I love this story more than I should. I have a weakness for period fiction, for slowly building horror and most of all — vampires that scare people. I loved Dracula, but it took me two attempts to get past the narrative format and into the story (disclaimer: now I love Dracula and its narrative format). Carmilla I loved from the very start.
If you’ve already read it, you probably don’t need me to tell you how awesome it is. If you don’t, and you enjoy classic vampires, do yourself a favor and read it! If you are undecided, here, let me tell you why this is one of my all-time favourite vampire stories, even ten plus years after I read it for the first time (also it’s free!).
Carmilla is a really strong story. Strong enough, that within a couple of pages, I forget that I am reading a Victorian story and am simply engrossed. The reason for this is the power of the emotion expressed, in particular the open and unabashed sexuality of the central character, Carmilla, which, when directed towards her victim, Laura, adds a strange layer of intensity to the slowly dawning horror of Laura’s plight.
Although one of the earliest works of vampire fiction, it is also one of the most complex. Carmilla is a scheming predator, but her affection for Laura is not feigned. It leaves many questions unanswered. Modern readers are more familiar with the tropes of supernatural fiction and will recognize Carmilla for what she is immediately. However, the slow progression of the characters understanding of the threat that Carmilla poses is chilling, scary in a way that a lot of modern vampire fiction is not. Finally, Carmilla herself is a fascinating character.
It is really interesting that this story was written by a man in 1871 (Dracula was published in 1897, The Well of Lonelieness 1928). Associating ‘deviant female sexuality’ with his inhuman heroine might have allowed Sheridan Le Fanu to explore avenues that would otherwise have been closed. For me, I think that one of the most interesting aspects the story has is its impact on its narrator, Laura. Her brush with the vampire has a profound impact on the rest of her life. Although ‘rescued’ from Carmilla, and expressing unease with Carmilla’s physical demonstrations of affection, Laura can’t deny an attraction to her guest and remains single for the rest of her (short) life. Maybe this was Sheridan pandering to the moral expectations of his critics — or maybe he realized that people can’t live in denial of who they are. Either way, Laura’s confusion and doubt read very realistically to me, even across 140 odd years of distance, and keep me coming back to this story again and again.
Read Carmilla for free online:
Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10007
Public Bookshelf http://www.publicbookshelf.com/vampire/carmilla/