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Literature / Varney the Vampire

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"The figure turns half round, and the light falls upon its face. It is perfectly white — perfectly bloodless. The eyes look like polished tin; the lips are drawn back, and the principal feature next to those dreadful eyes is the teeth — the fearful looking teeth"
— From Chapter I

Varney the Vampire, or, The Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rymernote  was one of the original vampire penny dreadfuls (c. 1845-47).

It's a bodice-ripper with 220 chaptersnote  of riveting Victorian Gothic Horror and one hell of an ending!

Varney was an enormous influence on later vampire literature, such as Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker. Many of today's standard vampire tropes originated with Varney: Varney has fangs, leaves two puncture wounds on the necks of his victims, has hypnotic powers, and superhuman strength. Unlike later fictional vampires, he is able to go about in daylight and has no particular fear or loathing of crosses or garlic, though he operates mainly at night as moonlight heals him of injury. He can eat and drink in human fashion as a form of disguise, but he points out that human food and drink do not agree with him. His vampirism seems to be a fit that comes on him when his vital energy begins to run low; he is a regular person between feedings.

Varney is also one of the first examples of the "sympathetic vampire," a vampire who hates his night job but is a slave to it nevertheless — a theme which has become popular in modern vampire fiction. Varney's conflict eventually leads him to drastic action.

The entire text of Varney the Vampire is available for free online.

Provides examples of:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: How Mrs. Bannerworth happened to choose ne'er-do-well Mr. Bannerworth as a husband.
  • Breaking and Bloodsucking: In the first chapter, Varney breaks into Flora Bannerworth's bedroom. She sees him coming but is paralyzed with fear. He returns another night, but she shoots him.
  • Burn the Witch!: The local villagers attempt to do this to Varney.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: At the beginning of the novel, the Bannerworth family has three children — Henry, Flora, and George — but George is never mentioned again after Chapter 36.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: A newspaper article read in the final chapter recounts the story of "the ugliest English nobleman" and a guide from Naples climbing Mount Vesuvius (though mentions they can't verify that it was entirely true). The first instance is when they come across a crack in the ground that a lava flow is running through; they're able to get close enough to look down into it before they realize it's not safe. The second is when they stand at the edge of the crater, looking in. Lampshaded by the "ugly Englishman" on how the heat and toxic flume from the lava keep people from living closer to the mountain. This is, obviously, Varney who wanted to climb the volcano. He jumps in so that he can end the centuries of horror and never be resuscitated.
  • Daywalking Vampire: Sunlight has no apparent negative impact on Varney.
  • Death Seeker: Varney, as it turns out. He eventually gets tired of waiting for death to come to him and jumps into a volcano.
  • Door Stopper: The complete printed text runs on (and on and on) for some 868 double-column pages.
  • Duel to the Death: Discussed at great length. Varney is on the receiving end of multiple challenges, which he finds quite amusing.
  • Either/Or Title: or: The Feast of Blood.
  • Exposition of Immortality: Very early on, the Bannerworths realise that Varney resembles the ancestral portrait of Marmaduke (aka Sir Runnagate) Bannerworth, who died in 1640.
  • False Friend: Marchdale, who is really working with Varney. Lampshaded in the title of one of the chapters.
  • Fangs Are Evil: Varney was the first fictional vampire to have fangs.
  • His Name Is...: As applied to money matters. The late Mr. Bannerworth, who lost much of the family's wealth to gambling debts, finally figures out how to recoup his family's losses just before he dies. He tries to write down the instructions for his children. Unfortunately he only gets as far as: "The money is—" before dying on the spot.
  • I Do Not Drink Wine: The fact that Varney doesn't drink wine provides a clue early on that he is a vampire.
  • Insane Admiral: Admiral Bell, while protective of his family and a generally decent guy, acts like a complete lunatic in most situations.
  • Karmic Death: Marchdale dies in the dungeon where he planned to leave Charles Holland to starve to death. However, the villain's death is considerably faster, since he's buried under a heap of falling rubble.
  • Kill It with Fire: Necessary to destroy a vampire.
  • Lesbian Vampire: Clara Crofton predates even Carmilla as a female vampire who prefers female victims.
  • Locked in the Dungeon: Charles Holland is imprisoned in a secret dungeon for quite some time. Later, Marchdale, who is trying to murder him, winds up there instead.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The rules of vampirism are quite different both from legend and modern vampire fiction. In particular, the idea that vampires can be healed by moonlight is almost never used in later works.
  • Phantasy Spelling: "Vampire" is sometimes spelled "vampyre." Justified, as the word was a neologism to English at the time, and had no established spelling or pronunciation.
  • Public Domain Character: Varney, while not as popular as Dracula, has seen somewhat of a renaissance recently, appearing in several webcomics, including Varney the Vampire by Scott Massino and Marcio Takara, in which he is a rock star resembling Count Orlok from Nosferatu; Side Real by Philip Rice; and Dracula Unconquered by Chris Sims, Steve Downer and Josh Krach.
  • Skepticism Failure: Chillingworth plays this role, both with regard to the vampire and the literal interpretation of the Bible.
  • Spooky Painting: The unnerving portrait of Varney (formerly Marmaduke or Runnagate Bannerworth, depending on the installment) that hangs in Bannerworth Hall. Doubles as an Exposition of Immortality.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Varney does this to the mob that breaks into his house, much to their consternation.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: During the Burn the Witch! moment mentioned above. Bannerworth, Admiral Bell, and company want Varney dead, but they want him honorably dead in a duel, not killed by a mob.
  • Trope Codifier: For the tragic, sympathetic vampire. While the Title Character was preceded by Aurelia from Vampirismus, that was a short story where the vampire element was a Twist Ending. By using a different storytelling format, Varney’s condition was allowed to be more thoroughly explored.
  • Trope Makers: It introduced most of the modern vampire concepts like hypnotic ability, super strength, puncture wounds from fang bites, and going crazy if a long time passes without feeding. Stoker was inspired quite a bit by it.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: A sort of meta example: a bunch of chapters are misnumbered because the writer lost count.