Friday, October 23, 2009

Chapter 1: In Which It Hails and Not Much Else

The header of Varney the Vampire's first chapter reads: "MIDNIGHT. -- THE HAIL-STORM. -- THE DREADFUL VISITOR. -- THE VAMPYRE." The author's intention in listing these four things separately is presumably to trick the reader into believing that more than one thing happens in this chapter. This would be a lie. Rymer is paid by the word, so he takes nearly 2,500 of them to introduce the title character.

He begins with an introduction some six paragraphs long, the sole point of which is to say that it is midnight and hailing; but why settle for "it was a dark and stormy night" when you can get paid for fifty times that number of words? And so the first two parts of the chapter header are already fulfilled with over 2,000 words left to go, which does not bode well for the reader. It ends with the choice quote, "Oh, how the storm raged! Hail -- rain -- wind. It was, in very truth, an awful night." Perfect, of course, for vampires.

The chapter goes on to describe an old house where a young woman lies sleeping. The omniscient narrator continues to talk to himself. "Was that lightning? Yes -- an awful, vivid, terrifying flash... Who sleeps now in that ancient city?" With a bit of dramatic reading it starts to sound like a performance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The woman awakes and speaks to herself in an exceedingly realistic way: "What -- what was it?" she gasped; "real or delusion?... A figure tall and gaunt, endeavouring from the outside to unclasp the window." The narrator, who obviously doesn't deign to answer anybody's questions but his own, goes on to describe the hail for the tenth or twelfth time so far.

Finally, we are introduced to the vampire, "the tall gaunt figure in hideous relief against the long window." He enters her room; she cries for help ("Help -- help -- help -- help!," rather, since that's four times as many words), but he hypnotizes her with his gaze. This is an important point in the novel already: Rymer is responsible for introducing hypnotic powers to the fictional vampire, a trait which has appeared in many subsequent stories, including Bram Stoker's Dracula.

The vampire grabs her and bites her neck with his fangs - another invention of Rymer which has become standard in vampire stories. The young woman faints, and Varney drinks her blood with "a hideous sucking noise."

Introduction - Chapter 2

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