepwalking which is kind of interesting for things that go bump in the night. He really wanted to become a writer, but his skills were in medicine which is how he met Byron. Byron invited him to come with on a big journey that would end in Switzerland. We know all of this because Byron’s publisher paid Polidori to keep a diary of his travels.

Scene from Gothic by Ken Russell. Guess which one is supposed to be Byron.

So, yes, this story — the story I’m fascinated with — takes place on the same fateful gathering that gave the world Frankenstein with the literary elite of the day and this wannabe writer with stars in his eyes and skills that simply did not compare. This same gathering gave the world the modern…

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Stephanie Weber

Stephanie is a writer and comedian whose work has been featured on Reductress, Slate, The Weekly Humorist, The AV Club, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura and more.