Published in 1872, Carmilla predates Bram Stoker’s Dracula, by 25 years, and is the account of a young woman named Laura who unwittingly becomes susceptible to the attentions of a female vampire.
While thinking of a book choice for the November Novella Challenge II, I remembered that I had downloaded this Gothic Novella on my iPhone (Eucalyptus App) and so decided to read the book that influenced Dracula and countless lesbian vampire films!
I found Carmilla to be written in an easy and engaging style. Le Fanu makes good use of description to create atmosphere and form images in the reader’s mind but doesn’t divert too much from the plot which progresses at a good pace. I was quite enchanted by one description of the landscape of Styria (in Austria) where the story is set:
“We sat down on a rude bench, under a group of magnificent lime trees. The sun was setting with all its melancholy splendor behind the sylvan horizon, and the stream that flows beside our home and passes under the steep old bridge I have mentioned, wound through many a group of noble trees, almost at our feet, reflecting in its current the fading crimson of the sky.”
While most people now would not consider Carmilla to be a frightening story it does have an eerie creeping atmosphere and Le Fanu creates intrigue by dropping hints (not always subtle) about the danger that threatens Laura along the way, like the fact that a friend’s daughter has recently died in strange circumstances.
“The fiend who betrayed our infatuated hospitality has done it all.”
There is a heavily suggested sexual dynamic between Laura and Carmilla, which adds a more disturbing dimension to the story. The vampire, who takes pleasure in prolonging full possession of her victim, is grooming Laura. While Carmilla seems almost in love with Laura at times, it becomes apparent as the book goes on that the passion that she displays is a result of her lust for blood.
“Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering…”
Carmilla is definitely worth reading if you are at all interested in the gothic genre. It is a much better story than The Castle of Otranto (which I read a few months ago), because it has the right balance between being melodramatic in parts and also well written. It is also a much quicker read than Dracula if you fancy curling up for an afternoon and devouring (excuse the pun) a vampire story in one sitting.
Have you read any novels that you would recommend in the gothic genre?
If you are interested in the November Novella Challenge you can find details by clicking on the lovely button below: