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.

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