During the summer of 1816 a number of people including Lord Byron, Lord Byron’s personal physician John Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his soon-to-be-wife Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin spent time at Lord Byron’s rented villa in Switzerland. One night in June, after they had told and read tales of horror, Lord Byron suggested that each write a ghost story. Of course Mary produced Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, but did you know that John Polidori wrote a short story called “The Vampyre” that became an opera, and the prototype for future vampire stories by such noted authors as Bram Stoker (Dracula), Edgar Allen Poe, Nicolai Gogol, Alexander Dumas, Anne Rice and Stephenie Meyer (the very popular Twilight Series)? To read Polidori’s short story, click here, then click on the “Download” tab. Finally, click on “HTML,” and you’re there.
Incidentally, Shelley married Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on December 30, 1816 – only a few weeks after his estranged wife, Harriet, committed suicide by drowning herself in the Serpentine in Hyde Park in London.
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Rudyard Kipling’s only son, John, known as “Jack,” died during his first day of combat in World War I. The tragedy is heightened by the fact that Jack had been turned down for service because of poor eyesight, but Kipling, using his considerable influence, got Jack a commission in the Irish Guard anyway. Jack was only 18 at the time of his death, and his body was never found. Kipling’s 1915 poem “My Boy Jack” is about his son. David Haig’s 1997 play, My Boy Jack, is the basis for a 2007 television drama of the same name. In the drama, Haig portrayed Rudyard Kipling and Daniel Radcliffe (of Harry Potter fame) played Jack.
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Once upon a time there was an English physician named Thomas Bowdler (1754 – 1825) who was appalled at some of the language and characters in William Shakespeare’s plays, so he and his sister edited the plays, and published an edition that, to his way of thinking, was fit for children and women. He called it The Family Shakespeare. In it, Ophelia’s death in Hamlet was characterized as an accidental drowning rather than suicide, Lady Macbeth’s famous cry “Out, damned spot” became “Out, crimson spot,” and the prostitute Doll Tearsheet was totally eliminated from Henry IV, Part 2. At least one of the three volumes, The Comedies, is still available. Bowdler did the same with Edwin Gibbons’ The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Next time you see the word “bowdlerize,” (pronounced with a silent w) think of Thomas Bowdler.