Carmilla is a Gothic novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu . First published in 1872, it tells the story of a young woman's susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire named Carmilla. Carmilla predates Bram Stoker 's Dracula by 25 years, and has been adapted many times for cinema.
Carmilla was first published in the magazine The Dark Blue in late 1871 and early 1872 and then in the author's collection of short stories In a Glass Darkly in the latter year.
There were two illustrators for the story, who's work appeared in the magazine but does not appear in modern printings of the book. The two illustrators, David Henry Friston and Michael Fitzgerald, show some inconsistencies in their depiction of the characters, and as a result some confusion has arisen in relating the pictures to the story's continuous plot.
The story is presented by Le Fanu as part of the casebook of Dr. Hesselius, whose departures from medical orthodoxy rank him as the first occult doctor in literature. The story is narrated by Laura, one of the two main protagonists of the tale.
Laura begins her tale by relating her childhood in a "picturesque and solitary" castle in the midst of an extensive forest in Styria, where she lives with her father, a wealthy English widower, retired from the Austrian Service. When she was six years old, Laura had a vision of a beautiful visitor in her bedchamber. She later claims to have been bitten on the chest, although no wounds are found on her.
12 years later, Laura and her father are admiring the sunset in front of the castle when her father tells her of a letter he received earlier from his friend, General Spielsdorf. The General was supposed to bring his niece, Bertha Rheinfeldt, to visit the two, but the niece suddenly died under mysterious circumstances. The General ambiguously concludes that he will discuss the circumstances in detail when they meet later.
Laura is saddened by the loss of a potential friend, and longs for a companion. A carriage accident outside Laura's home unexpectedly brings a girl of Laura's age into the family's care. Her name is Carmilla. Both girls instantly recognize the other from the "dream" they both had when they were young.
Carmilla appears injured after her carriage accident, but her mysterious mother informs Laura's father that her journey is urgent and cannot be delayed. She arranges to leave her daughter with Laura and her father until she can return in three months. Before she leaves, she sternly notes that her daughter will not disclose any information whatsoever about her family, past or herself, and that Carmilla is of sound mind. Laura comments that this information seems needless to say, and her father laughs it off.
Carmilla and Laura grow to be very close friends, but occasionally Carmilla's mood abruptly changes. She sometimes makes unsettling romantic advances towards Laura. Carmilla refuses to tell anything about herself or her background, despite questioning from Laura. Her secrecy isn't the only mysterious thing about her. Carmilla sleeps much of the day, and seems to sleepwalk at night. When a funeral procession passes by the two girls and Laura begins singing a hymn, Carmilla bursts out in rage and scolds Laura for singing a Christian song. When a shipment of family heirloom restored portraits arrives at the castle, Laura finds one of her ancestors, "Mircalla, Countess Karnstein", dated 1698. The portrait resembles Carmilla exactly, down to the mole on her neck.
During Carmilla's stay, Laura has nightmares of a fiendish cat-like beast entering her room at night and biting her on the chest. The beast then takes the form of a female figure and disappears through the door without opening it. Laura's health declines and her father has a doctor examine her. He speaks privately with her father and only asks that Laura never be left unattended.
Her father then sets out with Laura in a carriage for the ruined village of Karnstein. They leave a message behind asking Carmilla and one of the governesses entreated to follow after once the perpetually late-sleeping Carmilla wakes up. En route to Karnstein, Laura and her father encounter General Spielsdorf. He tells them his own ghastly story.
Spielsdorf and his niece had met a young woman named Millarca and her enigmatic mother at a costume ball. The General's niece was immediately taken with Millarca. The mother convinced the General that she was an old friend of his and asked that Millarca be allowed to stay with them for three weeks while she attended to a secret matter of great importance.The General's niece fell mysteriously ill and suffered exactly the same symptoms as Laura. After consulting with a priestly doctor who he had specially ordered, the General came to the realization that his niece was being visited by a vampire. He hid in a closet with a sword and waited until seeing a fiendish cat-like creature stalk around his niece's bedroom and bite her on the neck. He then leapt from his hiding place and attacked the beast, which took the form of Millarca. She fled through the locked door, unharmed. The General's niece died immediately afterward.
