Varney the Vampire - vol 2. of the Undead yarn and book club
Varney the Vampire, or, the Feast of Blood is a sprawling, ridiculously extended saga of a smelly, Rasputin-like vampire named Sir Frances Varney.
Originally written as weekly 1-penny serials beginning in 1847, author James Malcolm Ryman was paid by the word. Our prolific wordsmith took advantage of this pay structure and came up with an absolute monster of a never-ending, downward-spiraling, almost tedious adventure with a pretty heated and ridiculous ending.
Penny Dreadfuls were pretty important in a historical literacy context. These sensationalist, entertaining tales came about as printing got cheaper and got younger members of the working class into reading. At a time when education was most accessible to wealthier populations and city life demanded escapism, the weekly adventures were affordable enough for more working class people to keep up with each week or pass around amongst friends.
With Varney the Vampire written at the peak of Penny dreadful popularity, each week newly literate members of the working class looked forward to the spectacle of Varney and Flora, and the angry mobs that desperately kept killing Varney (only for him to be revived by moonlight or Dr. Chillingworth - over and over again for 232 chapters.)
The “season finale” finally comes when Varney hurls himself into Mount Vesuvius, and so I thought it fitting that Varney as a yarn is a moody dusk blue with highlights of lava and moonlight violet. A smirky little skull stitch marker tops off this true character of a club.
Though to make it through the entire volume itself is quite a slog, the concept of killing off and reviving a charming gentleman of a vampire for 207(!) weeks is in itself impressive. A great podcast contextualizing and summarizing the title is Words to That Effect: Blood, Death, and Varney the Vampire