After Polidori’s version of the vampire, it became apparent that an audience for such work existed. James Malcolm Rymer decided to enter as an author of this genre for just that reason. Rymer was born in Scotland in the year 1804, and prior to his career as an author, he pursued various means of employment. He had been a civil engineer, a surveyor, and a mechanical draftsman. He pierced the writing scene when he dropped all of these jobs to write for the Queen’s Magazine (Melton 529). He wrote an article in which he heaped ridicule and disgust upon an avenue of the era called “penny dreadfuls.” “Penny dreadfuls” were serial novels that sold for a penny for each chapter or installment (Guiley 247). They were sorted into two basic kinds. One kind consisted of magazines that contained serialized popular novels while the other were novels published in small sections (Melton 529). These published works provided cheap entertainment for the working class, and Rymer preyed on that audience with remarks such as:
“It is the privilege of the ignorant and the weak to love superstition. The only strong mental sensation they are capable of is fear.”
After such remarks, one would be quite surprised to learn that Rymer wrote such supposed atrocities himself. However, he did write them anonymously for some time. Just like any good businessman, Rymer decided to expand into areas in which he had talent and that paid well (Guiley 247).
When Rymer ventured into the career as a writer, he began with the “penny dreadfuls,” and he had instant success with Varney and Ada the Betrayed when they were printed in Lloyd’s Penny Weekly Miscellany. In fact, they remained bestsellers for 15 years after publication. He wrote for other various magazines such as Reynolds’ Miscellany and London Miscellany. He also wrote a novel called The Black Monk under a pseudonym (Guiley 247). Because of his anonymity, Varney was originally credited to Thomas P. Prest, who was the author of Sweeney Todd. In 1963, conclusive evidence was found in some of Rymer’s old scrapbooks to give him the credit for Varney that he so rightfully deserved (Melton 530).
The character of Varney can be illustrated as a fusion between a Shakespearian individual and Polidori’s vampire, Lord Ruthven. Sir Francis Varney is an aristocrat who is definitely not charming. Just like Lord Ruthven, he preys upon people not just for their blood but for whatever they hold dear as well. For Varney, his lust for money causes him to act in this manner. In regards to appearance, he is revolting. With long fangs, long nails, and a pale face, he is probably as stereotypical as a comical vampire could be. He attacks women and turns some of them into vampires. Each time he begins to regret his actions, he tries to commit suicide, but he is revived again with the light of the moon. Finally, the repetitiveness of rebirth and suicide makes him succumb, and as a result, he throws himself into the crater of Mount Vesuvius (Guiley 305). One may note that there does not seem to be much of a plot or even much to say for Varney himself. Most critics complain that the work was poorly written, and that effect was worsened by the novel originally being split into each “penny dreadful.” One has to piece together how Varney was once called Mortimer and how he once had supported the British Crown. He had been alive at the timing of the beheading of Charles I and had assisted members of the royal court in escaping to Holland. In the midst of it all, Varney manages to accidently kill his son, and he is cursed to be Varney the Vampyre due to the action (Melton 654).
Next month…enter Carmilla.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. New York: Checkmark Books, 2005.
Melton, J. Gordon. The Vampire Book. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994.