Domestic Plots and Class Reform in Varney the Vampire
First published serially 1845–7, James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire taps into the emergent class tensions of its period. The novel’s running focus on marriage reads as a critical response to recent Sanitation Acts and, specifically, social reformers’ preoccupation with rewriting working-class domestic plots and spaces. However, in Varney, such domestic plots remain elusive as the eponymous vampire repeatedly fails to find true love (“companionate marriage”) as a cure for his monstrous condition; instead, time and again, Varney’s romantic adventures uncover the real monsters to be the middle- and upper-class humans who seek to profit, vampire-like, by pushing their daughters into mercenary marriages (“kinship marriage”). While, in typical Gothic fashion, Rymer’s penny dreadful imagines how the past informs the present, Varney is also astonishingly forward-looking with its critique of domestic plots haunted by structures of kinship. At the same time, Varney implicitly acknowledges that the working class had its own marriage model – one built upon working wives’ equal economic contribution – and thereby encourages these same readers to question, if not reject, middle-class domestic models as a solution to their social problems.
Varney the Vampire; sanitation reform; marriage plots; middle-class domesticity; Chartism; Penny Blood; Gothic; class
Date of Acceptance: 31 December 2022
Date of Publication: 13 January 2023
Double Blind Peer Reviewed
Cameron, Brooke. 2022. “Domestic Plots and Class Reform in Varney the Vampire.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 4.2: 47-62. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI: https://doi.org/10.46911/VJXP7684
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