When they arrive at Karnstein, the General asks a nearby woodsman where he can find the tomb of Mircalla Karnstein. The woodsman relates that the tomb was relocated long ago by the hero who vanquished the vampires that haunted the region.
While the General and Laura are left alone in the ruined chapel, Carmilla appears. The General and Carmilla both fly into a rage upon seeing each other and the General attacks her with an axe. Carmilla flees and the General explains to Laura that Carmilla is also Millarca, both anagrams for the original name of the vampire Countess Mircalla Karnstein.
The party is then joined by Baron Vordenburg, the descendant of the hero who rid the area of vampires long ago. Vordenburg is an authority on vampires and has discovered that his ancestor was romantically involved with the Countess Karnstein, before she died and became one of the undead. Using his forefather's notes, he locates the hidden tomb of Carmilla. An imperial commission is then summoned, who exhume and destroy the body of the vampire on behalf of the ruling Habsburg Monarchy, within whose domains Styria is situated.
Afterwards, Laura's father takes her on a year-long vacation to recover from the trauma and regain her health.
As with Dracula, critics have looked for the sources used in the writing of the text. Matthew Gibson proposes that Le Fanu used Dom Augustin Calmet's Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des demons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie, et de Silesie (1746), which was first anonymously translated into English in a single volume in 1759 as Dissertations Upon the Apparitions of Angels, Daemons, and Ghosts, and Concerning the Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia, and later translated into English in 1850 in two volumes as The phantom world, or, The philosophy of spirits, apparitions, &c. Gibson also believes that the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould's The Book of Were-wolves (1863), and his account of Elizabeth Báthory, Coleridge's Christabel, and Captain Basil Hall's Schloss Hainfeld; or a Winter in Lower Styria (London and Edinburgh, 1836) are other sources for Le Fanu's work. Hall's account provides much of the Styrian background and in particular a model for both Carmilla and Laura in the figure of Jane Anne Cranstoun, Countess Purgstall.
Carmilla, the title character, is the original prototype for a legion of female and lesbian vampires. Though Le Fanu portrays his vampire's sexuality with the circumspection that one would expect for his time, it is evident that lesbian attraction is the main dynamic between Carmilla and the narrator of the story:
|“||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 overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever".||”|
Some critics, among them William Veeder, suggest that Carmilla, notably in its outlandish use of narrative frames, was an important influence on Henry James' The Turn of the Screw.
Bram Stoker's DraculaEdit
Although Carmilla is a lesser known and far shorter Gothic vampire story than the generally-considered master work of that genre, Dracula, the latter is heavily influenced by Le Fanu's novella.
In the earliest manuscript of Dracula, dated 8 March 1890, the castle is set in Styria, although the setting was changed to Transylvania six days later. Stoker's posthumously published short story "Dracula's Guest", known as the deleted first chapter to Dracula, shows a more obvious and intact debt to "Carmilla": Both stories are told in the first person. Dracula expands on the idea of a first person account by creating a series of journal entries and logs of different persons and creating a plausible background story for them having been compiled. Stoker also indulges the air of mystery further than Le Fanu by allowing the characters to solve the enigma of the vampire along with the reader.
The descriptions of Carmilla and the character of Lucy in Dracula are similar, and have become archetypes for the appearance of the waif-like victims and seducers in vampire stories as being rosy-cheeked, slender, languid, and with large eyes, full lips and soft voices. Both women also sleepwalk.
Stoker's Dr. Abraham Van Helsing is a direct parallel to Le Fanu's vampire expert Baron Vordenburg: both characters used to investigate and catalyse actions in opposition to the vampire, and symbolically represent knowledge of the unknown and stability of mind in the onslaught of chaos and death.