‘And then we be cannibals … or vampires’: From Vampires to Vegetarianism in J.M. Rymer’s Penny Bloods
This essay examines the bestselling popular novelist James Malcolm Rymer’s engagement with the idea of vegetarianism, a dietary system that in the 1840s was garnering unprecedented interest as an ideology, a community-shaping practice, and an ethos. Firstly, Rymer was surely aware of the vegetarian movement. Secondly, Rymer’s two most famous and enduring penny fiction serials, Varney, the Vampyre (1845-6) and The String of Pearls (1846-7) demonstrate an interest in dietary preference as ethics by representing their monsters as vegetarian-like vampires. In Varney, the eponymous vampyre appears a model of dietary restraint and of toleration for the different dietary ethics of others, but he consumes human bodies in a different way: on the marriage market. In Rymer’s two masterworks of penny fiction, vegetarian ethics as filtered through the vampire tradition produces a social critique of Britain’s human economy.