Monday, December 7, 2009

Chapter 12: In Which Charles Remains the Blogger's Favorite Character

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Charles resolves to protect Flora, even if it is a vampire.

In Chapter 12 (CHARLES HOLLAND'S SAD FEELINGS. -- THE PORTRAIT. -- THE OCCURRENCE OF THE NIGHT AT THE HALL.), JMR continues to explore Charles' feelings and develop his character, which continues to be the most consistent and interesting one so far. He paces a bit, worrying about Flora; despite his love for her and his initial doubt regarding vampires, there's a real risk that she'll become a vampire herself.

Within the context of the overdramatic writing style, this scene very emotive, just like the previous chapter. I'm reminded again of the scene where Henry watches over Flora after her attack, one of the few places where JMR seems to get things right. Since Charles arrived he's been getting it right more than not, so there's one more point int Charles' favor.

Of course, every chapter has its share of ridiculousness. Charles sees the portrait of Runnagate Marmaduke Bannerworth and is immediately creeped out. More importantly, he notices that the portrait has been moved recently--I actually love this part about the passage, since there's more substance than "Charles is creeped out because [the readers know that] the man in the portrait is a vampire."

There is this hideously, inexplicably long passage, however, where he explores the portrait:
"Who knows," he said to himself, "what may be behind it? This is an old baronial sort of hall, and the greater portion of it was, no doubt, built at a time when the construction of such places as hidden chambers and intricate staircases were, in all buildings of importance, considered desiderata."
He hears a knock (excuse me, a "demand for admission"; why use five letters when you can use eighteen?) and opens the door, but there seems to be no one there. He hears it again, opens the door, and is greeted by strange noises in the hallway. Then he finds Henry, who heard a door open, and they investigate the mysterious painting together to see what lies behind it.

They find nothing, and, in classic JMR fashion, the resulting dialogue breaks any semblance of suspense that the scene previously held:
"There is no mystery here," said Henry.
"None whatever," said Charles, as he tapped the wall with his knuckles, and found all hard and sound. "We are foiled."
"We are indeed."

"I had a strange presentiment, now," added Charles, "that we should make some discovery that would repay us for our trouble. It appears, however, that such is not to be the case; for you see nothing presents itself to us but the most ordinary appearances."

"I perceive as much; and the panel itself, although of more than ordinary thickness, is, after all, but a bit of planed oak, and apparently fashioned for no other object than to paint the portrait on."
The painting is forgotten, however, when they see the vampire in the window. Charles shoots at it, but it gets away. Marchdale advises Charles to leave, warning that Flora could become a vampire. Marchdale resolves to leave, but Charles refuses, saying that "she [Flora], and she only, can break asunder the tie that binds me to her." We'll see more of them together, but not for a few chapters.

Chapter 13: In Which We Finally Meet the Title Character

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chapter 11: In Which the Blogger Returns After a Long Hiatus

Previously in Varney the Vampire: My posts were a lot closer together. Also, Flora's fiancé has arrived.

Chapter 11 (THE COMMUNICATION TO THE LOVER.--THE HEART'S DESPAIR.) starts off with a sentence worthy of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest:
Consternation is sympathetic, and any one who had looked upon the features of Charles Holland, now that he was seated with Henry Bannerworth, in expectation of a communication which his fears told him was to blast all the dearest and most fondly cherished hopes for ever, would scarcely have recognised in him the same young man who, one short hour before, had knocked so loudly, and so full of joyful hope and expectation, at the door of the hall.
Then Henry asks Charles if he knows anything about vampires. As I've ranted about time and again, the real weakness of the story, at least in these first few chapters, is the constant vacillation between "it's a vampire" and "it can't possibly be a vampire." Not that it would be a terribly convincing story if they believed that it was a vampire right from the start, without a doubt; but by the point in the story where they open the tomb, they should have enough evidence that they're not still arguing that it couldn't be a vampire and patting themselves on the back for being so logical and rational. In any decent horror story these characters are the ones killed first, or at least in the most brutal, I-told-you-so sorts of ways.

The point here is that this scene between Henry and Charles has exactly the right dynamic between doubt and belief, one that has been sorely missed in the story so far. The introduction of a new character, one who hasn't witnessed the previous events, helps a lot. Henry is convinced that it was a vampire that attacked Flora, and tells Charles to flee and protect himself. Charles doesn't want to believe it, but pledges his love and his protection to Flora against whatever evil there might be.

In response to Charles' devotion,
Henry could not speak for emotion for several minutes, and when at length, in a faltering voice, he could utter some words, he said, --
"God of heaven, what happiness is marred by these horrible events? What have we all done to be the victims of such a dreadful act of vengeance?"
I love this passage, for all its usual cliché and overdone dialogue, because it begins to get to the heart of the story's human element: why is this happening to these characters? One can forgive the author, due to the story's format, for not addressing this question earlier; but it's an important one to address now.

