Varney the Vampire

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The cover image from one of the original Varney the Vampire publications.

Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood was a Victorian era serialized gothic horror story by James Malcolm Rymer (alternatively attributed to Thomas Preskett Prest). It first appeared in 1845–47 as a series of cheap pamphlets of the kind then known as "penny dreadfuls". The story was published in book form in 1847. It is of epic length: the original edition ran to 876 double-columned pages divided into 220 chapters.[1] Altogether it totals nearly 667,000 words.[2] Despite its inconsistencies, Varney the Vampire is more or less a cohesive whole. It introduced many of the tropes present in vampire fiction recognizable to modern audiences to this day.[3]

The story[edit]

Setting[edit]

The story has a confused setting. While ostensibly set in the early eighteenth century, there are references to the Napoleonic Wars and other indicators that the story is contemporary to the time of its writing in the mid-nineteenth century. Varney's adventures also occur in various locations including London, Bath, Winchester, Naples and Venice.

Human characters[edit]

The plot concerns the troubles that Sir Francis Varney inflicts upon the Bannerworths, a formerly wealthy family driven to ruin by their recently deceased father. Initially the Bannerworths consist of Mrs. Bannerworth and her adult children Henry, George and Flora. (George is never mentioned after the thirty-sixth chapter.) A family friend, Mr. Marchdale, lives with the Bannerworths in early chapters. Later Flora's fiancé Charles Holland and his seafaring uncle Admiral Bell along with his assistant, the extremely humorous Jack Pringle, also take residence with the Bannerworths.

The character of Varney[edit]

Though the earliest chapters give the standard motives of blood sustenance for Varney's actions toward the family, later ones suggest that Varney is motivated by monetary interests. The story is at times inconsistent and confusing, as if the author did not know whether to make Varney a literal vampire or simply a human who acts like one. Varney bears a strong resemblance to a portrait in Bannerworth Hall, and the implication throughout is that he is actually Marmaduke Bannerworth (a.k.a. Sir Runnagate Bannerworth in a classic naming confusion), but that connection is never cleared up. He is portrayed as loathing his condition, and at one point he turns Clara Crofton, a member of another family he terrorizes, into a vampire for revenge.

Over the course of the book, Varney is presented with increasing sympathy as a victim of circumstances. He tries to save himself, but is unable to do so. He ultimately commits suicide by throwing himself into Mount Vesuvius, after having left a written account of his origin with a sympathetic priest. According to Varney, he was cursed with vampirism after he had betrayed a royalist to Oliver Cromwell and accidentally killed his own son afterwards in a fit of anger, although he "dies" and is revived several times in the course of his career. This afforded the author a variety of origin stories. In one of these, a medical student named Dr. Chillingworth applies galvanism to Varney's hanged corpse and revives him. This sub-plot has an obvious similarity to the story of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and even more so, perhaps, to much later film adaptations of the novel (the novel itself does not present electricity as Dr. Frankenstein's means of creating the monster.)

Legacy[edit]

Varney was a major influence on later vampire fiction, most notably the renowned novel Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker. Many of today's standard vampire tropes originated in Varney: Varney has fangs, leaves two puncture wounds on the necks of his victims, has hypnotic powers, and has superhuman strength.[3] Unlike later fictional vampires, he is able to go about in daylight and has no particular fear of either crosses or garlic. He can eat and drink in human fashion as a form of disguise, but he points out that human food and drink do not agree with him. His vampirism seems to be a fit that comes on him when his vital energy begins to run low; he is a regular, normally functioning person between feedings.

This is also the first example of the "sympathetic vampire," a vampire who despises his condition but is nonetheless a slave to it. This archetype has been widely exemplified, notably by such characters as Countess Zaleska in the 1936 film Dracula's Daughter, Barnabas Collins in the TV soap opera Dark Shadows, Mick St.John in the TV show Moonlight, Louis de Pointe du Lac in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, Kain in the Legacy Of Kain video games, Marvel Comics character Morbius, the Living Vampire, Nick Knight in the TV series Forever Knight, Angel from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer universe, and Bill Compton in Charlaine Harris' The Southern Vampire Mysteries.

The makers of Marvel Comics were also influenced by this story. In the Marvel Universe, "Varnae" is the name of the first vampire, created by the people of Atlantis before it sank.[4]

A standard joking phrase, common today in Northern England, is possibly first recorded in Varney, where a comical character twice describes himself as having "never been backward in coming forward."

The sole member of the German darkwave band Sopor Aeternus & The Ensemble of Shadows, Anna-Varney Cantodea, adopted her name from Varney the vampire.

The Shadow magazine story "The Vampire Murders" published in 1942 features "Varney Haldrew" who lives in Haldrew Hall. Varney is named after the original Varney The Vampire and spends his nights sleeping in a coffin.

Varney appears in an episode of the Canadian television show Dracula: The Series, played by Sam Malkin. He appears in the episode "Bad Blood", and treats Dracula after he is poisoned by a rare blood type.

Sir Francis Varney is the Viceroy of India in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ The last page number of the 1847 edition is printed as 868, but this does not take into account that pages 577-584 were repeated.
  2. ^ Calculated from the complete text at the University of Virginia
  3. ^ a b Skal, David J. (1996). V is for Vampire. p.99. New York: Plume. ISBN 0-452-27173-8.
  4. ^ "Vampire." The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Book of the Dead. Issue 5. 1985 Ser. 20. Feb. 1988. [1]

References[edit]

  • E.S. Turner's Boys Will be Boys (1948) discusses this story and many others.

External links[edit]