The series features a vampire, Sir Francis Varney, and his attacks on a family called the Bannerworths. Varney's motivation for troubling the Bannerworths was never entirely clear, nor was the cause of his death, or the circumstances of his revival, allowing the author to engage in various tales about how a corpse was reanimated. As the story progresses, the reader learns that Varney was cursed with vampirism after betraying royalist to Oliver Cromwell and accidentally killing his son in a fit of rage. Eventually, the reader grows sympathetic and partakes of Varney's misery. Finally, Varney, unhappy about his condition, throws himself into a volcano and disappears.
Varney introduced several important features to vampire stories, many of which have become staples of horror fiction up to the present day. He has supernatural powers, is able to hypnotize people, has prominent fangs which he uses to bite the victim and to drink their blood. He also leaves two small punctures on the skin. He does not fear garlic and walks freely in the daylight. Although he can drink and eat regular food, it provides him no nurture. It is only when hungry that he manifests vampire behaviour.
Most important of all is the fact that Varney is able to provoke pity in the reader. Varney is aware of his condition and this makes the reader understand his vampire fate. Finally, and even though religion condemns suicide, the reader partakes the decision of Varney to commit suicide as a means to end up with his misery. The reader observes Varney as an outcast, as an observer forever cursed to not fit in society and nature due to his sin. In this sense, Varney is the precursor of today's "sympathetic" vampire, which nowadays excites so much interest in romantic horror fiction.