Though he isn't certain that it's a vampire, Charles, fueled by youthful impulsiveness and the Power of Love, resolves to catch the vampire. And, unlike the other men, he notes the importance of a night watch plan which doesn't involve Flora being left alone with her elderly mother and a gun. He's probably the smartest male character so far; I can't judge whether he's the most consistent until we've seen him in a few more chapters.

Chapter 12: In Which Charles Remains the Blogger's Favorite Character

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chapter 10: In Which Flora Didn't Kill the Vampire Because It's a F***ing Vampire

 Man, it's been a long time since I posted. Sorry about that. I blame my husband for introducing me to Diablo.

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The vampire returns. Flora shoots him and then runs away, but is caught by some unidentified person. Could it be the vampire?

Don't worry; it's just her fiancé, Charles! You know, the one we met in Chapter 6? Bet you didn't see that coming. And by "that," I mean JMR remembering a character's name from three chapters ago.

So, the boys are shocked to return from their little there's no such thing as a vampire hunting adventure to discover that the vampire has attacked again. Man, there's no way anyone could have seen that coming.
Such a strange scene as that small room now exhibited had never been equalled in Bannerworth Hall. There was young Mr. Holland, of whom mention has already been made, as the affianced lover of Flora, supporting her fainting form. There was Henry doing equal service to his mother; and on the floor lay the two pistols, and one of the candles which had been upset in the confusion: while the terrified attitudes of George and Mr. Marchdale at the window completed the strange-looking picture.
Flora awakes and, upon recognizing Charles:
She burst into a hysterical flood of tears, and clung to him like some terrified child to its only friend in the whole wide world.
"Oh, my dear friends," cried Charles Holland, "do not deceive me; has Flora been ill?"
"We have all been ill," said George.
This exchange, like so many in Varney the Vampire, is bizarre on several levels. First, I must note that JMR manages to give Flora realistic emotional reactions and very human characteristics here (although he does slip into bathos), something which has only shown up at a few points in the story so far. (The one that sticks in my mind is the scene where Henry stays up guarding Flora at the end of Chapter 4.)

But then Charles's reaction—to be fair, at this point he has no idea what is going on, and his confusion is one of the few things that JMR almost gets right in the dialogue—Charles's reaction is to ignore Flora's unspoken cry for support and to ask The Boys what's wrong with her, rather than talking to her?

And then George's reaction is to pull attention away from Flora—you know, the one who actually got attacked by a vampire—and make it All About the Boys, like so much of the rest of the story is already?

As with the last post, I find it difficult to pick stuff like this apart too much. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's the bad writing, what's a product of the time and what's just plain sexism.

Anyway, the prize for the stupidest line of dialogue in the chapter goes to Marchdale:

"You -- you hit it with the bullet?" interposed Mr. Marchdale. "Perhaps you killed it?"
Yes, Marchdale, she killed it. That's why it got up and left after Henry shot it in the garden. And why it got up and left when you shot it in the light of the full moon. And why it wasn't in its coffin.


Anyway, Charles is still confused, not in the least because Flora is now raving about how they have to break up because she's been cursed by the vampire's visit, so Henry takes Charles away to explain everything to him. I rather like him so far; like Flora, he seems more human than the other characters. Perhaps he can inject some sanity in the situation.
(By the way: I automatically read/write chapter titles and previous chapter recaps in the voice of Yami from Yu-Gi-Oh: The Abridged Series. Maybe that's just me.)
Chapter 11: In Which the Blogger Returns after a Long Hiatus

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chapter 9: In Which Flora is Badass (But JMR Kind of Screws It Up)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The tomb is empty! Jesus has risen! Just kidding, it's only Varney.

Back in Chapter 7, Henry and The Boys left Flora to defend herself while they tried to convince themselves that vampires can't really exist. Now in Chapter 9 (THE OCCURRENCES OF THE NIGHT AT THE HALL. -- THE SECOND APPEARANCE OF THE VAMPYRE, AND THE PISTOL-SHOT), we get to see Flora put her badassery to use.

Kind of. As Curt Herr points out in his annotated edition of Varney the Vampire, the fact that Flora has any agency at all is unusual in these kinds of stories--and even in the context of this story, where it's clear that everything is about the men around Flora, who make decisions for her and try to keep things from her, the men's confidence in her ability to defend herself is quite surprising. So it's good to see a female character who can be badass, even if she isn't all the time.

