Varney the Vampire
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Cover from one of the original publications
|Author||James Malcolm Rymer |
Thomas Peckett Prest
|Genre||Penny dreadful/Gothic horror|
|1845–1847 (serial) |
Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood is a Victorian era serialized gothic horror story variously attributed to James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest. It first appeared in 1845–1847 as a series of weekly cheap pamphlets of the kind then known as "penny dreadfuls". The author was paid by the typeset line so when the story was published in book form in 1847, it was of epic length: the original edition ran to 876 double-columned pages  and 232 chapters. Altogether it totals nearly 667,000 words.
Despite its inconsistencies, Varney the Vampire is more or less a cohesive whole. It is the tale of the vampire Sir Francis Varney, and introduced many of the tropes present in vampire fiction recognizable to modern audiences. It was the first story to refer to sharpened teeth for a vampire, noting “With a plunge he seizes her neck in his fang-like teeth.”
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.
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, his seafaring uncle Admiral Bell, and Bell's jovial assistant Jack Pringle also take residence with the Bannerworths.
The character of Varney
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 (or Sir Runnagate Bannerworth; the names are confused throughout the story), but that connection is never clarified. 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 betrayed a royalist to Oliver Cromwell, and subsequently killed his own son accidentally in a fit of anger. 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 parallels the earlier story of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and film adaptations which introduce electricity as Dr. Frankenstein's means of creating the monster.
Scholars like A. Asbjørn Jøn have noted that Varney was a major influence on later vampire fiction, including 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, comes through a window to attack a sleeping maiden, has hypnotic powers, and has superhuman strength. 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.
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's 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. 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.
Dr. Gabor 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. In the sixth episode of the TV series Penny Dreadful (2014), Abraham Van Helsing gives a copy of Varney the Vampire to Victor Frankenstein, explaining that the story is more truth than fiction and that the mysterious creature the series' characters are pursuing is a vampire.
The 2017 film The Man Who Invented Christmas features Varney prominently as a possible inspiration for author Charles Dickens as he developed the supernatural elements of his novella A Christmas Carol. In the film, Dickens' maid loans him a copy of a Varney pamphlet, displaying the historic cover art. While Dickens is known to have been inspired by gothic literature, the plot device is an anachronism; A Christmas Carol was written in late 1843, two years before release of the first Varney chapter.
- Skal David J (1996) V is for Vampire Plume pg 210-212
- 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.
- The last chapter of the 1847 edition is printed as "CCXX" (220), but this was due to numerous errors in the chapter numbering, possibly caused by confusion over roman numerals, resulting in 12 more actual chapters than the final chapter numeral would indicate.
- Calculated from the complete text at the University of Virginia
- Skal, David J. (1996). V is for Vampire. p.99. New York: Plume. ISBN 0-452-27173-8.
- Cronin, Brian (29 October 2015). "Did Vampires Not Have Fangs in Movies Until the 1950s?". HuffPost. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
- Hellman, Roxanne (2011). Vampire Legends and Myths. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 217.
- Jøn, A. Asbjørn (2001). "From Nosteratu to Von Carstein: shifts in the portrayal of vampires". Australian Folklore: A Yearly Journal of Folklore Studies (16): 97–106. Retrieved 30 October 2015.
- Lisa A. Nevárez (2013). The Vampire Goes to College: Essays on Teaching with the Undead". p. 125. McFarland
- "Vampire." The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Book of the Dead. Issue 5. 1985 Ser. 20. Feb. 1988. 
- "Penny Dreadful' Kicks Into a Terrifying New Gear in Episode 6 as Eva Green Takes BDSM to Another Level". IndieWire.
- "Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw". Kirkus Reviews. 15 May 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
- Sheehan, Jason (26 July 2017). "Strange Practice: The Doctor Is In". NPR. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
- Bourke, Liz (26 July 2017). "Healthcare for All, Even the Monsters: Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw". Tor.com. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
- Sobczynski, P. (22 November 2017). The Man Who Invented Christmas at Roger Ebert.com
- Buzwell, G. (15 May 2014). Charles Dickens, Victorian Gothic and Bleak House at https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/charles-dickens-victorian-gothic-and-bleak-house
- E.S. Turner's Boys Will be Boys (1948) discusses this story and many others.