#44: Lord Byron’s Fragment of a Novel
An early vampire tale, abandoned just like Lady Caroline Lamb
Initial publication: 1819 (without permission)
Author: Lord Byron
Most people who’ve read Frankenstein know the story behind it, that fateful rainy summer trip to Geneva where Mary not-yet-Shelley and her friends wrote scary stories. But while her story was the most important to come out of that night, it wasn’t the only one. The infamous Lord Byron was also there, the host of the whole thing in fact, and he’d also tried his hand at writing a scary story, though as the name indicates, it’s only a small part of a longer novel that was never written, as Byron lost interest as guys like him often did.
While scholars will tell you that it’s one of the earliest vampire stories in English, you’d be hard pressed to find any actual vampires in it, at least as we understand them. Or to put it another way, as the story isn’t actually finished, all the vampire stuff was never actually written. However, we know from Byron’s friend John Polidori (who was also at that vacation stay in 1816) that Byron had intended to be more explicit later in the book. Indeed, he intended for the villainous Augustus Darvell to reappear and bang the narrator’s sister. Oh, that Byron! It’s not a surprise that a man best described as the O.G. fuckboy might savor a hint of scandal in his work — it probably explains the narrator’s innuendo-laden obsession with Darvell, too.
That’s not to say there isn’t a supernatural vibe to it; the arrival of the stork that refuses to eat its serpentine prey, for example, or the sudden decay of Darvell’s corpse. There’s an eerieness to the tale that lends itself well to the gothic literary overtones of the era. Still, though, it might be best taken as a companion piece to Polidori’s own story, The Vampyre, published the same year, which greatly expanded upon the ideas presented in this fragment, while also drawing elements from a story that Byron’s former lover Lady Caroline Lamb had written shortly after Byron had dumped her. Or, to put it another way, Polidori essentially lifted the core of Byron’s fragment for his own story as a means of saying “fuck you” to the famously capricious Byron, who had recently fired Polidori as his physician. All the more irony that Polidori’s work was later published under Byron’s name! (Not helping the confusion was the fact that Byron’s own fragment was published a few months later without his permission alongside his longer poem “Mazeppa.”)
In any case, while very little actually happens in the story, its short length and eerie atmosphere, as well as its position as a stepping stone into modern vampire literature, make it worth the ten minute read. You can read it yourself right here.