The problem is that the passage reads thus:
It stood for a moment gazing at her, and then in the hideous way it had attempted before to speak, it apparently endeavoured to utter some words which it could not make articulate to human ears. The pistols lay before Flora. Mechanically she raised one, and pointed it at the figure. It advanced a step, and then she pulled the trigger.
A stunning report followed. There was a loud cry of pain, and the vampyre fled. The smoke and confusion that was incidental to the spot prevented her from seeing if the figure walked or ran away. She thought he heard a crashing sound among the plants outside the window, as if it had fallen, but she did not feel quite sure.
It was no effort of any reflection, but a purely mechanical movement, that made her raise the other pistol, and discharge that likewise in the direction the vampyre had taken. Then casting the weapon away, she rose, and made a frantic rush from the room.
Although it strikes me as odd that someone who is (or at least is supposed to be) excessively passive and feminine would know how to shoot well enough to do it "mechanically," as if on instinct, twice, that's what we have. Flora's bravery and ability to defend herself is consciously de-emphasized.

At the same time, this is the only chapter so far that I found genuinely suspenseful. It was short enough to hook the reader without growing dull, it didn't include long passages of meaningless description or stilted dialogue, the attack on Flora has a real sense of danger, and it ends with Flora, in her effort to escape, running into the arms of what might be the vampire himself. Maybe I've lowered my standards, but I rather enjoyed it.

Chapter 10: In Which Flora Didn't Kill the Vampire Because It's a F***ing Vampire

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Break: How Varney the Vampire Made Me Get a Credit Card

Money's been tight lately for me, as it has been for a lot of people in this economy. But there are some books I absolutely have to buy, despite my usual policy of never buying books unless they're used and/or on sale.* Curt Herr's critical edition of Varney the Vampire was one of those books, leading me to break my other book-buying policy: never buy anything you could get for free, legally, online.

I have never had a credit card (aside from debit/credit cards, which aren't really the same because the money is already in your account). I've always been kind of scared by the prospect of dealing with invisible money that I need to remember to pay back. But I like buying books from Amazon, and whenever I check out they always have that ad: apply for the credit card and get $30 off your purchase!

Varney the Vampire was $30, so I figured, okay, I'll bite. So now I have a credit card and a (nearly) free copy of Varney the Vampire. And to be completely honest, the book is worth the $30 (if I had it) just for the supplementary material, including an introduction by Curt Herr and several more essays on Varney the Vampire and the culture of penny dreadfuls. (Did you know, for example, that James Malcolm Rymer was writing ten different serials when he was putting out Varney the Vampire? With that in mind, I'm actually impresed by the lack of more continuity errors. I write several thousand words a day, but I don't try to keep a coherent plot--or even an incoherent plot--around it.)

Anyhow, I wrote a full review of the annotated Varney the Vampire, and plan to include some more interesting and accurate background information in my analysis of future chapters.

* I want to support fellow writers by buying new books; I really do. But when I remember how a simple paperback used to be $3.50 or $4 when I was growing up and now it's $8 (and let's not even speak of hardcovers), it just makes me feel old as well as poor.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Chapter 8: In Which (Spoiler Warning!) the Tomb is Empty

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Flora is badass, but her brothers are stupid.

In a comment to the post on Chapter 7, Zahir Blue made the point that the nighttime visit to the supposed vampire's tomb has two purposes. First, they don't want anyone to know they're breaking in. This is a fairly reasonable explanation, one which becomes more clear later in Chapter 7; if this is their main concern, however, "We should go at night because it's dark anyway" should never have come up, except to bolster Mr. Rymer's word count.

The other reason will, I hope, be made clear in the next few chapters—it was necessary to make a future plot point possible. Rather than excusing the fact that they're visiting a vampire's lair at night, this piece of information confounds the problem. Writers, take note: if the most compelling reason for anything happening in a story is "because the plot requires it," you've got some serious editing to do.

But enough of Chapter 7; we're on to Chapter 8 (THE COFFIN. -- THE ABSENCE OF THE DEAD. -- THE MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCE, AND THE CONSTERNATION OF GEORGE.). Normally I hate it when the chapter titles give away everything, but in Varney the Vampire whether or not the chapter titles actually correspond to events in the chapter is kind of a crapshoot. (Also, we already knew the coffin would be empty. And so would they, if they stopped being idiots.)

So, they stand around in the vault for a while being curious until Henry says:
"This is a time for action, George," he said, "and not for romantic thought. Let us proceed."
If only he could do that every time.

So they search around for the coffin, and this line just made me laugh:
Of course, the more recent and fresh-looking coffins they did not examine, because they could not have anything to do with the object of that melancholy visit.
They eventually find the right coffin, except that it's inscribed with "Marmaduke Bannerworth, Yeoman. 1640," not Runnagate Bannerworth, as the ancestor is called in Chapter 3. (It's not the worst of the book's continuity errors; according to Wikipedia, the author forgets that George exists after Chapter 36.)

