Portrait of Lord Byron by Richard Westall.

"Fragment of a Novel" (also published as "The Burial: A Fragment") is an unfinished supernatural horror story by the English writer Lord Byron. It was first published under the tile "A Fragment" in 1819, without Byron's permission, in an edition with his narrative poem Mazeppa.

The story concerns two English travelers in Turkey. One of them, known as Augustus Darvell dies and is secretly buried in a disused Muslim cemetery. Before he dies, Darvell makes his companion swear to say nothing about his death. Darvell also gives his companion a ring and tells him to use it to perform a ritual. The implication is that Augustus Darvell intends to return from the dead.

Byron began writing "Fragment of a Novel" in June 1816 as his entry in a ghost story writing competition. At the time, Byron was staying in the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in Switzerland with other guests including his physician John William Polidori, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Shelley's future wife Mary W. Shelley. 1816 became known in Europe as the Year Without a Summer as a consequence of the eruption of the volcano Mount Tambora in present-day Indonesia in 1815. To pass the time while the weather was unseasonably cold and wet, the guests at the Villa Diodati took to reading aloud from a book of ghost stories. They decided that they would each write a ghost story of their own and hold a competition to see who could produce the best one. For her entry in the competition, Mary Shelley wrote a story that she would later revise, expand and have published as the novel Frankenstein. After Byron gave up on continuing "Fragment of a Novel", the story was taken up by John William Polidori. On the basis of Byron's unfinished text, Polidori created the short story "The Vampyre", also first published in 1819, that is considered to be the first work of modern vampire fiction.

Summary

The story takes place at some time in the 18th century. The two main characters are the unnamed narrator and another man referred to as Augustus Darvell. Augustus Darvell is wealthy and comes from a noble family. He is somewhat older than the narrator. Although he attended the same schools and university as the narrator, they did not attend them at the same time due to their difference in age. Augustus Darvell appears to be singularly unemotional and distant from other people, possibly as a result of some mysterious event in his past. The fact that people know little about him leads to speculation that he is evil. The narrator becomes fascinated by Darvell and tries to befriend him. Although it appears to be impossible to become his friend, Darvell allows the narrator to become his almost constant companion.

Augustus Darvell has traveled extensively. The narrator asks him for advice in planning a journey across Europe. He is pleasantly surprised when Darvell offers to go with him. They travel together through southern Europe and arrive in Turkey. Although he is not displaying symptoms of any illness and never complains of his suffering, Darvell is clearly unwell and growing steadily weaker.

Accompanied by two local guides, one of whom is a soldier named Suleiman, the narrator and Darvell set off from Smyrna to visit the ruins of Ephesus and Sardis. The land they pass through is wild and uninhabited, although ruined temples, churches and mosques show that people lived there once. Darvell's ill health forces the travelers to stop. The only place where they can rest is an old Muslim graveyard.

First page of the story from its 1819 first publication.

Darvell rests beneath a cypress tree and asks Suleiman to fetch him water. To the narrator's surprise, Darvell is able to tell Suleiman precisely where he can find a well. The narrator is further surprised when Darvell says he has visited the desolate spot before.

Augustus Darvell admits that he is dying. He makes the narrator swear to say nothing about his death to any other human being. Darvell then gives the narrator a ring covered in Arabic writing. He tells his companion that at precisely noon on the ninth day of any month, he should throw the ring into the salt springs that run into the Bay of Eleusis. At precisely noon the following day, he should go to the ruined temple of the goddess Ceres and wait for exactly one hour. When the narrator asks why he should do that, Darvell simply replies, "You will see," The narrator remembers that it is the ninth day of the current month.

A stork with a snake in its beak lands on a tombstone. The narrator feels compelled to shoo the bird away but it refuses to move. Darvell seems pleased. He tells the narrator to bury him in the grave over which the stork is perched.

Darvell dies. Almost immediately afterwards, his face becomes almost completely black. It looks to the narrator as if Darvell has been poisoned, even though he knows that nobody has had the opportunity to poison him. Evening is coming on by that time. Suleiman and the narrator bury Darvell in the grave he selected on top of its other occupant. The narrator remarks that he does not cry over Darvell's death.

The story does not continue any further.

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