Varney the Vampire

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Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood was a mid-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 referred to as "penny dreadfuls". The story was published in book form in 1847. It is of epic length: the original edition ran to 868 double columned pages divided into 220 chapters. Altogether it totals nearly 667,000 words[1]. 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.[2]

Contents

The story

Setting

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.

Human characters

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

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 pecuniary interests. The story is at times confusing, as if the author did not know whether to make Varney a literal vampire or a human who acts like one. Varney bears a strong resemblance to a portrait in Bannerworth Hall, and the implication is that he is one Marmaduke Bannerworth (a.k.a. Runnergate Bannerworth in a classic naming confusion), but that connection is never cleared up. He is portrayed as loathing his condition, but 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 subsequent film adaptations of the novel. (The novel itself does not present electricity as Frankenstein's means of creating the monster.)

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