But never mind all that; the point is that the coffin is, predictably, empty. There's a bit more of a dramatic to-do; you can tell by the fact that Chillingworth uses the word "damned" (which is, according to nineteenth-century sensibilities, bleeped out) while insisting that vampires can't exist and there must be a scientific explanation.

They leave, somewhat dejected in the knowledge that they'll have to remove their fingers from their ears and stop humming sooner or later. Henry even starts getting emo on us; when asked if they should replace the broken window, he replies:
"Oh, it matters not -- it matters not," said Henry, listlessly; "nothing matters now. I care not what becomes of me -- am getting weary of a life which now must be one of misery and dread."
Chillingworth reassures Henry that he can stand up against the vampire (which may or may not exist), and then there's this odd bit about religion:
"But, Mr. Chillingworth, I cannot and will not renounce the sublime truths of Scripture. They may be incomprehensible; they may be inconsistent; and some of them may look ridiculous; but still they are sacred and sublime, and I will not renounce them although my reason may not accord with them, because they are the laws of Heaven."
No wonder this powerful argument silenced Mr. Chillingworth, who was one of those characters in society who hold most dreadful opinions, and who would destroy religious beliefs, and all the different sects of the world, if they could, and endeavour to introduce instead some horrible system of human reason and profound philosophy.
But how soon the religious man silences his opponent; and let it not be supposed that, because his opponent says no more upon the subject, he does so because he is disgusted with the stupidity of the other; no, it is because he is completely beaten, and has nothing more to say.

This almost brings me back to the stealth parody theory I mentioned back in Chapter 5 (and by the way, I believe I have found the book after several weeks of searching: The Vampire's Bedside Companion, by Peter Underwood—but I have not received it in the mail yet, so I cannot be certain).

Chapter 9: In Which Flora is Badass (But JMR Kind of Screws It Up)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chapter 7: In Which the Story Might Be More Suspenseful if Everyone Weren't So Predictably Stupid

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Exposition, and... yeah, that was pretty much it.

First, I want to say a word of thanks to James Malcolm Rymer for making me laugh again. I was afraid the comically bad writing was gone for good, but Chapter 7 (THE VISIT TO THE VAULT OF THE BANNERWORTHS, AND ITS UNPLEASANT RESULT. -- THE MYSTERY.) is beginning to prove me wrong, if only for its awkward dialogue.

Henry and George wake Flora up, but don't tell her anything about the vampire, because she's a girl and girls are delicate and stuff. (Actually, it probably has more to do with the fact that Flora, being the one who was actually attacked by a vampire, is less invested in the it's-not-a-vampire-if-I-stick-my-fingers-in-my-ears-and-hum-loudly routine that's infected the rest of the characters.)

Henry decides to visit the family vault to make sure their ancestor is Really Dead, not just Mostly Dead. Marchdale arrives and advises them that checking out the vault can do no harm. But here's where they go wrong:
"Why should it not be done secretly and at night? Of course we lose nothing by making a night visit to a vault into which daylight, I presume, cannot penetrate."
There's only one problem with that, says George: they must leave Flora unprotected. ("We do, indeed," said Henry. "I did not think of that.") The solution is just to make sure that Flora feels safe on her own, with just her elderly mother to protect her from the vampire. Nothing can possible go wrong with this plan.

Seriously. Nothing can go wrong! There's absolutely no reason why they should go visit a potential vampire's lair at night, leaving their sister unguarded from the vampire which roams around at night, because it's silly to go in the daytime since it's dark anyway.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call the Idiot Plot. That is, a story which cannot progress properly unless the characters are dumb as rocks for no reason other than to make the readers want to smack them over the head while typing furiously with excessive use of italics.

And there's still ten pages to go in this chapter. God help me.

They discuss how to get into the vault, and decide to ask Chillingworth to come with them, since he's a doctor and can identify the remains. Then they go ask Flora if it's okay for them to go out at night and leave her unprotected, and there's this awesome scene:
"If fire-arms were left you, do you think you would have courage to use them?"
"I do, Henry."
"Then you shall have them; and let me beg of you to shoot any one without the least hesitation who shall come into your chamber."
"I will, Henry. If ever human being was justified in the use of deadly weapons, I am now."
Flora is getting kind of badass, and I approve of this character development wholeheartedly. So do her brothers, apparently, because as they go on their Vampire Hunt of Sheer StupidityTM they are suitably impressed by her wish to do violence rather than laying there helplessly, as most women presumably would.
And so, after some to-do about forgetting matches (luckily Chillingworth always has some on hand), they get into the vault. Then there's some more to-do about matches and the chapter ends on an astoundingly unsuspenseful note:
Mr. Chillingworth lit the wax candle which was now handed to him by Marchdale, and in another moment the vault from one end of it to the other was quite discernible.
This might have worked to create suspense if we were given a clue of what they saw in the vault (or if we weren't already sure that they'd find evidence of the vampire they want so much to believe doesn't exist), but like most of the chapter ends it just fizzles. It's a wonder people kept coming back to read more.

