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Lord Byron's image inspired modern take on vampires
circa 1807: English romantic poet Lord (George Gordon) Byron, 6th Baron of Rochdale (1788 - 1824). Original Artwork: Engraving by E Finden after Sanders. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Romantic poet Lord Byron, 6th Baron of Rochdale (1788 - 1824)

As Hucknall hosts the 12th International Byron Festival it is worth considering the poet's influence on a horror icon.

Byron was one of the first authors to write about vampires and his image even inspired the look of the monsters.

Lord Byron has been credited as the inspiration for the modern suave bloodsuckers seen on TV and film.

The author was also one of the first English writers to describe the un-dead creature in his work.

It was in Greece during Lord Byron's Grand Tour, between 1809 and 1810, that he was told several myths and legends.

However, when Byron first mentioned a vampire his description was closer to that of a zombie than Dracula.

Dr Matt Green is a lecturer at the University of Nottingham. The Gothic expert said: "The vampire first comes into English literature around the end of the eighteenth century.

"One of the first poems the vampire features in is by Lord Byron. It's a poem called The Giaour (a Turkish word for an infidel or nonbeliever).

"At one point the giaour is cursed by his enemy to become a vampire and to prey and feed on his descendents."

The poem goes: "Bur first, on earth as Vampire sent, Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent: Then ghastly haunt thy native place, And suck the blood of all thy race."

According to Dr Green, Byron's vision of a vampire is very different to modern icons like Christopher Lee or Twilight's Robert Pattinson.

"At this stage the vampire in Byron's poem and in English literature is more a zombie figure. He comes out of the ground and he eats those around him and then goes back into the ground. He can't wander far from his place of birth and his family."

That perception was about to change and Byron would be central to it.

The university lecturer said: "It's not until a couple of years later that the vampire becomes this cosmopolitan, seductive figure. That has to do with Byron as well."

Robert Pattinson
Byron's vision of a vampire is very different to Twilight's Robert Pattinson

The story goes that in 1816 Byron was visited at his rented home on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland, by the future Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Byron's doctor John Polidori.

The group challenged each other to write a ghost story. The evening resulted in Mary Shelley creating Frankenstein and Byron starting, but not finishing, a tale of vampires.

But in the days that followed, the poet's ideas were expanded by Polidori.

He published The Vampyre in 1819, the first tale of the fanged creature printed in English.

It included a character called Lord Ruthven who would have been familiar to people in the know.

"Polidori based his vision, in part, on Lord Byron," says Dr Green. "So at this point the vampire becomes seductive and an aristocratic noble figure going and preying on people."

Even after its publication there was confusion about the author. Many people believed Byron had written The Vampyre.

Just two years after its publication Polidori was dead. Although his death was attributed to natural causes it is widely held that he committed suicide as a result of depression and gambling debts.

The 12th Hucknall International Byron Festival is on until Sunday, 27 June, 2010.




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