This house in the midst of rolling green lakeside real estate is called the Villa Diodati, and it’s just meters from the shore of Lake Geneva, in Switzerland. Unfortunately Google Earth doesn’t have street view for this part of the world, so the slightly surreal appearance comes from imperfections in the “3D buildings” setting. This mansion, originally constructed in 1710 and rebuilt extensively since then, is the birthplace of several legends in literary and horror circles. Lord Byron and his friends, which included Percy Bysse Shelley, his girlfriend Mary, Dr. John Poledori, and Byron’s then lover Claire Clairmont, rented this house in the summer of 1816. There, the literary circle hatched several legendary stories–Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Byron’s poem “Darkness,” and Poledori’s The Vampyr. The creation of these horror stories is itself legendary, and has been portrayed many times in literature and on the screen; my favorite version, heavily fictionalized, is the 1986 Ken Russell film Gothic.

Byron and friends rented this villa in the hopes of summer vacation, boating on the lake and so forth. The reason that didn’t happen, and why they were trapped indoors telling ghost stories, was the foul weather caused by the “Year Without Summer.” This phenomenon was only part of a broader period of climatic disruption known as the “Cold Decade,” which is the subject of my academic research. Thus, the Villa Diodati story is pretty near and dear to my heart. I’d love to visit someday, but my understanding is that this house is privately owned and was long ago subdivided into luxury apartments.

There is a fairly recent (2008) photo of the Villa Diodati, taken from the ground, in the public domain. Here it is. I have no idea whether it looked like this in 1816; my guess is it’s now unrecognizable. But the legend is still pretty cool to contemplate!

villa diodati 2008