Varney the Vampire or The Feast of Blood was a mid-Victorian era gothic horror story by James Malcolm Rymer (alternatively attributed to Thomas Preskett Prest), which first appeared 1845-47 in a series of pamphlets generally referred to as penny dreadfuls because of their inexpensive price and typically gruesome contents. It was published in book form in 1847. It is of epic length: the original edition runs to 868 double columned pages divided into 220 chapters. It has a distinctly suspenseful style, using vivid imagery to describe the horrifying exploits of Varney.
Despite its inconsistencies, Varney the Vampire is more or less a cohesive whole, utilizing or introducing many themes and conventions recognizable to modern audiences. Like Sidney Paget's illustrations of Sherlock Holmes, the work of the unknown artist who illustrated Varney is memorable and atmospheric.
Later developments in the story, however, suggest that Varney is motivated by pecuniary interests. The story is at times confusing, as if the author didn't know whether to make the protagonist an actual vampire or just a human that acts like one. Varney bears a strong resemblance to a portrait in Bannerworth Hall, and the implication is that he is one Marmaduke Bannerworth, but that connection is never cleared up. He is portrayed as loathing his condition, but at one point he turns Clara Crofton, a member of another family he terrorizes, into a vampire as revenge. Varney is presented sympathetically, a victim of circumstances. He tries to save himself but is unable and ultimately commits suicide by throwing himself into Mount Vesuvius, after having left a written account of his origin with a sympathetic priest. According to Varney, he was cursed with vampirism after betraying a royalist to Oliver Cromwell and accidentally killing his own son afterwards in a fit of anger, although he 'dies' and is revived several times in the course of his career. This afforded the author a variety of 'origin' stories, including one in which a medical student (Dr. Chillingworth) applies galvanism to Varney's hanged corpse and revives him.
This is also the first example of the "sympathetic vampire," a vampire who loathes his condition but is nonetheless a slave to it. This archetype has been widely exemplified, notably by such characters as the vampire Louis in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, Barnabas Collins in the TV soap opera Dark Shadows, Kain in Legacy Of Kain and Angel from the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The makers of Marvel Comics were also influenced by this story. In the fictional world of the Marvel Universe, "Varnae" is the name of the first vampire, created by the people of Atlantis before the sinking of that continent