Tag Archives: Gothic Novels

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:

The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole

I was inspired to read Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto after coming across an article about Strawberry Hill and Walpole’s cultural legacy. I couldn’t resist the temptation of reading ‘the first gothic novel’, especially as it’s under 100 pages and out of copyright – available for free.

Written in 1764, The Castle of Otranto tells the story of Manfred, lord of the castle, and the strange events that occur to him and his family starting on the day that his son Conrad is due to be married to the princess Isabella. Shortly before the wedding, a giant helmet falls on Conrad and crushes him to death. (Yes, you did read that correctly!) Manfred seems mostly concerned that the death of his only son means an end to his line because he believes that his wife Hippolita has failed to bear him a proper heir and is unlikely to provide another. A bizarre chain of events is set off with Manfred chasing his son’s fiance Isabella who he now wants to marry and bear a new heir with, then enters the heroic Theodore, a peasant who leads Isabella to sanctuary at a church and who turns out to have a hidden birthright. After this follows a series of confrontations and various tragic and untimely deaths.

What is the reason for the strange supernatural helmet? Is the family cursed? What on earth is going on!? These were the questions running through my head as I read this totally mad work of fiction. As the prelude to my edition pointed out, you do have to bear in mind that the book is set in medieval times when people believed in magic and supernatural events, but even so the best way that I can describe the story is that it is like some kind of crazy melodramatic soap opera. A sort of period version of Sunset Beach (a 90’s TV show known for it’s outrageous storylines).

Did I enjoy it? Yes, from the point of view that it is a curiosity. At times I found the story jumped around and it is a quite confusing, but it is certainly atmospheric and entertaining, if a bit silly. I can also appreciate it from the point of view that it is so original and imaginative and if it is true that it is the first gothic novel I am grateful to it for inspiring those that followed. I might have to make that visit to Strawberry Hill and see where the author of this crazy story lived… I didn’t feel that it was an amazing work of literature but it was an unusual and mind-bending read!

My rating:

5 out of 10

Have you read The Castle of Otranto? Can you recommend any good gothic novels?