Chapter 8: In Which (Spoiler Warning!) the Tomb is Empty

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Chapter 6: In Which the Narrator Returns from His Long Hiatus and Makes Us Miss the Dialogue

Previously on Varney the Vampire: They chase after the vampire. It heals by moonlight. They spend tedious amounts of time trying to deny that it is a vampire.

Chapter 6 (A GLANCE AT THE BANNERWORTH FAMILY. -- THE PROBABLE CONSEQUENCES OF THE MYSTERIOUS APPARITION'S APPEARANCE.) is short again—only 2770 words, which is a little less than I write in a productive day. The title is not promising, however, and neither is the first paragraph, in which the narrator, having surrendered his long and dull soliloquies to the dialogue for the previous several chapters, returns with a vengeance to tell us all about the Bannerworth family.

The Bannerworths, as was briefly stated by Henry in Chapter 5, are not doing well for money. The family estate has been in dire straits for over a century, since the irresponsible ancestor in the portrait—who, if the plot continues at this rollicking pace, will doubtless be revealed as Varney somewhere around Chapter 47.

Henry's father became ill, and intended to sell the family property. Before his death, he confides in Henry that the money will allow them to "live like princes," but he leaves no clue as to where the money has gone.

Henry, now in charge of the estate, is offered a price far beyond its value by a solicitor on behalf of an unknown client. Against advice, the family refuses the offer, wishing to stay in their house. 

The reason given is thus: conveniently, a dead rich relative offers Henry, George, and Flora money to travel in Europe. Also conveniently, a mysterious stranger arrives to save Flora in Italy when her horse slips as they ride up a mountain. His name is Charles Holland; he claims to be an artist, and begins to court Flora. He intends to visit her at their home after a two-year absence, and so Flora, who has (also conveniently) been left with no way to contact him, does not wish to leave for fear that he might miss her.

Mr. Marchdale, a distant relative of Mrs. Bannerworth, arrives on the scene. He is a traveler by nature, with no family of his own, and he settles down to live with the Bannerworths.

Suddenly the author remembers that there's a vampire, and that people are probably reading this chapter to find out more about the vampire and not the boring Bannerworth family. So we are reminded of how the reality of a vampire's existence will change the family—an implicit excuse for the family's repeated refusal to believe in such things.

And so ends the book's dullest chapter so far. Perhaps something will actually happen in the next chapter; but I wouldn't get your hopes up too high.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Chapter 5: In Which They Still Can't Believe It's a Vampire

Previously in Varney the Vampire: It was a vampire. Despite Henry's sloppy and misguided attempts to hide it, everyone knows by morning.

Chapter 5 of Varney the Vampire (THE NIGHT WATCH. -- THE PROPOSAL. -- THE MOONLIGHT. -- THE FEARFUL ADVENTURE.) is, mercifully, shorter than Chapter 4, although not by much. It begins with Henry receiving a letter from Sir Francis Varney - the offer of assistance, no doubt, mentioned and forgotten in Chapter 3.

It turns out that Varney has just purchased the neighboring property, Ratford Abbey. He offers his assistance, but Henry decides to politely reject it, since the Bannerworths are poor and cannot afford new acquaintances.

George decides to stay up with Henry and Marchdale to watch Flora. Marchdale produces a Plot Device which the author he forgot to mention after they fought the vampire: a scrap of old-fashioned coat, smelling of the grave, which he pulled from the vampire the night before. As they watch Flora, they note that the coat resembles the one in the painting of the Bannerworth ancestor who resembles the vampire. These are some detectives, here, not in the least because they are still afraid of proving that it might be a vampire.

They hear footsteps and believe that the vampire has come again, but it is only Chillingworth, who has decided to stay in the garden watching for the vampire. He thinks he heard something, so Henry and Marchdale go to investigate, leaving George to guard Flora with his sword.

(I swear, if this were a television series the internet would be innundated with Bannercest fics before the first episode even aired.)

They find the vampire lying under the trees. The full moon heals him and, as usual, they stand around talking about how they should kill him while he's still weak instead of actually managing to do it. The vampire starts to flee, but Marchdale manages to shoot it, and it falls.

