Meanwhile, this weekend's Secret Life is shaping up to be a bit on the long side, but I don't know that anyone will complain.
Let's have a little Varney, as promised.
First of all, Varney the Vampire; or, the Feast of Blood is an 1845-1847 penny dreadful serial by--and no one can agree on this--James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Preskett Prest. In fact (and apparently we can't agree on this, either), one of them also wrote the first appearance of Sweeney Todd, The String of Pearls. More importantly, "It is of epic length: the original edition ran to 868 double columned pages divided into 220 chapters. Altogether it totals nearly 667,000 words." In other words, it is the Mount Everest of vampire lit, if Mount Everest were hysterically melodramatic and doggedly repetitive. In other words: I'm reading this (and am still not quite halfway through this) so you don't have to.
I'm going to go a bit in depth to start, because the repetition won't start up, after all, until we have something to repeat in the first place.
MIDNIGHT. -- THE HAIL-STORM. -- THE DREADFUL VISITOR. -- THE VAMPYRE.
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.
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.
Varney the Vampire (Vampire? Vampyre? MAKE UP YOUR MIND) actually has a lot of legitimately effective gothic atmosphere. In fact, this chapter has more than 900 words of it before we get to anything close to vampiring.
The lightning! The thunder! Ominous calm! The buildings scatter like toy houses! O THE STORMY STORMINESS OF THE STORM. And then the hail starts up, at which point I started laughing, because... hail. Sexy, sexy, stormy hail. Oh the hailiness of the hail, the stormy sexy chunks of ice hailing on your head, yea, unto a mild concussion. In conclusion: hail.
You know what is sexy? Elizabethan furniture. I mean, I guess, because that's what's in the "antique chamber in an ancient house" wherein our fair maiden reclines. Stained glass, quaint carvings, silk and damask, spooky portraits--your standard-issue gothic bedroom. ("God! how the hail dashes on the old bay window!") And now we meet Our Heroine, Flora Bannerworth, an aptly-named maiden who is "young and beautiful as a spring morning," bare shoulder, sculpted ivory bosom, teeth of pearl, moaning in her sleep, a flood of loosed tresses, so on and so forth. Wind, rain, sexy hail, 600 words, FLASH OF LIGHTNING! SHRIEK!
"What -- what was it?" she gasped; "real or delusion? Oh, God, what was it? A figure tall and gaunt, endeavouring from the outside to unclasp the window. I saw it. That flash of lightning revealed it to me. It stood the whole length of the window."
And suddenly there's a point to the stormy, sexy hail, because the figure's long "finger-nails upon the glass [produce] the sound so like [it]." I don't know about you, but I started imagining a flash of light revealing Nosferatu scratching at her window, and it was awesome.
There's a reason I'm going into this next part at some length, and it's because it's one of the most effective Vampire Attack scenes I have personally come across in nineteenth-century literature. There are really four components to your traditional vampire story: the Appearance of the Vampire; the Attack of the Vampire; the Victim's Consumptive Suffering; and the Destruction of the Vampire. Here, we get the first two, and they are really effective. Twelve hundred words of effective, actually, because Rymer/Prest gots to get paid. Frozen with horror! Heart beating wildly! The strange reddish light from a burning mill in the distance! The
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 -- projecting like those of some wild animal, hideously, glaringly white, and fang-like. It approaches the bed with a strange, gliding movement. It clashes together the long nails that literally appear to hang from the finger ends. No sound comes from its lips. [...] The glance of a serpent could not have produced a greater effect upon her than did the fixed gaze of those awful, metallic-looking eyes that were bent down on her face. Crouching down so that the gigantic height was lost, and the horrible, protruding white face was the most prominent object, came on the figure. What was it? -- what did it want there? -- what made it look so hideous -- so unlike an inhabitant of the earth, and yet be on it?
Panting, repulsion, heaving bosoms, etc. And then begins the slow agony of Flora oozing across the bed in her attempt to escape. Hair streaming (slowly) across the pillows, covers dragging (slowly) behind her, until she gets one foot (slowly) onto the floor. This is one of the few times the paid-per-word aspect works in Varney's favor--it has the endless creep of a nightmare--so let's take a moment to bask in a brief ray of quality. Undaunted by effective writing, the vampyre reaches her, drags her by the hair back onto the bed; "Heaven granted her then power" to scream her head off. And thus follows the most awesome sentence I have yet seen in gothic literature:
With a plunge he seizes her neck in his fang-like teeth -- a gush of blood, and a hideous sucking noise follows. The girl has swooned, and the vampyre is at his hideous repast!
