When Lord Byron left England in self-exile, he visited fellow poet Percy Byssche Shelley who had embarked on a scandalous life of his own. At nineteen, Shelley had eloped to Scotland with a sixteen-year-old girl who bore his first child. Before she delivered the second child, Shelley had fallen in love with Mary Woolstonecraft. Encouraged by Mary’s half-sister Claire Clairmont, the three ran away to the continent together. When they were broke and returned to England, Claire introduced Shelley to Lord Byron with whom she had an affair.
In the famous summer of 1816, Shelley, Mary, and her sister Claire (at Claire’s instigation) leased a home on Lake Geneva in Switzerland near Lord Byron’s home. Claire had hoped to continue her affair with Byron. She was unable to trap Byron into a long-term relationship but became pregnant with his child that Shelley agreed to support. A guest, Dr. John Polidori, recorded a heavily-censored version of the summer’s activities. The book was later destroyed.
What does survive is an account of one evening when the partiers read Tales of the Dead, a horror anthology. Byron challenged his friends to write a horror story. Percy Shelley wrote a called A Fragment of a Ghost Story. Lord Byron starte,d but never finished, a Fragment of a Novel. John Polidori , according to Byron, wrote The Vampyre, the first English-language vampire story. Mary Wollstonecraft’s contribution was a story that, two years later, would be published under the title of Frankenstein.
When the summer of 1816 ended and everyone went their way, Percy and Mary with a pregnant Claire returned to England. Mary and Claire’s sister committed suicide. That same year Harriet, Percy’s deserted wife who was pregnant by a lover she mistakenly believed had deserted her, committed suicide also. After her death, Percy and Mary were married. They were not married for long. Shelley drowned off the coast of Italy when he was only 29.
Tomorrow, One of Byron’s Most Popular Shorts. Rita Bay