They realize that the moonbeams will keep healing it, but they decide to follow it anyway, since they're anything but genre savvy. (Choice "who talks like that?" quote: "It is conscious of being pursued.") It runs into the woods, and they give up the chase at Chillingworth's request.

But they are finally able to connect the dots: the vampire does not just suspiciously resemble their dead ancestor, but is the ancestor, one who committed suicide nearly a hundred years ago. Henry freaks out yet again.
They still spend a large chunk of dialogue denying vampires; says Marchdale: "I saw a man lying down, and then I saw a man get up; he seemed then to be shot, but whether he was or not he only knows; and then I saw him walk off in a desperate hurry. Beyond that, I saw nothing." I understand that this is human nature, but it's so tedious to read. Give me overly purple descriptions of hailstorms any day.

Marchdale and Henry decide - just in case, or something - to check out the ancestor's vault and make sure he's really dead. There's no way this could possibly go wrong.

As a side note, I read once (I can't recall where, but it was a book called something like The Bedside Companion to Vampires) the theory that Varney the Vampire is a stealth parody by an author who was bitter about the popularity of bad stories and so intentionally wrote a terrible story in order to cash in on the craze and have the last laugh.

From the first two chapters, that theory had me convinced; now that the writing has gotten less hilarious, not anymore. Honestly, it just reads like a decent first draft of a halfway-decent book written by an author who didn't have the time or inclination to edit. Forget modern television series; it's more like modern fanfiction.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chapter 4: In Which The Author Takes 6,000 Words to Tell Us It Was a Vampire

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Henry shot the vampire, but it escaped and the body disappeared. They discover two bite marks in Flora's neck and a portrait of an ancestor who looks like Flora's attacker. Henry stays up all night watching her.

Chapter Four of Varney the Vampire (THE MORNING. -- THE CONSULTATION. -- THE FEARFUL SUGGESTION.) is somewhat daunting; at 6,300 words, it's more than twice as long as each of the first three chapters.

Henry Bannerworth, having watched over his sister Flora until daylight, now finds himself frightened by the picture of his ancestor which so much resembles the vampire. He considers destroying it, but finds several justifications for not doing so: it would be too loud and wake Flora; it's too nice a work of art; and finally that Flora will probably find a new room to sleep in, anyway.

Apparently this chapter is long because it includes the second half of what was promised in Chapter 3; that is, "Flora's Recovery and Madness" and "the Offer of Assistance from Sir Francis Varney." Flora wakes and raves madly, still hearing and seeing the vampire. Their mother asks Henry what the creature could have been; Henry replies, "I am lost in a sea of wild conjecture. I can form no conclusion."

He consults Marchdale, who concludes that Flora is mad because her body has been weakened. After a long and tedious insistence that Henry not repeat his theory, Marchdale reveals that the creature was "a vampyre!" (This spelling was interchangeable with "vampire" in the nineteenth century, and in Varney apparently varies between chapters.)

Henry resolves to sit up all night with Flora again, and Marchdale offers to stay with him. George enters, and suggests that Flora's attacker may have been a vampire. He seems kind of slow, but it's refreshing to have someone come right out with the vampire theory without the tedious hand-wringing.

Henry tells George that they can't believe in vampires: "You would tell us that our repudiation of it cannot affect the fact. Of that we are aware; but yet will we disbelieve that which a belief in would be enough to drive us mad." He hopes to protect Flora from their theory, and refuses to let George, whose health is failing, to stay up with him.

Henry realizes that his resolve to keep the vampire theory from Flora may not work, since the servants (who have no qualms about calling these things as they see them) have been spreading rumors about the vampire attack. In an odd passage showing the author's failure at continuity even for events in close proximity, Henry goes to fetch the doctor, thinking about how the story of the vampire is "spreading all over the country." And yet when he encounters a stranger on horseback who says that he's heard the tale, Henry nearly falls over himself in surprise. Perhaps this is intended to be pretend surprise for the sake of the stranger - it's unclear due to the lack of description around the dialogue - but it stuck out at me nonetheless.

Henry visits the doctor, a Mr. Chillingworth, who rejects the vampire theory while simultaneously pointing out its potential to explain the circumstances. He returns home, the doctor promising to visit in two hours, and checks on Flora.
The closest approximation to characterization in the story so far has been Henry's interaction with Flora. The final scene of the previous chapter, where Henry watches over Flora while surrounded by loaded pistols, is actually quite a poignant image. So is the image of Henry leaning over Flora's bedside in this chapter. It's a shame that he's kind of an idiot in the in-between parts.

To Henry's dismay, Flora has arrived at the vampire conclusion all by herself, and tells Henry that the vampire's victims turn into vampires themselves. She has hallucinations flashing back to the attack.

