On an Trip to Switzerland

The Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva, Switzerland, is a beautiful, large house that has witnessed some of literature’s greatest minds within its walls. 1816 was an odd year because of a super volcanic eruption of Mt. Tambora in the south Pacific caused world-wide weather disaster. Many writers and historians call it the Year without a Summer because weather patterns–and therefore, food harvests–were heavily altered that year. Starvation affected many because of the amount of volcanic ash in the upper atmosphere. Two famous English authors, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, rented the Villa Diodati that summer to get away from the depressingly cold weather that year in England. Unfortunately, they found that when they arrived at the villa that the weather and thus their own moods weren’t much improved.

Byron’s doctor, a man named John Polidori, was with them also. He was also a close friend to his patient. Both Byron and Shelley brought women with them after both having left their wives for these women. While these two are often lionized as being representatives of free-thought and libertine lifestyles, they were also pretty much jerks to many of the women in their lives. After a short time at the villa, tempers began to flare. The weather was overcast and rainy and cold because of the volcano, and it kept the small group inside for days at a time.

It was suggested that the group use the time to write, to produce some literature and pour their frustrations into work instead of taking them out on each other. The proposition was more of a challenge: Produce a story that mirrored the darkness of the souls of mankind. Perhaps this challenge reflected the group’s sour moods and matching weather. For example, Dr. Polidori produced one of the first stories in modern times about the undead entitled The Vampyre. He based it on an earlier Byron work. It became the forerunner of the genre of Gothic vampire stories that continue in such works as Interview with a Vampire and even the Twilight saga.

For several days, the group worked on their individual projects and, when they came downstairs for breakfast every day, they reported on the progress (or lack thereof) on their works. Byron worked on Childe Harold and some other works that were published later. Shelley seemed to have suffered from writer’s block. Polidori was happy with his story of the undead.

We don’t really consider these works to be as important as one other story produced that bizarre summer. It seems that one of the women decided to join in the challenge that the men had proposed. It was Shelley’s young mistress, 19 year old Mary Godwin, who ended up writing the best story to come out of the Villa Diodati that summer.

Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.

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