Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chapter 15: In Which More Soap Operatic Elements are Introduced

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Varney's appearance may have been worth the wait.

As Chapter 15 begins, we learn that the Bannerworths' servants have all quit due to the Vampire Problem, and the entire scandalous affair is at the center of all the gossip at a local inn, Nelson's Arms. This is all just a segue to the arrival of a new character, an old admiral, at the inn.

The trend I'm continuing to notice is that as long as the characters speak one sentence at a time, it's JMR's best tool for character building. He keeps the narration well away from the dialogue for the most part, letting it speak for itself. Mostly it's his narration that sucks, or whenever he lets his characters get too introspective, or talk for too long a period of time. But these short snappy bits of dialogue work to give us a picture of the admiral as a character, just like they worked to give us the picture of Varney we've seen so far.

Anyway, the admiral has arrived to meet a lawyer, Josiah Crinkles (who got beat up a lot in elementary school, I'm sure). It seems that Crinkles sent him a letter warning that the admiral's relative, Charles Holland, was about to marry a vampire. Now, this is a nice plot twist, but of course the letter is ruined with this little addition:
P.S. I enclose you Dr. Johnson's definition of a vampyre, which is as follows:
"VAMPYRE (a German blood-sucker) -- by which you perceive how many vampyres, from time immemorial, must have been well entertained at the expense of John Bull, at the court of St. James, where nothing hardly is to be met with but German blood-suckers."
IN CASE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT A VAMPIRE IS... I mean, really. That bugged me a lot.

So, Crinkles arrives and denies sending the letter, everyone swears a bit more (censored carefully for the Victorian sensibilities), and the admiral decides to find Charles and ask him what's up. Despite the nice bit in the beginning, it just ends up being another chapter that's too long for the amount of plot that actually happens in it.

Chapter 16: In Which Charles and Flora Tempt Fate

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Digression: French Vampires

I don't have the level of concentration needed to write up a real post today, so I'll pose a short question: what is up with French vampires?

Is it just a matter of a simple equation: vampires=sexy, French=sexy, therefore French vampires=sexy2?

Is it Anne Rice's influence?

I mean, Dracula was Eastern European, which makes sense since that's where most of the popular vampire myths come from. The earliest two fictional vampires--Varney and Lord Ruthven from "The Vampyre"--are English. I can think of some modern English vampires--the ones in Buffy immediately come to mind--but most of the literature seems inundated with French Jean-Claudes and Luciens and DeNoirs (really? you couldn't come up with anything more obviously symbolic?). Even in Forever Knight, where one of the vampires was an ancient Roman, he was effectively French (spoke French, had a French name, etc.).

Just has me wondering why it's so much of a cliche.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chapter 14: In Which Henry Makes an Offer

(Man, if only I didn't suck at posting so much.)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Varney makes his first appearance. In the thirteenth f***ing chapter.

We begin where we petered off last chapter, with the servant bringing food and wine:
On the tray which the servant brought into the room, were refreshments of different kinds, including wine, and after waving his hand for the domestic to retire, Sir Francis Varney said, --

"You will be better, Mr. Bannerworth, for a glass of wine after your walk, and you too, sir. I am ashamed to say, I have quite forgotten your name."


"Mr. Marchdale. Ay, Marchdale. Pray, sir, help yourself."

"You take nothing yourself?" said Henry.

"I am under a strict regimen," replied Varney. "The simplest diet alone does for me, and I have accustomed myself to long abstinence."

"He will not eat or drink," muttered Henry, abstractedly.

"Will you sell me the Hall?" said Sir Francis Varney.
I must admit that I rather like this opening. JMR doesn't tend to combine his passages of tedious description with his long stretches of awkward dialogue, so on the rare occasions when the dialogue isn't awkward you wind up with a style that's wonderfully sparse. The dialogue is allowed to speak for itself, and it provides a better picture of the characters than anything else in this story.

Anyway, Henry refuses the drink and makes Varney an offer: he will give him the house if Varney stays away from the family. Varney toys with him, of course, and it's delightful:
"How very unkind. I understand you have a charming sister, young, beautiful, and accomplished. Shall I confess, now, that I had hopes of making myself agreeable to her?"...

"I can only say, that if I am master of [the house], I shall be very happy to see any of the family on a visit at any time."
Varney agrees to think over Henry's offer, and Henry gets out of there as fast as he can. He decides that he must kill Varney, now that he knows he's the vampire, but Marchdale reminds him that vampires are made when a vampire sucks a human's blood. "Have you forgotten Flora?"he asks. "God of Heaven!" says Henry, "I had forgotten her!"

That explains a lot, actually.

Then there's a bit of overdramatic dialogue as Henry resolves to take care of his family. It's quite a short chapter, and, unlike with the early ones, I find myself wishing it were longer.

Good God, JMR, what have you done to me?

