Monday, June 21, 2010

Chapter 33: In Which Varney's Sympathetic Nature Comes to Light

Previously in Varney the Vampire: The stranger arrives and disappoints the reader greatly.

It's been an awfully long time since Chapter 1, both for this blog (sorry, guys) and for JMR's contemporary readers. When Varney first appeared, he was an inhuman monster, mysterious and undeveloped. He isn't formally introduced until Chapter 13. By the time we get to Chapter 33 (THE STRANGE INTERVIEW. -- THE CHASE THROUGH THE HALL.), it's tempting to dismiss the explicitly sympathetic portrayal as something JMR started suddenly because he forgot Chapter 1 -- or hoped that the readers would.

To which I say: there are so many bad things in Varney the Vampire, ranging from the boringly mediocre to the laughably awful to the just plain horrible. Why don't you pick on one of those, rather than knocking down one of the few good things Varney has going for itself?

Even with considerations for the sluggish pacing in Varney, JMR's portrayal of the title character in Chapter 33 is anything but sudden. Rather, Varney has been revealed gradually as the perspective shifts from the Bannerworths to the vampire himself. He is a monster at first because they know nothing else about him, save that he must fit into the vampire myth. He is a threatening figure to Henry and the others once he is explicitly introduced. He lets slip, perhaps, a bit of emotion or weakness when he confronts Flora.

I stand by my analysis that Chapter 32 goes too far in the direction of "make Varney seem sympathetic by giving him human fears and concerns." Chapter 33 rectifies this somewhat, bringing us back to the Varney we know and love, but with the sympathetic parts and the frightening parts back into balance.

The most important bit, in this respect, is when Varney witnesses Flora sleepwalking. Not realizing that she is asleep,
...he was terrified -- he dared not move -- he dared not speak! The idea that she had died, and that this was her spirit, come to wreak some terrible vengeance upon him, for a time possessed him, and so paralysed with fear was he, that he could neither move nor speak.
Curt Herr, in his annotated edition, notes the symbolism of sleepwalking in Victorian culture and its connection both to eroticism and to being outside of societal control. But I think the effect on Varney has more to do with the fact that he doesn't know she is sleeping. (In fact, once he realizes this fact, he no longer fears Flora.) Rather, he is afraid because his victim, who had panic attacks the last time she was in his presence, is no longer reacting to him. He is afraid that he has lost his power over her.

Taken together, Chapters 31-33 show us something very important about Varney: despite his age and experience as a vampire, he lacks confidence. He can act suave and secure when he's dealing with someone who's clearly beneath him, but someone he perceives as more powerful than himself -- or someone who puts on an unexpected show of confidence -- is enough to frighten him into inaction.

This is a balanced and interesting vampire character. It is Varney's fear that makes him worlds more interesting -- and more human -- than a thousand chapters of Generic Angst could accomplish. Aspiring vampire fiction writers, do take note (but do also be a bit less uneven about it than JMR is).

1 comment:

  1. I honestly can't consider any of Varney Bad. It's not written the pretentious way Victor Hugo writes (Hugo's Stories are great, his prose is unbearable), which I frankly prefer. It's Pulp Fiction, a direct ancestor to you modern Comic Books. Varney is often awkward for modern readers, but never to me Bad.