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


  1. Maybe I'm being too kind (odds are--yeah) but in this case the "mechanically" seemed to me a description of what the movement looked like. Granted, that is an awkward turn of phrase, but great prose this is not.

    Flora is actually a stronger person throughout in this book than one might suppose.

  2. It really is hard to analyze. It's an odd word to use no matter what the intention, but it's hard to say that any particular effect was intentional and not accidental.

  3. Very true.

    Good news -- Varney himself shows up fairly soon and actually talks.