Saturday, October 24, 2009

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)

1 comment:

  1. A Pale Vampire does exist in an earlier story. The Virgin Vampire, made available in English by BlackCoatPress