Varney the Vampire - WTTE Ep 36

Ep 36: Blood, Death, and Varney the Vampire

There is no pop culture monster more written about, more critiqued
and analysed, more portrayed and adapted and reimagined, than the vampire.

So this episode is not about most vampires. There are no discussions of Dracula or Nosferatu, no True Blood or Twilight or Buffy, no Anne Rice or Stephen King, no Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee.  

Instead, there is a single vampire, one you may well never have heard of. A vampire that, in Victorian times, was far more popular than even Charles Dickens at the height of his fame. A vampire that established many of the tropes of later vampire mythology and fiction.

His name is Sir Francis Varney. Varney the Vampire.

Traditionally vampires may have no reflection, but they always reflect the society and culture they come out of. And Scottish writer James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney is very much a product of mid-Victorian Britain. So, to understand Varney we need to understand when and where he first made his appearance.

And to understand that, we need to go back to Britain in the 1840s, the era of the “penny bloods” and a time when public violence was a routine part of life.

Varney the Vampire cover

Don’t forget your tickets for the WTTE Live show on 15th November, with the wonderful Shedunnit podcast. More details here


Dr Jarlath Killeen is Associate Professor of Victorian Literature, and Head of the School of English, at Trinity College Dublin. You can read his full bio here but, among his extensive publications, here are a few that overlap with the this week’s episode:

Victorian Gothic Pulp Fiction’, The Victorian Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion, eds. Andrew Smith and William Hughes. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012, pp. 43-56.

The Emergence of Irish Gothic Fiction: History, Texts, Theories. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013.

Gothic Literature, 1824-1914. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, June 2009

‘Introduction: Remembering Stoker’, Bram Stoker: Centenary Essays. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2013, pp. 15-36.

Works Mentioned & Further Reading

James Malcolm Rymer: Varney the Vampire (full text)

Samuel Haughton and the “standard drop” method of hanging

The String of Pearls (featuring Sweeney Todd)

Penny Dreadful (TV series)

John Polidori: The Vampyre

Mary Shelley: Frankenstein

There’s a very good article on Varney here and here’s a Guardian list of the top 10 vampire books (including Varney of course!). The British Library has lots of penny bloods and penny dreadfuls in its collection. Here’s a short article on them

Check out the Murder One Festival


Music this week was by the excellent Irish band Overhead, the Albatross. You can check out and download their music here. And the wonderful 3epkano, whose music you can listen to and download here

Track Listings

Overhead, The Albatross (Learning to Growl) ‘Indie Rose’, ‘Paroxysm’, ‘Bara’, and ‘Daeku’

3epkano (Hans the Reluctant Wolf Juggler) ‘Haxon Haxoff’

Thunder sound effect was “Heavy Thunder Strike” from

For more popular culture monsters try this episode on zombies or this one on mummies.

For more murder and death check out Episode 20 on domestic noir crime fiction.

If you enjoy the episode and want to find out how to support the show then click here for more information.

Support the show on Patreon (Varney the Vampire)
Join the WTTE community!

Have you read Varney in its entirety!? Let me know in the comments below or check out the Words To That Effect Facebook Page or on Instagram too!

HeadStuff (WTTE Ep36 - Varney the Vampire)

Words To That Effect is a member of the Headstuff Podcast Network. Check out a whole host of great Irish podcasts here


Full transcripts will be available shortly

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