“Sometimes we hunt him, and sometimes he hunts us”: Ambiguity in Rymer’s Varney the Vampyre
Gilpin, Vicky S.
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CitationGilpin, Vicky S. 2014. “Sometimes we hunt him, and sometimes he hunts us”: Ambiguity in Rymer’s Varney the Vampyre. Master's thesis, Harvard University, Extension School.
AbstractThe basic goal of this study is to determine the literary and historical significance of James Malcolm Rymer’s Victorian serial novel Varney the Vampyre, particularly as it pertains to early Victorian popular representations of masculinity. The perception of the vampire as a popular and appropriate symbol of the liminal aspects of the Victorian period, the era’s increased literacy among the working-class and resulting passion for penny dreadful serial novels, and the representation of masculine performativity in Victorian literature and culture accentuate the novel’s significance. Two primary questions guide this investigation: How might we understand the cognitive dissonance between Sir Francis Varney’s intellect and his monstrous acts or role as the supposed villain? In addition, how can readers reconcile Rymer’s writing of Varney the Vampire with his attack against popular writing three years before Varney the Vampyre’s serialization? Reader-response theory and deconstructive procedures inform this post-structural analysis of the text.
Rymer’s use of linguistic and situational ambiguity, as well as the work’s repeated combination of vampire motifs and gentlemanly behavior, emphasize Sir Francis Varney’s role as the anti-hero of the novel. The serial, with its decidedly liminal anti-hero, as well as its narrative and situational mockery of intellectual rigidity and social norms, emphasizes sexual and epistemological ambiguity over conformity on several levels. Varney the Vampyre reflects the same vitriol toward common opinion as
Rymer’s early editorial, “Popular Writing,” only this hostility is couched in a work of popular fiction—one that stringently follows Rymer’s advice on writing outlined in the editorial. Through the character of a gentleman-monster, Varney the Vampyre simultaneously critiques Victorian concepts of masculinity and popularizes liminality for working-class readers. Rymer’s critically overlooked vampire serial, then, strikes a delicate balance between scathing social commentary and escapist recreational reading for a community of readers navigating a society in flux.
To conclude, the title of the thesis emphasizes that occasionally the ambiguity was so great that even Varney’s potential victims became enraptured by his gentlemanly performativity and could not perceive of him as a pure villain; one character comments, “…he is quite an old acquaintance of ours, is old Varney; sometimes he hunts us, sometimes we hunt him. He is rather a troublesome acquaintance, notwithstanding, and I think there are a good many people in the world, a jolly right worse vampyres than Varney” (479). This moment demonstrates the fluidity of liminality pervasive throughout the work and also underscores Rymer’s social commentary about the vampire as a lesser villain than those who conform to common negative human behaviors.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37367546
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