Dr. Chillingworth examines Flora and determines her wounds to be insect bites. To Henry, however, he confesses that they do appear to be bite marks, and that Flora is suffering from either blood loss or narcotic use. His inconsistency of character is dizzying; he's a complete ass to Flora, and rather condescending to Henry in their first encounter, and suddenly he believes everything? It's far too convenient for everyone to believe in vampires this early in the story.

Next comes the painful exposition. Rather than having the characters learn about vampires gradually, or showing Flora reading from the book she mentioned earlier, the author puts his research about vampires in the mouths of Chillingworth and Henry, simply because they happen to be there.

"You have, of course, heard something," said Henry to the doctor, as he was pulling on his gloves, "about vampyres."

"I certainly have, and I understand that in some countries, particularly Norway and Sweden, the superstition is a very common one."

"And in the Levant."

"Yes. The ghouls of the Mahometans are of the same description of beings. All that I have heard of the European vampyre has made it a being which can be killed, but is restored to life again by the rays of a full moon falling on the body."

"Yes. The ghouls of the Mahometans are of the same description of beings. All that I have heard of the European vampyre has made it a being which can be killed, but is restored to life again by the rays of a full moon falling on the body."
The idea that the vampire can be healed by the full moon, by the way, comes from John Polidori's story "The Vampyre," which started the nineteenth-century fictional vampire craze. I kind of wish it had stuck around in modern fiction.

Anyway, Chillingworth points out that it's the full moon, and promises to call the next day. Henry finds the vampire book Flora mentioned, Travels in Norway, and opens the book at random. Here he conveniently finds a note about vampires and the full moon. "Henry let the book drop from his hands with a groan and a shudder," apparently - like the reader - having an intolerance to redundant exposition.

So, no offer of assistance from Francis Varney, although we did get to see some of Flora's "madness." If the rest of the chapters are going to be this painfully long, I might have to break them up into two posts. Frustratingly, the writing has gotten just better enough to still be tedious without being unintentionally funny. Perhaps this is only a fluke.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chapter 3: In Which Flora Has a Puncture Wound or Two (But Three Is Right Out)

Previously on Varney the Vampire: It hails. Varney attacks Flora in her room. Her brothers, George and Henry, stand around conversing while Marchdale rushes to her rescue. Varney escapes over the garden wall, but has been shot by Henry.

Chapter 3 of Varney the Vampire is headed thusly: "THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE BODY. -- FLORA'S RECOVERY AND MADNESS. -- THE OFFER OF ASSISTANCE FROM SIR FRANCIS VARNEY." A promising start - it sounds like a lot of things happen in this chapter.

Of course, it begins with the author promptly forgetting what has happened in the last chapter. If you recall, it ended with Henry, George, and Marchdale nearly letting the vampire escape while they stood around observing how frightning and inhuman it looked, and then with Henry shooting it (and letting us know what happened in his redundant dialogue). This chapter starts with Henry declaring, "He is human!" More than a bit confusing, but let's move on.

They run outside the garden to find the body where it fell, but find nothing. After telling each other that they see nothing, they suddenly remember their sister: "For God's sake," says George, "let us return to ascertain if poor Flora is killed." There's as little urgency in this and the following lines, of course, as there is in the rest of the story.

Thankfully, the conflict resolves quickly: they return home and learn that she is alive. The mother, who hasn't been given a name as of yet, begs Marchdale to explain things to her. He seemed from the outset, when he jumped into the scene with his no-really-it's-not-a-toy-let-me-reassure-you-that-it's-real gun, to be the fearless vampire hunter type, but perhaps the author had at this point decided to go in a different direction; after all, if you start off with a confrontation between the vampire and the fearless vampire hunter, it's hard to make your story last for two hundred chapters. And so Marchdale says, "in a tone of much emotion," that he's as confused as anyone.

Flora, who has fainted, is revived. She describes the fearful attack, and they "all saw on the side of Flora's neck a small punctured wound; or, rather two, for there was one a little distance from the other." (You understand why I'm compelled to quote so much?) She says she doesn't know how the wounds got there, and falls back to sleep.

Henry and George notice a portrait of their ancestor, Sir Runnagate Bannerworth, who looks suspiciously like their night visitor. He lived about ninety years previously, and squandered the family money. They resolve to move the portrait so it doesn't upset Flora, but seem to forget about it. Flora sleeps soundly, and Henry, surrounded by loaded pistols, watches over Flora until daylight.

And so it turns out that the chapter heading is a lie, as the only thing that actually happened in the chapter was the disappearance of the body (unless "Flora's Recovery and Madness" can be rightfully said to encompass her waking up, feeling faint from blood loss, and going to sleep again). Perhaps we'll hear about "The Offer of Assistance from Sir Varney" in the next chapter.

