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.

1 comment:

  1. I found it so odd that "Norway and Sweden" are cited as the main source of European Vampire folklore. They actually doesn't even have a decent analogue to a Vampire, the closest being being entities that are sort of Military Zombies.

    The idea of identifying the Ghouls of "Arabian" (Really Arabian Knights whihc is mostly Persian tales) legend as synonymous with Vampire was expanded on by Dumas in in his Ruthven play of the 1850s, and is latter mentioned by Paul Feval in The Vampire Countess.