Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Chapter 17: In Which Varney Never Drinks... Vine

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Charles and Flora are overcome by obvious symbolism.

The whole of Varney the Vampire is so bad that it's often hard to tell, when I come across a well-written and effective scene, whether JMR happened to churn out the chapter on a good day, or whether he just accidentally stumbled upon it. The opening to Chapter 17 (THE EXPLANATION. -- THE ARRIVAL OF THE ADMIRAL AT THE HOUSE. -- A SCENE OF CONFUSION, AND SOME OF ITS RESULTS.) is, I believe, one of those accidents, simply because the style that works so well in the chapter's opening becomes tedious -- even comical -- as the chapter wears on.

The previous chapter ended with Flora crying out: "The vampyre! the vampyre!" Varney, who has appeared in the garden, smoothly apologizes for intruding and introduces himself. George, Henry, and Marchdale arrive shortly, having heard Flora's cries. Flora remains in a state of shock, begging Charles to protect her.
"Take me away," whispered Flora. "'Tis he -- 'tis he. Oh, take me away, Charles."
"Hush, Flora, hush. You are in some error; the accidental resemblance should not make us be rude to this gentleman."
"The vampyre! -- it is the vampyre!"
"Are you sure, Flora?"
"Do I know your features -- my own -- my brother's? Do not ask me to doubt -- I cannot. I am quite sure. Take me from his hideous presence, Charles."
"The young lady, I fear, is very much indisposed," remarked Sir Francis Varney, in a sympathetic tone of voice. "If she will take my arm, I shall esteem it a great honour."

"No -- no -- no! -- God! no," cried Flora.
"Madam, I will not press you."
He bowed, and Charles led Flora from the summer-house towards the hall.
Varney's behavior is just so delightfully and subtly creepy, just as in his first appearance. He seems almost detached from the rest of the scene.

So Charles leads Flora away and seems to immediately forget that Varney is the vampire, since Flora's repetition of that fact (presumably for the sake of an audience that can't handle even the faintest semblance of subtlety) is met with a surprised exclamation of "Good God!"

The characters also seem to forget that Henry practically accused Varney of being the vampire last time the two met -- perhaps a bit more understandable, since it happened several chapters ago -- so we have to go through the same thing all over again, except more tediously, once Charles leaves Flora with her mother and rejoins the others.

As the (intentionally) awkward and forced conversation goes on, Our Heroes seem to think they can trick Varney into admitting that he's a vampire with such questions as "May I ask how long ago [your childhood] was?" and this (unintentionally) comical scene where they see if he'll drink wine:
"Gentlemen all," said Sir Francis Varney, in such soft, dulcet tones, that it was quite a fascination to hear him speak; "gentlemen all, being as I am, much delighted with your company, do not accuse me of presumption, if I drink now, poor drinker that I am, to our future merry meetings."
He raised the wine to his lips, and seemed to drink, after which he replaced the glass upon the table.
Charles glanced at it, it was still full.
"You have not drank, Sir Francis Varney," he said.
"Pardon me, enthusiastic young sir," said Varney, "perhaps you will have the liberality to allow me to take my wine how I please and when I please."
"Your glass is full."
"Well, sir?"
"Will you drink it?"
I suppose this is supposed to illustrate a minor triumph of Our Heroes, but it only makes me think of Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch.

Varney pulls the reader back into the creepiness of the moment -- something he's been generally good at, so far -- by replying: "If the fair Flora Bannerworth would grace the board with her sweet presence, methinks I could then drink on, on, on." Here, we don't need any melodramatic declarations of emotion or descriptions of Varney's facial expression or tone of voice -- the dialogue gives us everything we need.

That doesn't solve the overarching problem with the scene, however -- or, for that matter, with Our Heroes' actions in general. Why are they so eager to show Varney that they know he's a vampire? The guy has survived bullets and who knows what else. Do they really think it's that easy to make him say with a shrug, "Oh, hey, you caught me; I'm not drinking my wine. Guess that makes me a vampire!"

Seems like he'd be more likely, if he admits anything, to give a creepy half-smirk, followed by, "So, you've discovered my secret. For that, you must die."

But unfortunately, Our Heroes must live on, so Varney doesn't let their stupidity goad him into breaking his cover. When Charles and Henry stop beating around the bush and flat-out accuse him of being a vampire, he -- being a gentleman -- challenges Henry to a duel for the insult. The outcome of the duel will have to wait several more chapters, however, as we're left on another boring cliffhanger.

Chapter 18: In Which the Admiral Becomes the Most Interesting Character in the Book

1 comment:

  1. Is it just me or is the Admiral (and his side-kick Jack) liftered in whole from plays of the time in which VARNEY THE VAMPIRE was written. The same occurs in some of the stage adaptations of FRANKENSTEIN. The character of Fritz (the assistant to Frankenstein) has a number of "comic" scenes (he seems to be emotionally attached to a cow and utters lines like "Law a-larky" a LOT) who later turns up in the 1932 motion picture as the Dwight Fry character.