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Ghosts of Geneva: The Lost Stories of Byron and Shelley

By Kate Hoyland

It was the most famous gathering in English literary history. 

In May, 1816, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley rented neighbouring house on the shores of Lake Geneva. 

One rainy day, Byron came up with an idea – and one that was to change the course of literature. “We will each write a ghost story,” he declared. 

His companions – the dazzling poet Shelley and his 18-year old mistress Mary, the handsome, neurotic doctor Polidori, and Byron himself – on the run from England after an incestuous affair – all took up the challenge. 

Over the course of that wet summer by the shores of Lake Geneva, the novel Frankenstein – conceived by Mary Shelley after a nightmare – was born; while Byron began one of the first Vampire stories ever written. 

But what happened to the original tales the brilliant companions told one other during the gloomy Swiss evenings? In “Ghosts of Geneva: The Lost Stories of Byron and Shelly” Kate Hoyland reconstructs those stories, and the fascinating events – and interwoven lives – of that extraordinary summer.

Together for the first time are all three of the Ghosts of Geneva novellas. The collection is certain to appeal to fans of classic English literature, devotees of Victorian historical fiction, and followers of historical novelists such as Sarah Waters.

– In the first of the “Ghosts of Geneva” stories, The Animatron, the young Mary Shelley is desperate for a grim tale to impress her talented friends. Haunted by the recent death of her baby daughter, she begins the story of Isidore MacFarlane: a man obsessed by the desire to cure the sick, who – by meddling with nature – is overcome by the darkness in his own soul.

– In the second book of the “Ghosts of Geneva” series, Lord Byron’s Demon, the glamorous poet begins his tale. He recounts meeting the charismatic Hunt, a fellow aristocrat who befriends and accompanies him on his eastern travels. On Byron’s return to England his fame, and his misdemeanors, catch up with him. But Byron’s waking up to find he was famous will be nothing compared with the reappearance of Hunt. 

Mary Shelley knows that any story attached to Byron is already being inflated into myth. Is Hunt really a “foul feeder,” as Byron says? And does Byron know more about Vampires than he is letting on?

– In the last of the ‘Ghosts of Geneva’ stories, The Black Stone, the poet Shelley tells of a haunted childhood. A young Squire attempts to evict a family of poor weavers from his land – but a strange encounter with the family’s beautiful daughter sets him on the road to guilt, fear and obsession.

Kate Hoyland is the author of the gripping novel, The Icarus Diaries. For many years she was a producer for the BBC World Service, specialising in Asian and International news. She now lives in London with her young son.

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