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 Amazon.com 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.