Friday, October 29, 2021

Delightfully Dreadful

To start our Halloween weekend off right, we're taking a look at Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood, an early example of European vampire literature in a deliciously pulpy format. Variously attributed to James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Peckett Prest, Varney was published as a series of cheaply printed pamphlets from 1845 to 1847. This "penny dreadful" style of printing was inexpensive, popular, and typically followed sensational stories of mystery, romance, and horror.

Sir Francis Varney, our titular vampire, comes about 40 years after Polidori's Lord Ruthven and about 50 years before Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. The tropes of vampire stories were far from established as this point, and so Varney starts quite a few of his own. Fangs, superhuman strength, and hypnotism are all introduced to the literature here. Beyond his supernatural skillset, he's also considered the first "sympathetic" vampire, a trait that more modern authors like Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, and Stephanie Meyer would later take and run with. He finds himself morally tortured to the point that by the story's end (spoiler alert), he throws himself into Mount Vesuvius. That said, Varney's conflicted nature doesn't stop him from murdering his way through nearly 900 pages of lurid prose.

To see this landmark work of horror fiction, skulk over to Special Collections and ask for Rainone Penny Dreadfuls PR3991.A1 V27 1845.