Carmilla: who precedes Dracula

Carmilla_SheridanLeFanu

Carmilla is a gothic novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu from 1872, before Stoker’s Dracula saw the light.

Laura lives in Styria, she’s the nineteen girl who tells the story. She lives with her father in an isolated castle when Carmilla becomes a part of their lives.

Carmilla looks like a sweet, shy and a little weird girl, pale complexion and weak constitution, but she actually is a vampire. It’s implied that Laura is her next victim, but Carmilla also shows love for the girl and draws out her death instead of killing her in a few days.

Laura is attracted by Carmilla, but in her innocence and naivety she doesn’t often understand what Carmilla’s affections mean. Although Carmilla’s declarations are sometimes very explicit.

Recently this book has been reviewed by two feminist (?) women and criticised for not being enough daring. They wished the book were more brave in challenging the closed mentality of the time and more open about homosexuality. They also said that, contrary to what some people think, Le Fanu shows homosexuality in a very negative way: the lesbian is the monster and has to die.

I don’t agree. First of all, Le Fanu is pretty explicit in his book. Laura might be naive and not understand Carmilla’s declarations, but what the vampire says is clear. “I have been in love with no one, and never shall, unless it should be with you” – pretty clear to me.

Second issue: in 1872 it wasn’t exactly easy to write a book with gay characters. Yet, Le Fanu has and I don’t think Carmilla needed to die because she was a lesbian, I think in his mind she needed to die because she was a vampire. I could maybe agree if you told me that she was lesbian because even as a vampire she was a female, and as such she couldn’t have killed a man – it would have been shameful for a man to be taken down by a woman – so her victims had to be females, and, since vampires are seducers, she was a lesbian. But I don’t believe she had to die for being a lesbian.

 

The book is very short, no more than a hundred pages, and easy to read, although written in old English, the story is told by Laura’s point of view and full of wonderful choices of words. I recommend it greatly, it is one of my favourites among old Gothic stories.

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