Chapter 15: In Which More Soap Operatic Elements are Introduced

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Chapter 13: In Which We Finally Meet the Title Character

(Sorry for the hiatus [hiatuses?]. The crazy is winding down somewhat [now I have jinxed myself by typing that!]. I can't handle posting every day, but when I skip days I forget easily, so for now the planned update schedule is Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Feel free to poke me if I miss a day.)

Previously in Varney the Vampire: Charles is generally awesome; the dialogue, not so much.

In Chapter 13 (THE OFFER FOR THE HALL. -- THE VISIT TO SIR FRANCIS VARNEY. -- THE STRANGE RESEMBLANCE. -- A DREADFUL SUGGESTION.), it seems that, after all of the teasing, we will finally meet Sir Francis Varney. But first we have to get through some awkward exposition about how the men search the garden for the elusive vampire. They find blood from when Flora shot him, but fail to uncover a trail; it's as if the vampire disappeared (or, perhaps, suddenly stopped bleeding).

Here we are treated to some of the most awful sentences, even in context:
Flora, with the exception of the alarm she experienced from the firing of the pistol, had met with no disturbance, and that, in order to spare her painful reflections, they told her was merely done as a precautionary measure, to proclaim to any one who might be lurking in the garden that the inmates of the house were ready to defend themselves against any aggression.

Whether or not she believed this kind deceit they knew not. She only sighed deeply, and wept. The probability is, that she more than suspected the vampyre had made another visit, but they forbore to press the point; and, leaving her with her mother, Henry and George went from her chamber again -- the former to endeavour to seek some repose, as it would be his turn to watch on the succeeding night, and the latter to resume his station in a small room close to Flora's chamber, where it had been agreed watch and ward should be kept by turns while the alarm lasted.
You get the idea. Flora, despite her general awesomeness and unexpected strength (for a female character in this kind of literature), must be kept in the dark about the thing that is hunting after her.

The next lines are too perfectly melodramatic not to share:
At length, the morning again dawned upon that unhappy family, and to none were its beams more welcome.

The birds sang their pleasant carols beneath the window. The sweet, deep-coloured autumnal sun shone upon all objects with a golden lustre; and to look abroad, upon the beaming face of nature, no one could for a moment suppose, except from sad experience, that there were such things as gloom, misery, and crime, upon the earth.
Henry mopes for a bit, then receives a letter in which Sir Francis Varney offers to buy the family home. Thinking that the vampire might be connected to the house, rather than to Flora, he finds the offer agreeable. He talks it over with Marchdale, who suggests that Varney be offered the home on a one-year trial period. That way, if the vampire attacked Varney or if it followed the Bannerworths, they would have a potential way to fix the problem.

Of course, their dialogue doesn't treat the vampire as the family's problem or Flora's problem, but Henry's problem. The vampire might follow Henry, Marchdale says, as if the vampire has made any notice of Henry at all in the previous pages. Henry then gets upset at Flora for not saying she wanted to leave sooner. Sigh.

Speaking of Flora, she and Charles are beginning to work things out:
"Dear Flora, you will now surely no longer talk of driving from you the honest heart that loves you?"

"Hush, Charles, hush!" she said; "meet me in an hour hence in the garden, and we will talk of this."

"That hour will seem an age," he said.
The dialogue is as overwrought as ever, of course, but here it makes me smile rather than groan.

At any rate, the family agrees to the deal, so Henry and Marchdale go to speak with Sir Francis Varney, and they are met with this surprise:
A cry of surprise, mingled with terror, came from Henry Bannerworth's lip. The original of the portrait on the panel stood before him! There was the lofty stature, the long, sallow face, the slightly projecting teeth, the dark, lustrous, although somewhat sombre eyes; the expression of the features -- all were alike.
Man, I never saw that coming.

Henry, knowing not to arouse the potential vampire's suspicions, hides his shock and conducts the deal as quickly and professionally as possible. No, wait, I lied. Actually he flips the f*** out and pretty much tells Varney that he suspects him of being a vampire. The Idiot Plot strikes again!

Really, the only redeeming part of this scene is Varney, who keeps his cool wonderfully. He gets mostly short lines, unlike the sprawling and unrealistic dialogue with which most of the other characters are cursed. (Althoug he's the title character, so I'm sure he'll get plenty of it later on.) You can just hear the smugness in his voice:
"Are you unwell, sir?" said Sir Francis Varney, in soft, mellow accents, as he handed a chair to the bewildered Henry.
The scene peters off instead of building suspense for the next chapter. Let me ruin the suspense even more for you: Henry's actions have no effect whatsoever on the coming events. (Just a prediction.)

Chapter 14: In Which Henry Makes an Offer

Monday, January 4, 2010

Coming soon

My New Year's resolution is not to neglect this blog for weeks at a time anymore... New post coming in the next day or so!