Over the last three years or so, I’ve been reading the penny dreadful Varney the Vampyre. It’s taken that long partly because my edition is 1166 pages of tiny type and partly because penny dreadfuls were largely written to fill a weekly page count more than edited for quality. At times, it could be quite the slog and more than once I thought I wouldn’t bother to finish, but I finally persevered and made it through.
There’s a very good article about Varney at the Victorian Gothic Blog. I especially like their plot synopsis and definitely agree the final section of Varney is the best. Throughout the novel, the titular hero is villainous, sympathetic, romantic, and even interviewed. In 1166 pages, he embodied just about every major vampire trope I can think of. If I had to tell you what Varney most reminded me of, it was Dark Shadows—not necessarily in the sense of quality, but in the sense that reading Varney was not a little like following a Gothic soap opera!
My edition of Varney credits the writing to James Malcolm Rymer. However, the original penny dreadful contained no writing credit. There is some debate as to who actually wrote Varney. Most point to Rymer or Thomas Peckett Prest. In fact, Wikipedia says it was both. To me, it seemed like Varney must have been written by at least two people and perhaps more. Varney is a long, rambling story and parts are definitely better and tighter than others, making me think there must have been at least two, if not more writers involved.
I was fascinated to see that in the final section, Sir Frances Varney interacts with historical figures such as Oliver Cromwell and King Charles II, especially since this is something I like doing in my historical vampire fiction. Although the storyline focuses on Varney, my favorite characters ended up being Admiral Bell and his steward Jack Pringle, who end up being Varney’s foils in much of the book. Unlike Dr. Van Helsing who works to outwit Dracula, Jack and the Admiral often foil Varney’s plans unwittingly by just being in the right place at the right time!
I’ve mentioned it before in other posts, but one of my favorite elements of the vampire lore in this story is that Varney requires moonlight to heal. If you shoot him on the new moon, he might die. Furthermore, he can walk around in broad daylight. However, it’s the moon that gives him his power to recover from injuries. I thought that was an interesting idea that could be used more in vampire fiction.
As you read this, I’m working my way through the second editorial pass on my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt. I hope to return it to my editor by the end of next week, then it’ll go to the copy editor for final cleanup. I’ll have more news soon!