Friday, November 23, 2012

Review: CARMILLA by J. Sheridan le Fanu

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1872

Genre: Gothic

Topics: vampires, homosexuality


Once upon a time, there was a young girl named Laura who lived in a beautiful castle in the middle of a vast and enchanted forest. Even though she had everything she could possibly want, she was very lonely, for her mother had died when she was a baby and she had only her father and governess to keep her company. Then one day there was a carriage accident in front of the castle, and a young woman named Carmilla came to stay with them, and Laura was happy--until Carmilla started sucking her blood.

Carmilla is the third Victorian vampire novel I've read in the space of a month, and wow... I really need a break. Not that Carmilla is bad, mind--I actually enjoyed it a lot more than either Dracula (review here) or Varney the Vampire (review here). For one thing, it was a lot shorter than either of those two novels. For another, it was also a lot creepier. But there's only so much sexual double-speak a girl can take. And I thought Dracula was bad! Take a gander at this paragraph from early in 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 ardour 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 travelled 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".
Uh, yeah. How's it going, female Edward Cullen? Naturally, since Laura is a clueless innocent wergin, she's just like, "Welllllll, that was weird," and then moves on. One gets the sense that if she knew ANY OTHER females her own age, she'd be avoiding Carmilla. But the suggestion of lesbianism is pretty outre in Carmilla, way more so than in Dracula between Lucy and Mina. The excessive framing was also a little trying.

Aside from that, though, there's a fairy tale tone to Carmilla that makes it particularly creepy. Perhaps because it gives the impression of being targeted toward young girls, or maybe J. Sheridan le Fanu was simply better at setting a scene than Bram Stoker was; either way, Carmilla definitely conveys the sense of a romantic tale gone wrong.

Overall I think Carmilla is definitely worth checking out, especially if you've read Dracula. You can definitely see where Stoker "drew inspiration from" this book (Stoker was totally the EL James of his time). I kind of wish I'd read it before Dracula; but in any case it was pretty good, even though it lost me at the end with the vampire-detecting doctor.

Download Carmilla by J. Sheridan le Fanu from Librivox|Project Gutenberg