Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood

Varney the Vampyre, or the Feast of Blood is one of the most famous penny dreadfuls, written in the mid 1840s, by either John Malcolm Rhymer or Thomas Prescot Prest. Given that it runs 876 pages in its original two-columned form, I don’t see why both men couldn’t be credited. After all, spinning out eight page weekly parts isn’t as easy as it Varney cover 249x400 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Bloodmight sound, and two authors, especially two who might not get together all that often, would account for some of the wild inconsistencies in the story. For those of you brave enough to venture into Victorian popular fiction, the text is available here at Project Gutenberg.

The early penny dreadfuls are really hard to find anymore, and you can count on triple the difficulty if you go after the well known titles, like Sweeney Todd, Spring-Heeled Jack, The Wild Boys of London, or Varney. These serials ran from 40 to over 200 issues, so even if you find one, building a run is pretty nigh impossible. The stories themselves aren’t hard to find. A number of the print on demand folks offer copies at outrageously exorbitant prices, but go to Project Gutenberg or  do a Google search and you can download them for free (which is what the print on demand people are doing.)

However, the downloads are usually just the text, and a mainstay of all this kind of fiction is the artwork that accompanies the story. So below, for your viewing pleasure, is all the available artwork from Varney the Vampyre. Most of the illustrations are unfortunately mundane, but there are a few goodies in here; It’s the totality that has the impact. As is all too often the case, the illustrator(s) is unknown.

A quick word about penny dreadfuls for those of you who aren’t familiar with the format. The stories were issued weekly for a penny (duh!) but with the intention that once one had all the parts (and even the authors didn’t know how many issues there would be; they would keep spinning the tale as long as it sold, then end it quickly), the entire group would be bound up into a book. Thus, they don’t have “covers.” Each part cuts off exactly at the end of eight pages, even if it’s in the middle of the sentence. The next part picks up that sentence where it left off, AND has an illustration on the first page. Once bound together, you had an illustrated novel. Unfortunately, the audience these books were aimed at were not the kind who would buy all issues, keep them neat and pay for the binding. Most were bought and shared by whole neighborhoods of boys. Few survived the manhandling, and fewer still were ever bound together. ‘Penny dreadful’ has become a kind of catch all term for any English serial fiction, just as ‘dime novel’ and ‘pulp’ are misused in this country. It’s convenient, but from what I’ve read, the true penny dreadfuls were gone by the late 19th century. But call ‘em as you see ‘em. They’re still great.

Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.16.38 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.16.56 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.18.53 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.18.38 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.18.23 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.18.08 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.17.52 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.17.30 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.17.13 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.20.57 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.20.43 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.20.27 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.20.09 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.19.53 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.19.38 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.19.23 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.19.07 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.23.05 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.22.49 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.22.33 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.22.18 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.22.04 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.21.42 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.21.27 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.21.13 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.25.13 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.24.58 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.24.41 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.24.26 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.24.13 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.23.57 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.23.43 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.23.25 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.27.14 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.27.00 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.26.44 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.26.29 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.26.13 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.25.59 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.25.44 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.25.27 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.29.22 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.29.05 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.28.50 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.28.34 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.28.20 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.28.05 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.27.47 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.27.32 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.31.41 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.31.17 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.31.00 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.30.45 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.30.28 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.30.12 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.29.57 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Screen Shot 2013 11 14 at 11.29.42 AM 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood Varney illo 01 150x150 Varney the Vampyre; or, The Feast of Blood

^ 6 Comments...

  1. sraun

    Project Gutenberg includes the pictures in their HTML version, and you can get EPUB or MOBI versions with the pictures.

    In my experience, that’s been typical of their books for the last few years – maybe since Digital Proofreaders started up?

  2. Coyote

    I finally bit the bullet a couple of years ago, and downloaded Varney the Vampire. It was pretty apparent that it was a serialized story. While some parts were rather charming and fun, others dragged and suffered from serious pacing issues. Over all, while not bad enough to put down, I feel that in the end, it’s one of those books I want to _have_ read, but not one I enjoyed having read all that much.

    Still – if you’re into vampire mythos and mythology, it’s possibly worth reading just for an insight into what authors of the time might have thought about vampire legends.

    Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla” was to me, far more enjoyable, and I found the vampiress in it more in keeping with traditional legends of vampires – though vampires with features that resemble Carmilla’s in the older stories were more often male. That’s all right though, I liked her just the way she was.

    Another of my favorites is the short story, “The Dead Leman,” which predates Varney and Carmilla. It was written by Théophile Gautier in 1836 (okay, that part I googled). I found it properly eerie, and the vampiress in it was more ghost-like than later stories usually depict vampires (but which is more in keeping with older vampire myths from Europe). It’s well worth a read.

  3. lovecraf

    Thanks, I want to look that one up. As for Varney, yes, it is a bit of a slog. If I had unlimited hours in a day, I’d love to try and edit it down. You could lose more than half of it and improve it at the same time! But then the inconsistencies would probably increase as well, and you’d end up rewriting the entire thing. It would be easier to just write your own vampire story.

  4. Dumb post

    Prefer “The String of Pearls”. The forced pie-making plotline is positively chilling.

  5. lovecraf

    It’s a great one, but the dang thing is only available sans images. I have a few, but if you run onto a pile of them, let me know and I’ll run them.

    Speaking of which, what’s going on with your article? I thought I’d have a revision by now.

  6. Dumb post

    You did? Slightly suprised you remembered it, at all.
    Have been pottering around with it, never fear. Will send in the results on Monday.

    As for Demon Barber imagery, my Wordsworth ed. is quite unillustrious. Such has no place in SERIOUS Litterature.
    Unlike that American upstart, Lovecraft, who should be made as pulp as possible,
    http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-19-963957-1
    apparently