Qualifying as a doctor in 1815 at the tender age of nineteen, John Polidori was employed less than a year later by the poet, Lord Byron, as his travelling physician. The precocious medic was seemingly destined for a bright future that would enable him to combine his profession with a love of literature. In His Master’s Reflection, the authors follow Polidori’s footsteps as he accompanies Byron through Europe to Switzerland where they eventually meet the Shelleys and Claire Clairmont. Fulfilling his father’s prophecy, the fateful summer will prove to have a devastating impact on Polidori’s life and legacy.
Byron’s keen wit and elevated status would leave the sensitive doctor feeling isolated and undervalued. Fuelled by acerbic comments from the poet’s friends, Byron finally releases Polidori from his contract, leaving the penniless medic to wander over the Alps on foot to Italy, his father’s homeland. Despite attempts at establishing himself as a doctor to the expatriate community, he has to admit defeat and return to England. Still harbouring literary ambitions, his one chance at fame is cruelly denied when The Vampyre, the story he had written in Geneva, is attributed to Byron. Gossip and retelling of events have cast Polidori in the role of a petulant plagiarist. Concussion from a riding accident deeply affected Polidori’s temperament and behaviour, leaving questions surrounding his death, which history has recorded as suicide by prussic acid, despite the coroner’s verdict of ‘visitation of God’. The authors delve into his final years in an attempt to redress the balance. The handsome Polidori was more than just his master’s reflection.