Friday, November 29, 2013

Of Lord Byron, Vampires, Bram Stoker and Scotland

In the summer of 1816, just a year after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, four people took part in a story competition in the Villa Diodati, by the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The outcome is best known for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but other the participants, Percy Shelley (Mary’s husband), Lord Byron, and John Polidori also produced writings.
First, a wee bit history… Just three years before in 1813, Lord Byron had written a vampire poem; The Giaour (The Unbeliever). In it, vampires suck blood to live…

But first, on earth as vampire sent, Thy corpse shall from its tomb be rent: 
Then ghastly haunt thy native place, And suck the blood of all thy race; 

There from thy daughter, sister, wife, At midnight drain the stream of life; 
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce, Must feed thy livid living corpse: 

Thy victims ere they yet expire, Shall know the demon for their sire, 
As cursing thee, thou cursing them, Thy flowers are withered on the stem.

So, back to the story competition…
While Mary labored on Frankenstein, Byron wrote a tale of an aristocrat traveling in the Orient, whilst Percy Shelley wrote his poem Hymn to Intellectual Beauty.
The last of the four, so often overlooked, John Polidori, took Byron’s ideas and wrote The Vampyre in 1919. He based a character on the rather hectic life of Lord Byron himself (Lord Ruthven), although this was never officially admitted.
the following year, Charles Nodier wrote an unauthorized sequel to Polidori’s tale using the Ruthven character; Lord Ruthwen ou les Vampires (1820), then adapted the novel into a play, but rather than the continent, for some reason Nodier based the play in Scotland.
This was immediately adapted in into English by James Planché as The Vampire; or, the Bride of the Isles , again set in Scotland, which was performed at the Lyceum Theatre in 1820.
Now, zip past a half century or so, and we find Bram Stoker as manager of the aforementioned Lyceum Theatre in London. He learns of the Vampire play performed so many years ago… He visits Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, where (it is often quoted) he got his ideas for the bleak countryside of Transylvania.
And Dracula is born... proving the link of Dracula to Scotland.
Incidentally, Bram Stoker traveled the world, but never ventured into Eastern Europe.
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