Varney the Vampire

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Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood
Cover from one of the original publications.
AuthorJames Malcolm Rymer
Thomas Peckett Prest
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenrePenny dreadful/Gothic horror
Publication date
1845–1847 (serial)
1847 (book)
Media typePrint
Pages876 (book)

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,[1] 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[2] and 232 chapters.[3] Altogether it totals nearly 667,000 words.[4]

It is the tale of the vampire Sir Francis Varney, and introduced many of the tropes present in vampire fiction recognizable to modern audiences.[5] 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".[6]



The story has a confused setting. While ostensibly set in the early eighteenth century,[7] 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 and Naples.

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.[7] Initially the Bannerworths consist of Mrs Bannerworth and her adult children Henry, George, and Flora (George is never mentioned by name 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.


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.[7] 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.[7] 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 including A. Asbjørn Jøn have suggested that Varney was a major influence on later vampire fiction, including Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker.[8] 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.[5][9] Unlike later fictional vampires, he is able to go about in daylight and has no particular fear of either crosses or garlic.[7] 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.[7] This is also the first example of the "sympathetic vampire", a vampire who despises his condition but is nonetheless a slave to it.[9]

In popular culture[edit]

The makers of Marvel Comics were 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.[10]

In the thirteenth episode of the 1991 television series Dracula: The Series, Varney treated Dracula (going by Alexander Lucard in the series) from blood poisoning. He was played by Sam Malkin.

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.[11]

Varney is one of the main characters in Strange Practice (2017) and its sequels by Vivian Shaw.[12][13][14]

The 2017 film The Man Who Invented Christmas shows Charles Dickens reading it at the time that he was developing the supernatural elements of his novella A Christmas Carol; however, Varney was not published until 1845, and the film's action is set in 1843.[15]

In 2021, Varney appears as a character in Castlevania season 4, as an alter ego of Death (voiced by Malcolm McDowell), used to operate beneath notice to advance his goals.[16]


The story was published by Edward Lloyd, whose policy was not to allow authors to put their name on their published work. Due to this there is disagreement over the authorship of many works published by his company. Varney the Vampire is generally considered to have been co-written by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Preskett Prest.[17][18] However, E. F. Bleiler has argued that Rymer is most likely the author due to the differences in how he wrote dialogue compared to Prest.[19][17] Louis James also considered Rymer the most likely author, citing a piece of the manuscript in his handwriting.[17]


  1. ^ David J. Skal (1996). V is for Vampire: An A to Z Guide to Everything Undead. Plume. pp. 210–212.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Calculated from the complete text at the University of Virginia
  5. ^ a b Skal, David J. (1996). V is for Vampire. p.99. New York: Plume. ISBN 0-452-27173-8.
  6. ^ Cronin, Brian (29 October 2015). "Did Vampires Not Have Fangs in Movies Until the 1950s?". HuffPost. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Hellman, Roxanne (2011). Vampire Legends and Myths. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 217.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b Lisa A. Nevárez (2013). The Vampire Goes to College: Essays on Teaching with the Undead". p. 125. McFarland
  10. ^ "Vampire". The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Book of the Dead. Issue 5. 1985 Ser. 20. Feb. 1988. [1]
  11. ^ "Penny Dreadful' Kicks Into a Terrifying New Gear in Episode 6 as Eva Green Takes BDSM to Another Level". IndieWire.
  12. ^ "Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw". Kirkus Reviews. 15 May 2017. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  13. ^ Sheehan, Jason (26 July 2017). "Strange Practice: The Doctor Is In". NPR. Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  14. ^ Bourke, Liz (26 July 2017). "Healthcare for All, Even the Monsters: Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw". Retrieved 14 October 2017.
  15. ^ Sobczynski, P. (22 November 2017). The Man Who Invented Christmas at Roger
  16. ^ "Castlevania: Who Is Varney?". Den of Geek. 2021-05-14. Retrieved 2021-05-18.
  17. ^ a b c Rymer, James Malcolm; Collins, Dick (2010). "Introduction". Sweeny Todd; The String of Pearls. Wordsworth Editions. ISBN 978-1-84022-632-4.
  18. ^ Haugtvedt, Erica (2016). ""Sweeney Todd" as Victorian Transmedial Storyworld". Victorian Periodicals Review. 49 (3): 443–460. doi:10.1353/vpr.2016.0027. JSTOR 26166527. S2CID 164738572 – via JSTOR.
  19. ^ McGuire, Riley (2016). "The Victorian Unspeakable: Stammering and Same-Sex Intimacy between Men". DiGeSt. Journal of Diversity and Gender Studies. 3 (2): 43–57. doi:10.11116/jdivegendstud.3.2.0043. JSTOR 10.11116/jdivegendstud.3.2.0043 – via JSTOR.


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

External links[edit]