Varney the Vampyre – Part 3

June 10, 2009 at 1:20 am (Classical Vampire Literature, Vampires around the World) (, )

A search of the Internet often takes you to strange and interesting sites. In my research on Varney the Vampire I came across reference to the book in VICTORIAN SUICIDE: MAD CRIMES AND SAD HISTORIES by Barbara T. Gates. This book is reprinted as part of VictorianWeb.Org

The author devotes a chapter to Varney the Vampyre, pointing out that the Victorians found themselves fascinated by monsters such as Frankstein’s creature because it expressed a part of themselves that they repressed.

“Frankenstein’s monster gradually evolves an immoral interior to match his hideous frame and eventually builds his own blazing funeral pyre to consume his own desolate life. This kind of fantasy took hold in the Victorian era, when propriety and self-denial masked a powerful sense of alienation and estrangement … Displaced fears of suicide were relocated in the realm of fantasy where ghoulish other selves became perpetrators of suicide.”

During the Victorian era, the idea of suicide was repugnant, one did one’s duty, one lived lives of propriety. According Barbara Gates, Varney the Vampyre provided the middle class a look into the forbidden, especially the idea of suicide. Varney disgruntled with his immortal existence, seeks to end it by jumping from a ship, where there is little chance of his body being recovered, but it is. His body is placed in a boneyard, when moonlight falls upon it,  he is immediately revived. He later jumps into an active volcano, Mt. Vesuvius, thus ending the story. Barbara Gates points out the similarities to a literary poem of the time, “Empedocles on Etna” by Matthew Arnold (1822–88), where the hero also commits suicide by jumping into a volcano.

Like Empedocles, then, Varney became a surrogate Victorian, another self. Capable of endless resuscitation as Empedocles is of endless reincarnation, Varney fulfills the Victorian yearning for immortality. Guilty of selfishness and blood-letting, he deserves the Victorian punishment of death. Whatever the order of his being, however, Varney seems not to have had the right to take his own life.

Unlike Empedocles, Varney is a distorted, fantastical self, free from most human constraints. Through him working-class Victorians could experience the forbidden, just as Arnold’s more refined readers could through Empedocles. When Varney’s tedium vitae becomes unendurable, the vampire determines to destroy himself.

I suspect that the choice of a volcano had little to do with exploring the issue of suicide in a way that could be accepted by society, as much as a convenient way to end the series, for which interest had dwindled or which writers no longer wanted write. If you have an immortal character that can be killed but is revived by the touch of moonlight, there is very few ways in which to definitely kill off the main character. Conan Arthur Doyle discovered the same difficulties trying to kill off Sherlock Holmes at Reichenbach Falls.

I think the popularity of Varney the Vampire during the Victorian period is for the same reason that Angel or Buffy captured our attention. A good story with lots of action, although Varney wasn’t as good looking as Angel.

To read T. Gates discussion of Varney,

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Vaney the Vampyre – Part 2

June 3, 2009 at 1:10 am (Classical Vampire Literature, Vampires around the World) (, )

Synopsis: Flora Bannersworth is attacked in her own room in the middle of the night, and although her attacker is seemingly shot dead, the body is nowhere to be found. The discovery of two small bite marks on Flora’s neck leads Mr Marchdale, an old friend of the family, to the conclusion that she was bitten by a vampire. While Flora recovers, her brother Henry and Mr Marchdale begin their hunt for the vampire. Their suspicions soon fall on the mysterious Sir Francis Varney, who has just bought an old abbey near Bannersworth Hall, and who bears an uncanny resemblance to Marmaduke Bannersworth, a long-dead ancestor of the family. (Summary by Annika Feilbach)

Here is how the story begins:

Varney Chapter 1

Varney Chapter 1



A Romance.


—-“How graves give up their dead, And how the night air hideous grows With shrieks!”


The solemn tones of an old cathedral clock have announced midnight — the air is thick and heavy — a strange, death like stillness pervades all nature. Like the ominous calm which precedes some more than usually terrific outbreak of the elements, they seem to have paused even in their ordinary fluctuations, to gather a terrific strength for the great effort. A faint peal of thunder now comes from far off. Like a signal gun for the battle of the winds to begin, it appeared to awaken them from their lethargy, and one awful, warring hurricane swept over a whole city, producing more devastation in the four or five minutes it lasted, than would a half century of ordinary phenomena.

It was as if some giant had blown upon some toy town, and scattered many of the buildings before the hot blast of his terrific breath; for as suddenly as that blast of wind had come did it cease, and all was as still and calm as before.

To read the complete text there are several places including Humphrey Lui loving tribute to Varney, which includes the complete text and graphics.

The University of Virginia Library

If you would like to hear what it is like read aloud check out Librivox

Leslie Ormandy has prepared an abridged version, bringing the story up-to-date with more modern language as well as a study guide.

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Varney the Vampyre (Part 1)

May 27, 2009 at 1:29 am (Classical Vampire Literature, Vampires around the World) (, )

Varney The Vampyre

Varney The Vampyre

VARNEY THE VAMPYRE or The Feast of Blood is considered the first vampire novel written in English. It was published as a serial novel or as they were then called a Penny Dreadful. Varney began in 1845 and ran for two years and 109 installments, 220 chapters in all.

Penny Dreadfuls, also called Penny Bloods and Blood and Thunders, were 8 page booklets that sold for a penny. At a time when the price of books were beyond the common man, Penny Dreadfuls filled the insatiable hunger of the masses. They were the soap operas of the day. You could compare Varney to Dark Shadows, each episode packed with excitement and adventure and romance.

There is a question about who actually authored Varney since Penny Dreadful authors were rarely identified, but authorship is generally credited to Thomas Preskett Prest or James Malcolm Rymer. Both men were part of Publisher Edward Lloyd’s stable of writers. Prest and Rymer were among Lloyd’s best and most prolific writers. Each was capable of working on as many as ten serial novels at one time. Though it will probably never be determined with any certainty, Rymer is thought to be the actual author.

Varney is very much a product of its times, a gothic novel filled with the dark nights, romantic castles, hauntings that were so popular at the time. It was also written as a serial novel, so it is more episodic than a story with a complex plot and storyline. This is because if the story’s popularity declined, an author might be told to end a story with the next week’s episode. Varney is a classical read, much like the books Frankenstein or even Dracula, which bear little resemblance to the vision we have of either book based on the movies.

Varney may not be great literature but it is fun to read.

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