From France to Italy--but first ... Switzerland ... where it all had begun ...
But before Italy … Switzerland. Geneva, of course, was the First Cause of all of this reading and traveling I was doing, for it was the place where, in the summer of 1816, Mary and Bysshe and Claire Clairmont arrived to meet Lord Byron, the father of Claire’s unborn child. It was there that the weather, affected by the massive eruption of Mt. Tambora in 1815 in Indonesia, was cold and dark and rainy and forced the players in this tale to be inside much of the time.
And, of course, it was in Geneva that Byron proposed that they all write a ghost story, a proposal that sired yet another child, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley, so, in a way, Byron has sired all sorts of other children—films, TV shows, books, spin-offs, postage stamps, and … memoirs.
I wanted to see a couple of things specifically in and near Geneva. One was Villa Diodati, the estate where Byron was living during that summer of 1816, the lakeside retreat where the group had gathered and had decided to write ghost stories. It’s still standing—though in private hands. The nearby (much smaller) place where the Shelleys had resided that summer—Maison Chapuis—is long gone. It was down the hill a bit and stood between Byron’s mansion and the lakeshore.
I also wanted to go to Chamonix, up in the French Alps (just across the Swiss border), where the Shelley party had gone in late July 1816 to see both Mont Blanc and the massive glacier known as the Mer de Glace (sea of ice), a site that had so impressed Mary that, later, she set there a significant scene in Frankenstein; the Mer de Glace is the place where the creature tells Victor Frankenstein what his life has been like since he fled the scene of his creation.
Here’s a bit from my journal, April 20, 1999:
I’m on a bus out to Cologny, where I hope I can see the Villa Diodati a little closer than I was able to in the boat today [I’d gone on an hour-long lakeshore cruise]—I could see it fairly clearly, but the day is dark, so I’m not sure how well the photographs I took will turn out. The A bus runs only once/hour, so I’ll need to be brisk in my hunt.
[An hour later.] I’m sweating L.A.P. [like a pig], but I’ve just had a major success. I found and photographed in Cologny the Villa Diodati, the Frankenstein house, where the ghost stories were told in 1816, the villa of L. Byron overlooking Lake Geneva. I took a #8 bus from the train station, changed to the A bus at Rive, got off at Cologny-Mairie, then walked down into Cologny and took some shots, but bearing toward the lake (I know the villa is ½-way up the hill), and there it was, a lovely building with the gate swung open—remodeling crews were there. I’m S.L.A. Pig because I sprinted (well … insofar as I can sprint!) back to the bus stop, for if I missed it, there would be an hour’s wait. I almost wish I’d waited an hour; now I’m in an F.S.S. [full streaming sweat] as a result.
As I read this today, I’m angry at myself for worrying so much about time, for writing more about my perspiration than about the Villa Diodati, but I actually remember more about it than I wrote in the journal.