Dracula’s Dad – Varney the Vampire

Varney-the-vampire

 

Of course Vlad’s dad was not Varney the Vampire. Vlad’s Dad was Vlad 2, which sounds suspiciously like a bad movie sequel. The Vlad Dracula was actually the third ruler to bear the name. The first had lived around a century before.

Varney the Vampire is only the father of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, who is in turn the father of all modern vampire literature.

The idea of the suave, charismatic, nobleman vampire originated in John Polidori’s 1819 story ‘The Vampyre’. The main character, the handsome, devilish aristocrat Lord Ruthven is a thinly disguised version of the scandalous poet Lord Byron.

Famously christened ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’, Byron outraged society with his blatant affairs; including one with his half-sister, or so it was rumoured. He was forced to flee England, when his wife sued for divorce citing mental cruelty and sodomy (in those days a capital crime).

Byron employed Polidori as a physician. In 1816 Byron and Polidori spent the cold, wet, summer in Switzerland with fellow poet Shelley and his new wife Mary (See Frankenstein). They passed the time telling horror stories.

Byron’s remembered fragments of Greek vampire legends inspired Polidori to write a best-selling novella capitalising on his relationship with his notorious employer.

The vampire theme was taken up by a new type of publication; short pamphlets serialising lurid horror stories. Called Penny Dreadfuls because of their cheap cost and trashy content, they were aimed at the growing numbers of young literate working men in London in the 1830s.

One of the most successful, long running serialisations (1845–47) was Varney the Vampire or the Feast of Blood. As the whole story is over 660,000 words long and runs to almost 900 pages in 220 chapters, it is too long to give any details.

In the character of Varney, which heavily influenced Stoker’s writing of Dracula, we recognise many traits found in a whole slew of modern day vampires.

Varney is a charismatic nobleman with hypnotic powers and superhuman strength. He cuts a tragic and somewhat sympathetic figure. Cursed by vampirism, he despises his wretched condition and clings to his humanity until his vital energy runs low and the hunger consumes him.

Like Stoker’s Dracula, Varney has two fangs which leaves puncture marks in his victims’ necks, and he can go out in daylight (that changed later). But he has no fear of crosses or garlic.

Like many modern vampire anti-heroes, he was killed and revived a number of times in a number of ingenious ways to keep the story going.

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