Chapter 2: In Which the Narrator's Job is Taken Over by Stilted Dialogue

The second chapter of Varney the Vampire ("THE ALARM. -- THE PISTOL SHOT. -- THE PURSUIT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.") begins with dialogue, which would be a relief in the midst of endlessly, needlessly descriptive paragraphs if it weren't so awkward and stilted. The other inhabitants of the house (later revealed as the young woman's brothers, George and Henry) get up and, instead of rushing to the aid of the vampire's victim, dawdle about asking each other if they really heard a scream or if it is possible they may have dreamed it.

They hear screams again, and "the elderly lady, whom one of the young men had called mother" faints. We learn that the young woman is named Flora, and they finally (a page or so into the chapter) go to help her. They stand outside her door, whereupon they describe the noises of the vampire feeding, the narrator having temporarily lost his ability to perform this role:
"I hear a strange noise within"... said the young man, who trembled violently.

"And so do I. What does it sound like?"

"I scarcely know; but it closest resembles some animal eating, or sucking some liquid."
One must, of course, allow for the differences in culture and time period when considering the realism of fictional dialogue, but if people actually spoke like this during the Victorian period I will eat my hat. Not to mention the fact that it completely eliminates any sense of danger and suspense. If the characters, who can stand around calmly narrating the situation for the readers' benefit, don't seem to feel any sense of urgency or danger, then how should the reader?

They attempt to force Flora's door open, still commenting on the horrid noise. A stranger, Marchdale, appears with a crowbar and pries open the door. The vampire flees, but not before they catch a glimpse of it. Here the description actually manages to give a sense of fear and the vampire's horrid appearance without making the reader laugh: "They saw that the lower part of it and the lips were dabbled in blood. They saw, too, one of those fearful-looking, shining, metallic eyes which presented so terrible an appearance of unearthly ferocity."

Marchdale reassures Henry, who has been knocked over by the force of the vampire's movement, and fires at the vampire. The narrator, in the story's most hilarious quote so far, reassures us that the gun is in fact real: "The report was tremendous in that chamber, for the pistol was no toy weapon, but one made for actual service, and of sufficient length and bore of barrel to carry destruction along with the bullets that came from it." I'm trying not to put too many quotes in this summary, but it's really hard not to share what I'm going through.

Anyway, the vampire appears, red-faced from drinking blood. This is a more traditional aspect of vampire lore, which comes from the fact that bodies, as they decompose, will often become red and bloated. The handsome, pale vampire comes later in its literary history. The vampire howls and escapes. Marchdale chases after it, followed by George and Henry.

In a strangely comical scene, the vampire makes multiple attempts to leap over the garden wall, falling each time, as its pursuers stand there watching it. They state the obvious: it's not human. They talk instead of acting again, this time figuring out whether (and how) to catch the vampire. By the time they figure it out, the vampire is at the top of the garden wall and has nearly escaped. Henry shoots the vampire, which falls to the ground outside the garden. "I have shot him," Henry informs the characters and the readers - twice - in case anyone has missed it.

It's still a slow beginning, but I hold hope that it will become more exciting once Varney, the father of the modern sympathetic vampire, is introduced as more than a mysterious attacker.

Chapter 1: In Which It Hails and Not Much Else - Chapter 3: In Which Flora Has a Puncture Wound or Two (But Three Is Right Out)

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


Varney the Vampire
was published serially by James Malcolm Rymer (long-attributed to Thomas Preskett Prest instead) between 1845 and 1847. It lasts for over 200 chapters, "somewhat longer," Bleiler warns in The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, "than War and Peace and Gone with the Wind combined." Its problems are those of most Victorian serial fiction (and, to be fair, most modern television series): it became very popular, and so the writer - who was paid by the word to begin with - stretched it to unbelievably epic proportions in order to make money, often discarding continuity in the process.

It is not a very good read, but it is an important one, for it contributed many aspects (primarily the idea of the sympathetic vampire) to modern vampire lore. The excitement increases and tedium decreases enormously if it is taken as it was published, one chapter at a time - and these chapters treated individually, again, like the modern television series. (I won't lie to you, though - it's still awful.)

And so I present - from a combination of my own curiosity and the need to sacrifice my own sanity so you don't have to - a detailed summary and commentary on James Malcolm Rymer's Varney the Vampire, one chapter at a time. This may take a few months to finish, but I'm reasonably sure that it will be worth it.

In the mean time, read more about Varney the Vampire and other early vampire fiction, or start reading Varney the Vampire yourself for free online!

Chapter 1