My Hideous Repast is totally the name of my new goth band.
THE ALARM. -- THE PISTOL SHOT. -- THE PURSUIT AND ITS CONSEQUENCES.
And then it just gets silly. Welcome to the rest of Varney the Vampire!
Let's stop for a moment to introduce the rest of the family. ROLL CALL:
Henry Bannerworth: Flora's brother and the head of the family, which is broke and semi-disgraced
George Bannerworth: Flora's other brother, who is kind of sickly and doesn't always get to play vampire hunter games with the other boys
Mrs. Bannerworth: Their widowed mother, who screams and cries and faints a little, but doesn't ever do much else
Mr. Marchdale: Mrs. Bannerworth's "special friend" (...) and childhood sweetheart who lives with the Bannerworths, occasionally pitching in for groceries and stuff
And now we proceed to one of the key features of Rymer/Prest's writing, which is: real time dialogue, for idiots, by idiots. Did you hear a scream? I don't know, did you? I'm pretty sure I did or I wouldn't be asking? Yes, I think I heard a scream! Do you know where you heard the scream? It was so sudden that I cannot say! You guys, I think it came from FLORA'S ROOM! FLORA'S ROOM? YOU MEAN THE ROOM OF OUR SISTER? WHY YES I DO THINK SO! GET UP! I AM UP! DID YOU HEAR IT TOO? I SAY OLD CHAP I DO BELIEVE I DID! I am not even kidding. It's still going, in fact. DO YOU HEAR THE SCREAMS? THE SCREAMS, THEY SCREAM AGAIN! WHY YES I DO! CAN YOU DOUBT THEY ARE FLORA'S NOW? WHY I DO NOT BELIEVE I CAN! WE MUST SEARCH THE HOUSE! WHY, DO YOU NOT KNOW WHERE YOUR SISTER'S ROOM IS? WELL I'M JUST SAYING THAT MAYBE WE NEED TO BE THOROUGH ABOUT THIS! BUT I THOUGHT WE AGREED IT'S FLORA (WHO IS YOUR SISTER) WHO IS SCREAMING? So finally we get to Flora's room, but it is locked!! I will spare you the next umpteen pages of three grown men trying to conquer this one door, except to say that Marchdale runs off and gets his crowbar (what, you don't keep a crowbar in your room?), and we start to make progress. Kind of.
"Another moment," said [Marchdale], as he still plied the crowbar -- "another moment, and we shall have free ingress to the chamber. Be patient."
OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR, GODDAMN
Finally we get into Flora's room, where--and this will be important later--everyone sees
a figure, gigantic in height, which nearly reached from the floor to the ceiling. [...] Before it passed out they each and all caught a glance of the side-face, and they saw that the lower part of it and the lips were dabbled in blood. They saw, too, one of those fearful-looking, shining, metallic eyes which presented so terrible an appearance of unearthly ferocity.
And then, some 200 words later, Marchdale shoots the vampyre. THANK YOU.
That face was one never to be forgotten. It was hideously flushed with colour -- the colour of fresh blood; the eyes had a savage and remarkable lustre whereas, before, they had looked like polished tin -- they now wore a ten times brighter aspect, and flashes of light seemed to dart from them. The mouth was open, as if, from the natural formation of the countenance, the lips receded much from the large canine looking teeth.
A strange howling noise came from the throat of this monstrous figure, and it seemed upon the point of rushing upon Mr. Marchdale. Suddenly, then, as if some impulse had seized upon it, it uttered a wild and terrible shrieking kind of laugh; and then turning, dashed through the window, and in one instant disappeared from before the eyes of those who felt nearly annihilated by its fearful presence.
Well, it's no Angel Cupcake Marble Adonis, but I'll take it. (This is another feature of the old-school vampire: it's only pale when it's hungry, and actually gets some color after it's fed.) LET'S FOLLOW IT! NO DON'T! MOTHER, I MUST! NO, MY SON! YES! NO! YES!!! NO!!1! Blessedly, Flora's mother faints at this point, so that everyone can shut the hell up and chase the damn thing. And then we (eventually) get to the first part of the book that nearly made me cry laughing.
