Sunday, February 21, 2010


Bebee, by Ouida

In 1880, Ouida was a best-selling and prolific author.  In 2010, very few of her books are still in print, and her name is virtually unknown.  She wrote sensational historical romances, and also children's books and stories about dogs.  Someone made a movie of one of her other books, A Dog of Flanders.  I haven't read the book, but you can find it on DVD at

Bebee's opening description of a girl so sweet and pure she could give you diabetes almost led me to quit and see what else was on the Reader.  But the story went in a different direction, and showed what happens to girls too good for this world, when the world encounters them.  Yes, it's overwritten, overwrought, overromanticized, and overdramatic.  But I had fun with it, too, and found it oddly satisfying.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Varney the Vampire

Varney the Vampire, or, The Feast of Blood

The bed-clothes fell in a heap by the side of the bed—she was dragged by her long silken hair completely on to it again. Her beautifully rounded limbs quivered with the agony of her soul. The glassy, horrible eyes of the figure ran over that angelic form with a hideous satisfaction—horrible profanation. He drags her head to the bed's edge. He forces it back by the long hair still entwined in his grasp. 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!

They're called "penny dreadfuls."  They were printed cheaply, to thrill the masses, and sold one episode at a time, like a pre-television soap opera.  Not, in general particularly well written.

This is one of the best I've read.  I've heard of it before, but never read it.  The writing is pretty good for what it is, which is words meant to excite a wide audience enough to make them buy the next episode, not meant to inspire literary critics to praise its poetry.  And I'm convinced that the author was fully in touch with the humor inherent in the highly fraught melodrama. There are sentences and paragraphs too entertaining to have been written anything but tongue-in-cheek.

You'll find all the ingredients of vampire classicism here: the mouldering family estate, the sinister family portrait, the stalwart, loyal suitor, the beautiful girl in a white nightgown, and, of course, the vampire, sinister and powerful and oddly human in his concerns.  I found that, even as I was laughing at the overwrought prose, I kept reading to find out what happens next.

Please be aware that, at nearly 700 pages, the Project Gutenberg edition is not every episode that was written, nor does it really reach a satisfactory conclusion.  It's plenty to give a reader hours of good, clean, vampire-related fun, though, and I notice that there's a critical edition in print for readers who want more.  I have already added it to my wishlist.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


1601: Conversation As It Was By the Social Fireside In the Time of the Tudors

Ye Queene.—By ye gullet of God, 'tis a neat-turned compliment. With such a tongue as thine, lad, thou'lt spread the ivory thighs of many a willing maide in thy good time, an' thy cod-piece be as handy as thy speeche.

Here's a bit of Mark Twain's fiction that I didn't read in high school. Queen Elizabeth I gathers in her chambers a few friends for conversation: Francis Bacon, Walter Raleigh, William Shakespeare, and a number of playful young women. Their conversation, faithfully rendered in Elizabethan English, ranges from which of them can fart the loudest to some rather vividly scandalous stories they have heard. According to Wikipedia, it was technically illegal to print this story until the 1960's, so it was circulated only in small, privately printed editions. It's pretty naughty, though to my ears, hardened by years of Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith, it's not as naughty as it probably was in 1880. It's still just as funny, though.