Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Villa Diodati ...

The year is 1816.
Up in the Swiss mountains Lord Byron rents Villa Diodati,
to spend time with his friend John Polidori.
Among his guests are Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley and Clare Clairmont.
While outside the storms tortures the old walls of the villa, inside by the fireplace the guests dare each other
to put their most frightening nightmares to paper. In this inspiring environment the classics of the Gothic genre were born;
Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' and Polidori's 'The Vampyre', to name but a few.

The collection had its origin in Das Gespensterbuch ("The Ghost Book"), a five-volume anthology of German ghost stories. The original anthology was published in Leipzig between 1811 and 1815. The stories were compiled by Friedrich August Schulze (1770–1849), under the pen name Friedrich Laun, and Johann August Apel (1771–1816).
A selection of short stories from the first two volumes received a French language translation by Jean Baptiste Benoit Eyries (1767–1846) and was published in Paris during 1812. The French title was Fantasmagoriana, ou Recueil d'Histoires d'Apparitions de Spectres, Revenans, Fantomes, etc.; traduit de l'allemand, par un Amateur. The title is derived from Étienne-Gaspard Robert's Phantasmagoria

Fantasmagoriana has a significant place in the history of English literature. In the summer of 1816 Lord Byron and John William Polidori were staying at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva and were visited by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and Claire Clairmont. Kept indoors by the "incessant rain" of that "wet, ungenial summer", over three days in June the five turned to reading fantastical stories, including Fantasmagoriana (in the French edition), and then devising their own tales. Mary Shelley produced what would become Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus and Polidori was inspired by a fragmentary story of Byron's to produce The Vampyre, the progenitor of the romantic vampire genre. Some parts of Frankenstein are surprisingly similar to those found in Fantasmagoriana and suggest a direct influence upon Mary Shelley's writing.

The Villa Diodati is a manor in Cologny close to Lake Geneva. It is most famous for having been the summer residence of Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, John Polidori and others in 1816, where the basis for the classical horror stories Frankenstein and The Vampyre was laid.
Originally called the Villa Belle Rive, Byron named it the Villa Diodati after the family that owned it. The family was distantly related to Italian translator Giovanni Diodati, uncle of Charles Diodati, the close friend of poet John Milton. Despite the presence of a plaque at the Villa heralding a supposed visit of Milton in 1638, in fact the villa was not built until 1710, long after Milton's death.
In the twentieth century, the Villa was owned by the Washers, a prominent Belgian family of industralists. It was sold in 2000 to an American businessman.

In popular culture
The villa is featured in the film Gothic and in Chuck Palahniuk's novel Haunted, where the frame plot takes place in a modern version of the Villa Diodati. Also, Tim Powers's novel The Stress of Her Regard has several scenes set there featuring Byron, Polidori and the Shelley's.
In Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which she began writing in the Villa Diodati (ne Villa Belle Rive), Victor Frankenstein's home is called "Belrive".
In the comic book The Unwritten, published by DC Vertigo, the Villa Diodati is the location where reclusive novelist Wilson Taylor was last seen alive - and where he planned and wrote his bestselling series of books about the boy wizard Tommy Taylor. The comic's protagonist, Wilson's son, refers to the fact that Tommy Taylor thus shares his place of birth with Frankenstein.
Villa Diodati is also the name of a speculative fiction writers' workshop founded by Ruth Nestvold, dedicated to providing English-language feedback for writers in continental Europe. Notable participants include Benjamin Rosenbaum and Aliette de Bodard.

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