Unnecessary Digressions, Comic Undertakers, "Down with Bannerworth Hall!": Varney the Vampire features Another Angry Mob

Previously on: Varney and Marchdale meet in mid-skulk and Marchdale goes to the ruins to whack Holland, but is to his surprise overpowered by the latter, who leaves him chained up and trots off toward the Hall. Plus a completely unnecessary bit of Bell’s backstory.

We pick up with the Bannerworths, who as far as I know are still at Undisclosed Location Cottage, and Flora needs to be distracted from pining over Holland, so Henry reads his short story aloud to them. For the entire rest of the chapter. It’s lousy medieval pastiche about some mysterious knight with a green shield whose identity no one knows because, uh, secrets and mystery and bad guys after him. He’s the long-lost lover of some lady who’s due to get married to a local landowning scumbag in the morning, and there’s a tournament going on, and he loses (can’t tell if this is on purpose) and then shows up at the lady’s castle and she’s all OMG IT’S YOU and he’s like IT’S ME I WANT TO MARRY YOU BUT I HEAR WHERE YOU ARE PROMISED TO ANOTHER and she probably weeps and wrings her hands, I was glazing over at this point. Anyway, Mystery Knight is scheduled to joust against Scumbag Bridegroom and if Mystery Knight wins he gets to claim the lady as his bride because apparently that’s how it works in Henry Bannerworth’s fevered imagination. So they do, and he does, and they get married:

It was true, the Lady Bertha was won, and Sir Arthur Home claimed his bride, and then they attempted to defeat his claim; yet Bertha at once expressed herself in his favour, to strongly that they were, however reluctantly compelled, to consent at last.

At this moment, a loud shout as from a multitude of persons came upon their ears and Flora started from her seat in alarm. The cause of the alarm we shall proceed to detail.


For one thing, don’t do the “I wanna write a different story so in order to fit it into the actual narrative this chapter has the world’s worst framing job, pacing what pacing?” digression. Just don’t. Not that you’re alone: Melville did it with whaling, Hugo did it with everything from Parisian wastewater management infrastructure to the battle of Waterloo. They did it much better than you, but it’s still skippable text and you don’t want your readers to have to do the skip-ahead-to-where-it-gets-relevant work. For another, don’t editorialize; you’re throwing your reader out of the narrative just when you want them to clamber back inside. You don’t need “the cause of the alarm we shall proceed to detail,” even if you are writing this in serial form and need a “Next time on Varney the Vampire” tag. You just leave the damn cliffhanger, that’s all you need.

The next scene begins desultorily in the town, where the funeral of the random dude who died at the inn and was subsequently staked in his coffin by Angry Mob # Whatever:

The populace were well advertised of the fact, that the body of the stranger was to be buried that morning in their churchyard; and that, to protect the body, should there be any necessity for so doing, a large body of constables would be employed.

There was no disposition to riot; at least, none was visible. It looked as if there was some event about to take place that was highly interesting to all parties, who were peaceably assembling to witness the interment of nobody knew who.

The early hour at which persons were assembling, at different points, clearly indicated that there was a spirit of curiosity about the town, so uncommon that none would have noticed it but for the fact of the crowd of people who hung about the streets, and there remained, listless and impatient.

Not a great atmosphere. At the inn a bunch of NPCs have a conversation about how gosh, what a lot of disturbance there’s been lately between riots and Bannerworths and vampyres (oh my). Cut to the undertakers, of which there are two models, the jocose and the lugubrious, discussing the fact that they’re undertakers. Glacial pacing continues as we see people go up the stairs to the room with the coffin, and then down the stairs with the coffin, and out of the inn into the street. The landlord watches them go, and A Stranger engages him in conversation:

"It was a strange occurrence, altogether, I believe, was it?" inquired the stranger.

"Indeed it was, sir. I hardly know the particulars, there have been so many tales afloat; though they all concur in one point, and that is, it has destroyed the peace of one family."

"Who has done so?"

