If you have any interest in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or vampires or Romantic poets or, who knows, Swiss tourism, you’ve most likely read Polidori’s name. He’s a curio, Polly Dolly, most notable not for what he wrote but for being nearby when other people wrote things. It’s a strange afterlife; to think you’ve landed a leading role, and then there you are, on stage, sure, and with big names too, but fixed to a mark far upstage and over to the left, near the wings, in the half-dark where the spotlight doesn’t quite reach. “Poor Polidori.” That’s how Mary Shelley referred to him, writing years later. And he was.
Out on the water, one afternoon, Polidori accidentally struck Byron in the knee with his oar. As Mary Shelley later relayed it, Byron “without speaking, turned his face away to hide the pain. After a moment he said, ‘Be so kind, Polidori, another time, to take more care, for you hurt me very much.’—’I am glad of it,’ answered the other; ‘I am glad to see you can suffer pain.'”
On a side trip with Shelley, as the poets stood in “the middle of a beautiful wood,” Byron breathed out, “Thank God Polidori is not here.”
What a fascinating and awful relationship.