Monday, June 6, 2011

Lake Geneva as Byron Knew It: Voice of the Undead Countdown Minus 49

With Alex Van Helsing: Voice of the Undead coming out on July 26, I'm counting down 60 cool vampire things. Today:
The New York Times looks at Lake Geneva as Lord Byron knew it.

The Villa Diodati, where John Polidori was inspired to write The Vampyre.
The Alex Van Helsing series takes place on and around Lake Geneva because of the importance of the place to vampire literature. It was here that in 1816, Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, the soon-to-be Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Claire Godwin and Dr. John Polidori gathered and told ghost stories. Understand that this was June, but not a June we'd recognize. A volcanic eruption in Asia had cast an ashy pall over Europe and plunged Switzerland into a soggy, cold mess.

Writer Tom Perrottet paints a splendid picture as he explores the Villa Diodati (Byron's rented villa, where the action climax of Vampire Rising takes place) and remembers the Haunted Summer:

The gate was open, so I blithely strolled into the estate intending to knock on the door. As I drew near, I could easily imagine the bohemians of 1816 gathering by candlelight in the upstairs dining room to debate and carouse. Byron’s initial resistance to resuming his affair with the dark-eyed Claire did not last long. (“I never loved her nor pretended to love her,” he later wrote, “but a man is a man — & if a girl of eighteen comes prancing to you at all hours — there is but one way.”) Sexual tensions festered as Dr. Polidori fell in love with Mary, and wild rumors began to spread among English visitors to Geneva. Curiosity seekers passed by in boats to peer at the women’s underwear on the washing lines — evidence, it was believed, that the Villa Diodati was a virtual bordello. Others would stop Byron on his evening rides to accuse him of corrupting the local girls and youth. The whole Swiss setup, one British newspaper reported back in London, was a sordid “league of incest.”

Wonderful article; read the rest here.

You can't get vampire literature without the Villa Diodati. Without the Haunted Summer and the rift that formed between Lord Byron and his physician you would have no The Vampyre, which created the first modern vampire. Without The Vampyre, there would be no Dracula.

Of course, these people are all characters in the background of Alex Van Helsing-- sometimes not even the background. I've made a conscious decision to have no flashbacks or scenes set in the past, so what we learn we learn from what the characters tell us. But in the world of the series, Byron is still around, and very much a threat-- and so is Claire. Polidori? The one who died of a drug overdose, a pathetic wretch to the end? Maybe not so much. pathetic, wretched, or dead when everybody thinks.

Note-- I've posted reviews of one movie about the Haunted Summer starring Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley here: Rowing with the Wind.

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