John William Polidori (1795-1821)

John William Polidori (1795-1821)

John William Polidori was born in London, England, the oldest son of Gaetano Polidori, an Italian political émigré scholar, and Anna Maria Pierce.

He received his doctorate at the University of Edinburgh, writing a thesis on sleepwalking.

He was a writer and physician. His most successful work was the 1819 short story, “The Vampyre”, one of the first vampire stories in English. He is credited with being the creator of the vampire genre of fantasy fiction.

He is known for his associations with the Romantic movement. He became Lord Byron’s personal physician and accompanied Byron on his European travels.

His sister Frances Polidori married exiled Italian scholar Gabriele Rossetti. His nephews and nieces: Maria Francesca Rossetti,Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti and Christina Rossetti were born after he died.

At the Villa Diodati, a house Byron rented by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, the pair met with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, and her husband-to-be, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and their companion (Mary’s stepsister) Claire Clairmont.

Polidori travelled in Italy and then returned to England. His story, “The Vampyre”, which featured the main character Lord Ruthven, was published in the April 1819 issue of New Monthly Magazine without his permission as a new work by Byron. Byron even released his own “Fragment of a Novel” in an attempt to clear up the mess, but, for better or worse, “The Vampyre” continued to be attributed to him.

Polidori’s long, Byron-influenced theological poem The Fall of the Angels, was published anonymously in 1821.

He died in London on 24 August 1821, weighed down by depression and gambling debts. Despite strong evidence that he committed suicide by means of prussic acid (cyanide), the coroner gave a verdict of death by natural causes.

A memorial plaque on Polidori’s home at 38 Great Pulteney Street was unveiled on 15 July 1998 by the Italian Ambassador, Paolo Galli