Monday, August 2, 2010

Chapter 45: In Which the Mob is My New Favorite Character

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The prisoner returns but does not stay for nearly long enough.

Okay, I've been putting this chapter off for too long. It isn't bad, I just needed to get my thoughts together.

Chapter 45 (THE OPEN GRAVES. -- THE DEAD BODIES. -- A SCENE OF TERROR.) begins right where Chapter 44 left off, with the mob trying to dig up a grave. There's an interesting little passage where JMR once again pounds in the idea that the mob--not vampires--are the evil ones:
"Sons of darkness; you're all vampyres, and are continually sucking the life-blood from each other. No wonder that the evil one has power over you all. You're as men who walk in the darkness when the sunlight invites you, and you listen often to the words of humanity when those of a diviner origin are offered to your acceptance."
And then they dig up Miles the butcher. The coffin is empty, save for a brick.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, I don't get the sense of a mindless, faceless mob that JMR wants us to have. They are acting impulsively and without hard evidence, certainly, but at least they are acting like there is actually a vampire in the story.

Compare this scene to the one where Our Heroes open Varney's coffin and find it empty. There's the same sort of pointless waffling to pad out the chapter, to be sure; but entire tone of the scene is different. Our Heroes, being the fine upstanding gentlemen they are, have no sense of urgency or panic. They spend most of the rest of the chapter, and too many chapters after that, arguing and angsting over how it cannot be a vampire because that would be Most Illogical.

The mob is real and human, and their reactions make me feel like I'm actually in a vampire story, rather than some bizarre alien parody of human emotion. So mostly I'm just still perplexed that JMR wants us to see the mob as the bad guys, since they (as an amalgam, since they don't really have individual characters yet) are the ones I have identified with throughout the last several chapters.

Chapter 46: In Which the Bannerworths Decide to Move (Again)


  1. Hi, I've been reading your blog lately, and while many of your comments have been interesting (and I'm glad I'm not the only one who likes the Admiral), you and I seem to view the mob and Varney very differently in a few major ways.
    Regardless of whether Varney’s a vampire or not (which is debatable at this point), he still comes across as a rational being, perfectly capable of choosing right over wrong. He’s chosen to do wrong, of course, but that should put him in the hands of the law, not a group of vigilantes. He’s a criminal, but not a monster. In some small respect, then, Henry is behaving better than the mob because, while dueling is idiotic and technically illegal, it is still within the rules of upper-class society. He is also attacking Varney based on evidence; vampire or not, there’s no doubt Varney’s been tormenting his family. The mob, in contrast, is only operating on rumor and hearsay. There’s no reason to think Varney has harmed anyone not connected with the Bannerworths, nor is it clear that he intends to. While I agree the people in the mob do come across as human, and the dynamics they portray are interesting, they are not acting rationally, and I think that's why the author condemns them.
    Then there’s the question of whether Varney actually is a vampire. While Henry and Flora might be convinced, the evidence presented so far is rather ambiguous, and I think it’s meant to be. Just about all of it is within the ability of someone who wants to pretend to be a vampire.
    Some of this is simply my opinion, of course, but I thought it might help make some sense out of the recent events in the story.

  2. Henry is behaving better than the mob because, while dueling is idiotic and technically illegal, it is still within the rules of upper-class society.

    I suppose a good deal of my criticism is with upper-class society as a whole, if Henry's behavior is merely a reflection of it.

    Just about all of it is within the ability of someone who wants to pretend to be a vampire.

    I think this would be true except for Varney's miraculous healing abilities. The scene where he's shot and produces the bullet, for example, would be impossible to pull off unless Henry was in on the trick.

    I don't disagree that the evidence is meant to be ambiguous; but rather than actually presenting ambiguous evidence, JMR presents clear evidence and has the characters treat it as ambiguous. The story would be a lot more interesting, the main characters' actions more believable, and the criticisms of the mob more fair if the evidence didn't so clearly paint Varney as a vampire. But I can only fairly criticize the story as it exists, not a speculation of what was intended.

  3. There are a couple of ways for Varney to pull off the scene in the duel.
    The bullet itself is something he could easily have ready in advance; I don't think matching bullets to pistols was a very reliable science back then. I remember finding it odd that Varney only shows everyone a bullet covered in gunpowder, instead of one covered in blood, or the hole it should have made in his clothes.
    As for being shot, the first method is to fight the duel honestly and hope Henry misses. Since Henry is likely very nervous at the time, and pistols in those days were not very accurate, worse if they're using dueling pistols, this is not an unreasonable assumption.
    The other way is make sure Henry's pistol is loaded only with gunpowder; this requires an accomplice, but it doesn't have to be Henry. Anyone who had access to Henry's pistols could have tampered with them, and I think there's enough reason to suspect that he does have one, and even have a guess at who it is.
    Most of the other times Varney was shot, no one ever had a chance to make sure he had actually been hit, or was merely faking it.
    When I reached this point in the story, I was convinced that the only person who'd ever managed to put a bullet in Varney was Flora, and when she did it, he not only bled, but called the doctor for help. It hardly seems like the reaction of someone with miraculous healing abilities to me.

  4. Hmm, I see what you're saying. I'd have to take a closer look at those scenes.

  5. Considering that Rymer may be writing as many as nine other serials in the same week, and that the process of composition is one of dictation, it's more likely that he's just not thinking these things through as much as we do. I agree with Amy that the mob is acting logically; but considering also that starving mobs are burning Ireland during this period, you can see how a mob is in itself a threatening phenomenon that shouldn't be portrayed too positively.

    I've cheated and finished Varney, (I won't spoil anything for you), but I also recently reread Stoker's Dracula and you will find the same waffling on the part of Dr. Seward when it comes to dealing with Dracula as a supernatural being. Van Helsing holds off as long as he can in laying out his diagnosis of Lucy's condition -- to the detriment of his patient. I think Varney had much more influence on Stoker's composition of Dracula than has been generally acknowledged.