Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

3.5 stars3.5/5

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.

Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

112 pages, Downloaded via the Eucalyptus App for iPhone (Picture is from the 2000 Prime Classics Library edition).

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:

12 responses to “Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

  1. Oh, I have never heard of this author or this book before so I was intrigued by this post straight away. It sounds very different from the current vampire novels that seem to be flying (do you see what I did there) around and selling loads of copies. I loved Dracula and the fact this predates that… and is short seems so it could be a rather different little vampy read.

  2. I have had this book on my list of books-I-need-to-buy for ages (it’s sort of nestled inbetween 5 thousand others in the same category ;)). I really like the sound of it and Le Fanu is supposed to be the master of gothic.

    Great review, Polly.

    • Ah yes, the 5 thousand-strong need to buy book list! I hadn’t heard of Le Fanu until I downloaded this, but I definitely enjoyed discovering his writing.

  3. I read this when I was going through my gothic reading phase and remember all the different anagrams of the name Carmilla that seemed to appear in the novel. Talking of gothic novels, have your Matthew Lewis’ The Monk? And what about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?

    • I have read Frankenstein (a long long time again) but haven’t read The Monk which only recently floated across my radar and has already been added to my wishlist!

  4. Glad you enjoyed this one, Polly! Carmilla is deliciously melodramatic and I loved it that.

    I second The Monk and also The Italian by Ann Radcliffe. I love Gothic reads for their over-the-topness.

  5. Huh…I wonder if part of the creepiness was supposed to be that it was about two women, and the Victorians disliked both women and sex.

  6. I’ve heard so much about this book recently. As someone interested in women’s studies, Victorian literature, and gothic books I’m really interested in reading it–even more after your review. I’ll have add this to my novella list!

  7. Pingback: Novel Insights’ November Review | Novel Insights

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