I first became interested in the writings of William Godwin (1756-1836) many years ago. He eventually married Mary Wollstonecraft, and this marriage produced the writer Mary Godwin, who later married Percy Bysshe Shelley. Their story is quite fascinating, including their time staying in Italy. Lord Byron arrived, together with his travelling physician, a John Polidori. They all set up residence at a place named Villa Diodati, on the shores of Lake Geneva. During a particular heavy storm, and not a little bored, they all conspired to write the best ‘ghost’ story they could.

From this group, Mary Shelley compiled her book Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, Byron wrote the short ‘Augustus Darvell’, and Polidori wrote the short story ‘The Vampyre’. This is the book title I purchased, as a collection, together with other tales of the macabre. All of them are short stories written by various authors, either during the 1700s, or 1800s. They all fit in nicely with my taste in the written word of the time.

The main title, ‘The Vampyre, is only some twenty pages long, but from this humble beginning, a multi-financial business has erupted over successive years. I should imagine that all these authors are educated, possibly well placed in society, and quite likely rich enough to be indulged by various sympathetic publishers. Having said that, all these ‘Gothic’ stories certainly are well imagined, well written, and most definitely unique.

I can state quite categorically, that all these stories are speaking of the time of their writing, when deep, dark, impenetrable forests abounded, castles, horse driven carriages, lords and counts, countesses, affluent magistrates, thugs, doctors, grave robbers, black arts were an everyday circumstance. Modern writers of historical novels have to imagine this backdrop, the authors of these stories lived it, and I tend to feel that this is almost a tangible link with the past.

I particularly enjoyed the story ‘Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess’. This was written years before Daphne Du Maurier wrote Rebecca; it makes you wonder if this earlier story was an influence. There is also ‘The Bride of Lindorf’, another love story with a twist. All the stories contained in this Oxford World Classics paperback are superb, in their own individual way. This is an excellent collection of tales to read as and when the mood takes you.

Reg Seward 5*

The Vampyre by John Polidori and Other Tales of the Macabre
Oxford University Press 9780199552412 pbk Sep 2008