While yet a boy I sought for ghosts, and sped/thro' many a listening chamber, cave, and ruin, /And starlight wood, with fearful steps pursuing/Hopes of high talk with the departed dead."--Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty"
One dark weekend, a circle of artistic and philosophical outcasts, English expatriates in Geneva, set themselves to a contest. Who among them could write the best horror story? One of the party was a nineteen-year-old girl, Mary Shelley, who from a nightmare created the unforgettable Frankenstein and his Creature. Another of the party, John Polidori, based on his knowledge of Eastern European folktales scribbled the first scraps of what was to become The Vampyre, a precursor to a host of vampire tales to follow.

Life intersected with art in Pisa; members of the party led lives to rival any described in the most audacious Gothic tales to date. Lord Byron had to leave England because of his affair with his half-sister, Augusta Leigh, and the child they had together; Percy Bysshe Shelley's first wife drowned herself after his elopement with both Mary Shelley and oddly enough, her half-sister, Claire Clairmont, who was rumored to also be his lover and who later bore Byron an illegitimate child. This group of outsiders, then, formed a sort of Gothic family, in which incest and cruelty were the ties that bound. From them came stories of family and the outsider: Frankenstein is a most unnatural father who overstepped his bounds: the Creature is both of and apart from the family of man. The Vampyre is both a man and essentially undead. This extreme example of the Gothic hero too is both a part of, and apart from, the family of man.


Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus. By Mary Shelley. London: Lackington, Hughes, Harding, Mavor, and Jones, 1818. First edition. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. In this novel, medical student Victor Frankenstein transgresses the line between God and human by creating a man from dead matter. The novel differs significantly from most "Frankenstein" movies: in Mary Shelley's tale, the creature can reason and exacts a terrible revenge from his father/creator. The novel explores, through the perverse father/son relationship of the creator and creature, issues of imperialism and the treatment of the outsider. 

Octavia. By Anna Maria Porter. London: A. K. Newman, 1833. Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. This novel bears the armorial bookplate of Percy Florence Shelley, Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley's only child to live past infancy. On the recto (right-hand) page is the autograph of Hellen Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley's younger sister.

Zastrozzi; a Romance by P. B. S. By Percy Bysshe Shelley. London: Wildie and J. Robinson, 1810. Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. This is Shelley's first attempt at a novel. He reportedly read no poetry while in his teens, but existed on such literary fare as Ann Radcliffe's The Italian. The quote on the mounted card, above, gives some indication of his early reliance on and love for the Gothic genre.

St. Irvyne; or the Rosicrucian: a Romance. By a gentleman of the University of Oxford.By Percy Bysshe Shelley. London: J. J. Stockdale, 1811. Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. This Gothic novel was one of Percy Bysshe Shelley's earliest literary efforts, and his second effort at a novel. Written while he was still at Oxford (he was to be sent down for distributing literature advocating atheism), it shares its Rosicrucian theme with a novel written by the man who would become Shelley's father-in-law, William Godwin. Again, the contemporary binding is not only beautiful, but extremely well-preserved.

St. Leon. By William Godwin. First Edition. London: G. G. and J. Robinson, 1799. The Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. In this novel, the philosopher father of Mary Shelley writes of Reginald St. Leon, whose inner demons are mirrored by the supernatural events circling around him. Having sold his soul to obtain an alchemical formula, St. Leon becomes a sort of Wandering Jew figure, presaging the restless movements of many of the Pisan Circle.

Glenarvon. By Lady Caroline Lamb. London: Henry Colburn, 1816. Sadleir-Black Collection of Gothic Novels. Now Lady Caroline Lamb may be most famous for her summation of Byron as "mad, bad, and dangerous toknow," but in the early nineteenth century she was at least as famous for her Gothic novels as she was for her notorious liaison with the apparently irresistible poet. Art intersects with life in Glenarvon: this tale is a thinly-disguised relation of the love triangle between Byron, Lady Caroline Lamb, and her husband, the future Lord Melbourne. The cruel anti-hero of the tale, based as it was upon Byron, amused its model no end, who wrote that the character was a "poor likeness" since he had not sat still long enough for Lamb to make a portrait of him. View portions of text.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage. A Romaunt. By George Gordon, Lord Byron. London: John Murray, 1812. First edition. Special Collections Department. In this admittedly autobiographical poem, Byron's outsider hero expresses some rather Gothic sentiments:


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