"The vampyre."

"Indeed! I never heard of such an animal, save as a fable, before; it seems to me extraordinary."

"So it would do to any one, sir, as was not on the spot, to see it; I'm sure I wouldn't."

you are making it so hard to care about any of this, guys

The procession wends its way through the town, gathering a huge crowd, and the authorities are nervous. More NPCs engage in the standard repetitive discussion of vampyres and what it is they do (suck blood) and what moonlight does to them (revives them). Rymer/Prest are using section breaks here, for the first time in the narrative, presumably in an effort to achieve an actual intentional kind of pacing, but it ain’t doing much.

The actual burial of the random dead guy takes like two sentences, after god knows how many paragraphs allotted to the description of him being carried to the churchyard. He’s done and over with, and if this were not this book I would say that the author(s) are doing a clever little trick in refusing to give the reader the details and description they are by now expecting and anticipating, perhaps even with pleasure, because that’s how the mob feels. They are cheated of drama or anything they can stab with a pitchfork or yell at, and so they mill around in the equivalent of an explosive atmosphere that needs only a single spark to set it off. But it’s this book, and therefore I would lay money on it that this is accidental.

Along comes the spark in the form of Mrs. Chillingworth, who wants to know where her husband is:

The crowd made way for her, and gathered round her to see what was going to happen.

"Friends and neighbours," she said "can any of you relieve the tears of a distressed wife and mother, have any of you seen anything of my husband, Mr. Chillingworth?"

"What the doctor?" exclaimed one.—"Yes; Mr. Chillingworth, the surgeon. He has not been home two days and a night. I'm distracted!—what can have become of him I don't know, unless—"

Here Mrs Chillingworth paused, and some person said,—

"Unless what, Mrs Chillingworth? there are none but friends here, who wish the doctor well, and would do anything to serve him—unless what? speak out."

"Unless he's been destroyed by the vampyre. Heaven knows what we may all come to! Here am I and my children deprived of our protector by some means which we cannot imagine. He never, in all his life, did the same before."

And they’re off.

"He must have been spirited away by some of the vampyres. I'll tell you what, friend," said one to another, "that something must be done; nobody's safe in their bed."

"No; they are not, indeed. I think that all vampyres ought to be burned and a stake run through them, and then we should be safe."

"Ay; but you must destroy all those who are even suspected of being vampyres, or else one may do all the mischief."—"So he might."

"Hurrah!" shouted the mob. "Chillingworth for ever! We'll find the doctor somewhere, if we pull down the whole town."

There was an immense commotion among the populace, who began to start throwing stones, and do all sorts of things without any particular object, and some, as they said, to find the doctor, or to show how willing they were to do so if they knew how.

Nice work, lady. It gets better:

Mrs. Chillingworth, however, kept on talking to the mob, who continued shouting; and the authorities anticipated an immediate outbreak of popular opinion, which is generally accompanied by some forcible demonstration, and on this occasion some one suggested the propriety of burning down Bannerworth Hall; because they had burned down the vampyre's home, and they might as well burn down that of the injured party, which was carried by acclamation; and with loud shouts they started on their errand.

“Why are you setting fire to that house?” “Gotta set fire to something.”

I feel bad for the authorities, who have basically had it with these motherfucking mobs in this motherfucking town and now have to go and try to stop the idiot villagers torching another mansion:

The astonished, and almost worn-out authorities, hastily, now, after having disposed of their prisoners, collected together what troops they could, and by the time the misguided, or rather the not guided at all populace, had got halfway to Bannerworth Hall, they were being outflanked by some of the dragoons, who, by taking a more direct route, hoped to reach Bannerworth Hall first, and so perhaps, by letting the mob see that it was defended, induce them to give up the idea of its destruction on account of the danger attendant upon the proceeding by far exceeding any of the anticipated delight of the disturbance.

Next time: another mysterious stranger appears; Chillingworth recognizes him because they share a dark secret; it is, once again, STORY TIME.