by Ian Sputnik
The legend of vampires snakes back through the ages. Bram Stoker is widely regarded as the creator of modern vampire mythology as we know it today. His talent for taking the vampire legend and mixing it with the dark—but true—history of Vlad the Impaler, and centering the narrative around a love triangle encapsulates most of the elements we call to mind when we think about this genre of horror. And so in 1897 Dracula was first unleashed upon the world.
That Bram Stoker be credited as the father of the modern day vampire back in the nineteenth century is a tenuous title. That he packaged and polished folklore and myth into a marketable product is beyond dispute.
It is a matter of fact that fifty years earlier between 1845 to 1847 Varney The Vampire, Or The Feast Of Blood was serialised within the pages of the notorious Penny Dreadful publications. The tales of Varney have been variously attributed to JamesMalcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest. It was the first time in literature that a vampire was described as having sharpened, fang like teeth. A look that appears to have stood the test of time.
The book form of the series was released in 1847. At 232 chapters and 667,000 words, it’s not meant for casual readers. It tells the tale of the vampire Sir Francis Varney. Although beginning to portray Varney as nothing more than a blood sucking fiend, further into the tale it is suggested that he is motivated by monetary interests. Later still he is portrayed in a more compassionate light, and the reader is invited to take a deeper look at the character and sympathize for him and for his condition.
To say that the narrative in its entirety is a solidly written, cohesive tale would be generous. It’s dotted with inconsistencies and plot holes. This is indicative of a serial being moulded into a novel. It also wavers between horror and humour, which leaves the reader confused at times.
His adventures are set in numerous locations including London, Bath, Winchester, Naples, and Venice. Varney dies numerous times throughout the tale and finally meets his true end by throwing himself off of Mount Vesuvius, after having left a written account of his origins with a priest. According to Varney, he was cursed after betraying a royalist to Oliver Cromwell.
In one of his own deaths, a medical student named Dr Chillingworth applies Galvanism (the animation of muscle by contact with an electrical current and/or electricity produced by chemical action) to the hanged corpse of Varney in order to revive him. This subplot is eerily similar to Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
And while this seems like it draws a definitive line as to who created the modern vampire, it does far from that.
As with most classic tales, plagiarism was as rife then as it is today, not to mention Victorian Horror literature is a bramble bush of entwining plot lines and origins. In 1819 a story by the title The Vampyre﹡ was published. Sharp teeth aside, many view The Vampyre as the first attempt at a coherent vampire tale. It’s often incorrectly attributed to Lord Byron, but it’s actually his friend and personal physician, Dr John William Polidori. He was inspired to write the story based on an incomplete piece that Byron had started in 1816 when, while in Switzerland, Byron and his friends decided to see who could come up with the scariest story. The competition was eventually won by Mary Godwin, who later became Mary Shelley, and the piece that won the competition was Frankenstein (later published in 1818).
Be sure to check back for the next instalment of our monthly Penny For Your Thoughts retrospective!