By Sheridan Le Fanu
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Carmilla is a classic horror and Gothic novella by Sheridan Le Fanu. First published in 1872, Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla 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.
The vampire story Carmilla is presented by Sheridan 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 is six years old, Laura has 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…
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Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu: 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, 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.
Carmilla selected exclusively female victims, though only became emotionally involved with a few. Carmilla had nocturnal habits, but was not confined to the darkness. She had unearthly beauty and was able to change her form and to pass through solid walls. Her animal alter ego was a monstrous black cat, not a large dog as in Dracula. She did, however, sleep in a coffin… (Summary by Wikipedia)
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