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This piece is one that I wrote for my Gothic literature class. I hope you enjoy!

The Auditory Tension of Varney’s First Feast in James Rhymer’s Varney the Vampire

          From the beginning of Varney the Vampire, or, the Feast of Blood by James Malcolm Rhymer, the importance of perceived sound by both the characters in the scene and the audience members punctuates key critical moments within the text and creates dramatic tension as a result. The usage of sound in this way is seen clearly in the first episode of the novella where Varney makes his way into Flora’s room and attacks her in order to satiate his bloodlust. Within this moment, the sounds of clattering nails on Flora’s window, her scream of pain as her hair jerked, Marchdale’s gunshot, and Varney’s laughter keep time in the work in such a way that mimics the literal storm occurring just outside Flora’s house, as the vampire’s actions and the sounds that surround him slowly make him into a symbolic storm. Moreover, while these sounds fill the space at many given moments, ominous silences of varying length between each instance of sound develop into points of vacuous and claustrophobic tension which envelop both characters and readers alike. Through this particular attention to sound and its absence, Rhymer produces an auditory complexity in the novella which he collapses into the Gothic space, thereby creating a new level of drama and heightening the overall experience of horror within this vampire story.

To start immersing the audience into this realm of sound, Rhymer uses the horrendous storm as white noise to create a point of isolation for Flora and the reader. Early on, Rhymer shows exactly what is going on outside the mansion as “the storm raged! Hail—rain—wind. It was, in very truth, an awful night” (26). These assertions about the storm continue to enter intermittently throughout the beginning of the narrative as Flora and the reader’s attentions are focused in on various aspects of what the storm is doing, such as “how the hail dashes on the old bay window” or “that lightning [explodes with]. . .an awful, vivid, terrifying flash—then a roaring peal of thunder” fills the space (27). Further still, the storm and its cacophony of sound acts as a force of separation for Flora as she can only gasp or speak “in a hoarse faint whisper cry” while it continues to rage, thereby muffling her voice to the space outside her room (29). Through Rhymer’s juxtaposition of Flora’s quiet voice against the sounds of the storm, her room in the ancient mansion feels more like a Gothic space in which the reader exists as an omnipresent observer because not only is she trapped in a creepy area with a supernatural evil but it appears that no one will be able to save her before it is too late. Hence, even as the storm itself starts to dwindle, Rhymer’s sound-based isolation of Flora and the reader serves as a creator of Gothic space and mood enhancer, especially as the specific storm sounds themselves begin to distort and the familiar becomes foreign.

Further, by relying heavily on the storm sounds in the beginning of the scene to set the mood, Rhymer not only familiarizes his readers with a natural (or potentially unnatural) phenomenon that has become a staple of the Gothic genre, but additionally, he complicates this traditional Gothic element by transforming the associated storm sounds into monstrous analogs. As the storm itself subsides, Flora continues to hear what she thinks to be hail hitting her window; however, she soon realizes that it is the creature Varney outside with “finger-nails upon the glass that produces the sound” (28). The realization that this sound no longer comes from natural occurrences but a gaunt creature with long fingernails eliminates the focus on the literal storm and repositions Flora’s and the audience’s attention of the vampire, the symbolic storm that is coming to ravage Flora. Shortly after this revelation, the patterns of sound within the overall scene of Varney’s feeding start to follow a relationship similar to that of lightning and thunder, as each ominous sound punctuates a sinister or disturbing visual that comes shortly before it. Varney’s entrance and approach is emphasized by his “clash[ing] together the long nails that literally appear to hang from the finger ends” (29). Then, Varney’s stroking and grabbing Flora’s hair resounds with her screams as “Shriek followed shriek” (30). Next, Varney’s feeding on Flora and his retreat are met with Marchdale’s pistol fire which was “tremendous in that chamber” (30). Finally, Marchdale’s movement to check his marksmanship is met with Varney’s “wild terrible shrieking kind of laugh” (31). With each flash of an image or vignette that Rhymer creates, he leaves the audience to count the moments until the sound is issued in order to judge the distance of the monster, much like counting the seconds between the flash of lightning and sound of thunder is used to approximate how close a storm is to an individual. Through this transferal of sounds and the overall way in which the storm has been functioning onto the figure of Varney and the events that surround the attack, Rhymer intensifies the image of the storm and doubly isolates Flora within it and as the target of the vampire.

While the sounds of the literal and the symbolic storm are an important aspect of the opening scene, the moments of their absence is equally powerful as they cause the dramatic tension of Varney’s approach, feeding, and retreat to increase. Between the introduction of the visual and the following sound that reminds Flora and the readers that the monster is getting closer, a moment clearly exists in which they are left to rationalize what is going on within that moment. For example, the foreignness of Varney’s “perfectly white—perfectly bloodless” face, his “fearful-looking teeth—projecting like those of some wild animal,” and his other vampiric accoutrements are introduced for Flora and the reader’s mental consumption before the clicking of the clicking of his nails brings the focus back to him (29). During this brief window of time between the initial image and the terminal sound, Flora and the reader are forced to interpret what is going on via the inherent absence of sound. Yet in this brief span of silence, the knowledge of what is in the dark and the inability of knowing how close or far Varney is from her build the tension of the scene because Flora and the readers do not know where he is or if he will attack until the next auditory cue sounds. Moreover, it is this sort of tension that permeates the other storm-like, lightning-thunder moments throughout the rest of the scene. As Varney “seized the long tresses of her [Flora’s] hair, and twin[es] them round his bony hand,” the audience is left to wonder what will happen to Flora as she is dragged to the bed, and then, she screams alerting the house of her predicament (30). As Varney runs to the window after feeding on Flora, the audience does not know if Varney has killed her or if he will get away, but Marchdale’s gunshot brings them back to the action. Further still, as Marchdale approaches the creature that he thinks is dead or injured, the audience must question whether the vampire is dead or if Marchdale is going to be a victim himself as “The tall form turn[s] upon him” and emits a terrible laugh (32). Within this construct of vignette, silence, and sound, Rhymer strengthens the tension in each moment of the scene by creating this division of sound and its absence but, additionally, by placing the action in a cerebral space that the audience itself must configure and reconfigure to determine the significance of the sound cues and the entirety of the episode.

Throughout this short feeding scene, Rhymer illuminates the true nature of his descriptive power as he uses the perceived sounds and silence to heighten the Gothic space and mood as a whole. Furthermore, his attention to this auditory detail strengthens the overall monstrousness of Varney’s attack and helps define the vampire genre a little more clearly. From the introduction of the storm to the reconfiguration of its sounds into the rest of the scene, Rhymer creates a symphony of sorts that he conducts to great effect, emphasizing every moment within Flora’s room as a line of the score. Additionally, this multi-layering of sound informs a complexity not only within this text but the other vampire stories and movies that followed it, like Dracula (the novel and the multiple versions of the movie), Nosferatu, The Lost Boys, and many more. Thus, Rhymer’s experimentation with Gothic sounds in this novella that come to be considered vampiric results in a foundational text for the vampire genre and functions as a continuation of the Gothic, even as it carves out a distinctive niche of its own.

**I thank you for reading and hope that you enjoyed this stuff about vampires. It must be noted that plagiarism of this work is strictly prohibited. Additionally, the works cited page has been omitted to help avoid this temptation. I’m not saying that my ideas are super-fantastic, but I would like to receive appropriate credit for this. Also, a quick side note, if you found this your professor can too. Thanks all! :)

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