They looked in the direction he indicated. At the end of this vista was the wall of the garden. At that point it was full twelve feet in height, and as they looked, they saw the hideous, monstrous form they had traced from the chamber of their sister, making frantic efforts to clear the obstacle.
They saw it bound from the ground to the top of the wall, which it very nearly reached, and then each time it fell back again into the garden with such a dull, heavy sound, that the earth seemed to shake again with the concussion. They trembled -- well indeed they might, and for some minutes they watched the figure making its fruitless efforts to leave the place.
I don't know why Varney can't get over the wall. It's not, like, a holy garlic wall or anything. All I know is, I nearly fell out of my chair at the image of this poor vampire desperately trying to jump over it, perhaps with a sad little grunt, and then falling on its ass... over and over and over.
And then (several paragraphs of discussion later), Henry shoots the vampyre again, and Varney tumbles over the wall with a pitiful howl. You guys, I'm just sad now.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE BODY. -- FLORA'S RECOVERY AND MADNESS. -- THE OFFER OF ASSISTANCE FROM SIR FRANCIS VARNEY.
Given that this serial is titled, you know, VARNEY THE VAMPIRE, I got to this header and blurted out, "O rly?" No, I did.
(There is no actual offer of assistance from Sir Francis Varney in this chapter. Ya rly.)
Three hundred words later, the men go around the wall, examine the heathy vegetation and find... no vampyre. Three hundred and fifty words after that, it finally occurs to them to go back and see if Flora is, you know, dead or whatever.
The mother approached the bed-side of the insensible, perhaps murdered girl; she saw her, to all appearance, weltering in blood, and, overcome by her emotions, she fainted on the floor of the room. [...]
She was quite insensible, and her face was fearfully pale; while that she breathed at all could be but very faintly seen. On some of her clothing, about the neck, were spots of blood, and she looked more like one who had suffered some long and grievous illness, than a young girl in the prime of life and in the most robust health, as she had been on the day previous to the strange scene we have recorded. [...]
"A wound!" said the mother, and she brought a light close to the bed, where all saw on the side of Flora's neck a small punctured wound; or, rather two, for there was one a little distance from the other.
"How came these wounds?" said Henry.
"I do not know," she replied. "I feel very faint and weak, as if I had almost bled to death."
PLEASE NOTICE ALL THE BLOOD. ALSO THE PUNCTURE WOUNDS, WHICH ARE CONSISTENT WITH THOSE MADE BY VAMPIRE FANGS. This is going to be important later, if you want to understand why I got halfway through Volume Two and suddenly collapsed in an aneurysm of unbelieving rage.
They revive Flora with wine, because, when in doubt: booze. And then, while Flora is wailing and trembling and fainting, the family all looks over at the Spooky Portrait in her room (whose idea was that, anyway?) and realize that... it looks just like the vampyre. Of course it does. But it's the ancestral portrait of Sir Runnagate (oh, why not) Bannerworth, "who first, by his vices, gave the great blow to the family prosperity." And it's ninety years old, which I thought was Rymer/Prest trying to tell us that Sir Runnagate is actually Varney, and that's (at least) how long he's been around. Hell, maybe that's what he is trying to tell us right now; the storylines of serials tend to drift all over the place, and writers either forget what they started out with, or they decide to contradict themselves and hope no one notices. Maybe this was his original idea; I don't know. But I get ahead of myself.
Anyway. Henry, having promised Flora that he won't leave, camps out at her bedside with Marchdale's reloaded pistols--which I mention because it reminds me a lot of the men watching over Lucy in Dracula. Or maybe reverse-reminds me, since Varney predates Dracula by forty years. My point is, here's another Literary Vampire Tradition Moment. Which is worth noting, because they're kind of few and far between. I hate to break it to you, but--I'm halfway through the whole cussed serial now, and the opening scene is the first and only episode of vampiring I've seen in the whole thing.
Next installment: THE FEARFUL SUGGESTION; THE FEARFUL ADVENTURE; THE FEARFUL VAMPYRES OF NORWAY.
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