Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu (1872)
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror September 10, 2013
Bram Stoker was an inspired writer but LeFenu’s Carmilla, the first female lesbian vampire in literature, was Stoker’s inspiration to write Dracula. You’ll find Lucy and Carmilla strikingly similar.
Our narrator, Laura, is a dreamy and lonely young woman, living with her father in a castle in the thick forests of Styria, Austria, complete with drawbridge, swans, water lilies, and a Gothic chapel. Laura’s mother, a Styrian lady, dies during Laura’s infancy, leaving Laura longing for female companionship. As a child, Laura dreams of a beautiful woman appearing at her bedside. Comforted by this lady, Laura drifts into sleep again, only to waken to the sensation of two needles piercing her chest.
The dream haunts Laura for twelve years. Until one day, she meets a woman named Carmilla, whom she recognizes as the beautiful woman in her dream. Immediately, they bond a friendship.
Laura dreams again but this time the beautiful woman is a sooty-black animal that resembles a monstrous cat at her bedside. Terrified, poor Laura cannot even cry out. Until the stinging pain of two sharp needles thrust deep into her breast.
This is no dream. Reality sets in. Laura becomes obsessed with the enigmatic Carmilla. How can Laura resist Carmilla’s languid and burning eyes, or her whispers, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever.”
Quite the sinister seduction! Fear, desire, and vampire-hunting bring this story to a thrilling conclusion, which is more quiet horror than our modern-day lust-for-blood-splatter vampire story endings.
Please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this unusual story.
Read the short story at Gutenberg.org (The short story is divided into sixteen short chapters). http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10007/10007-h/10007-h.htm
Or, if you prefer a film adaptation, Nightmare Classics has a 1989 American pre-Civil War version (Southern plantation-style) with Meg Tilly, Ione Skye, and Roddy McDowell in four parts (total time 55 minutes).
The film contains dreamy atmospherics with a fairytale tone. Part Three has a sensual scene in the night forest where Carmilla is sucking at her lover’s neck, while floating through the misted air—which I thought was artfully done. But this is still a B-grade movie and I doubt LeFanu would be pleased with the adaptation.
Part One http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTgkwp3ivv4
Part Two http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqSu9hslWgQ
Part Three http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPhCDF6EhwA
Part Four http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=27Hfl3kHlC8
Listen to Carmilla, an narrated adaptation by Night Fall (30 minutes)
Listen to Carmilla, a dramatization by BBC (45 minutes) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hjRGYAGlIE
And here’s a web site specifically for vampire stories: DragonBytes.com
If you are a GoodReads member, check out Werner Lind’s fascinating review and discussion of Carmilla: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/18368275
Other Reading Web Sites to Visit
For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed
6 responses to “Dreaming a Lesbian Vampire”
Yes, a very fine story. Beautifully written.
Thank you, Charles, for your comment. I had to read this story twice to really savor some of the prose that was so striking.
I read this recently and felt it was almost a prototype. I read a lot of Gothic fiction as an undergraduate and most of it is disappointing by modern standards, with the exception of Frankenstein and later Dracula. I recently also read Stoker’s Lair of the White Worm and was very disappointed; seemed almost by another, lesser author.
Hi Viv, Sometimes I too am disappointed with the modern Gothic and horror fiction. There seems to be an overstatement of action these days. The classic stories have more understated prose and tease at the imagination far better, hence my preference. Of course, Frankenstein and Dracula are masterpieces.
You are right that this stands out in vampire fiction, especially for 19th century literature. LeFanu certainly must have shocked the Puritan contemporaries in America. His prose is tastefully written, though.
I read this a few years ago, and while it was good, I felt like some of the description was overdone. I did feel some of the scenes were delightfully creep and it definitely stands out as a pioneer work in vampire fiction.