Carmilla is the title character and one of the main characters in J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 story Carmilla.
Plot Summary Edit
As a child in Victorian times, Laura woke in her room to find a young woman at the end of her bed. This woman, described as beautiful and soothing, climbed into bed with Laura. She comforts Laura until she feels piercing in her breast and cries out for help. The woman scurries underneath the bed and cannot be found by Laura’s nursery maids. This encounter is brushed off as a vivid dream by the adults in Laura’s life.
In the present, Laura is awaiting the arrival of her father’s friend’s (the General’s) daughter to arrive at their house only to discover she has been murdered. Laura is heartbroken until her a carriage crashes near their house. The eldest lady reveals that she needs to find a place to care for her daughter who was left unconscious due to the accident (a young woman who is about Laura’s age) to stay while she attends to urgent business. Laura’s father offers their home for the young lady and they quickly agree before the she leaves. The young woman, Carmilla, awakes after the crash confused and nervous about her unknown surroundings but quickly adapts to her new surroundings and acquaintances. It is revealed that Carmilla, in her present age and form, was the woman Laura had dreamed about as a young child, and Carmilla describes a dream of her own involving Laura as she is now as well. The two swiftly become inseparable and they develop a friendship and romantic feelings for each other. Carmilla, initially, makes Laura uncomfortable with her advances but Laura never rejects them because she is undeniably intrigued by this mysterious woman. Carmilla holds the power in this relationship and has no problem enforcing that authority when needed.
As time passes, girls near their castle starts to fall ill and then Laura starts to feel ill as well. Laura's illness started to manifest after she experiences some strange dreams and a visit from a black cat. One day the General shows up after dealing with the terrible circumstances of his daughter’s death. He then reveals that Carmilla is a vampire and killed his daughter after Carmilla had stayed with them and his daughter started to become ill. When The General sees Carmilla enter the church that he, Laura, and Laura’s father are in and charges at her with a hatchet. In reaction Carmilla transforms and reveals her true nature to Laura and those surrounding. Eventually, The General and Laura's father hunt down Carmilla's coffin and kills her by means of a wooden stake to the heart and beheading. At the end of the tale, Laura speaks about how she still thinks back on Carmilla, sometimes in her monstrous form but other times as the beautiful, whimsical woman that endlessly fascinated her. She even hears her footsteps sometimes.
Challenging Gender and Sexuality Stereotypes Edit
Carmilla is the original character depicting a lesbian, female vampire which has since become a widely used trope in the genre. Holly Furneaux’s article describes the labels of homosexuality and heterosexuality being invented in the Victorian era, however that also meant that people had a specific label to oppose. Carmilla marked the start of an era for lesbian and female vampires in the genre. Carmilla defies social constructs with her sexuality; her sexual attitude towards Laura is the story's main evidence however it has been speculated that she has used this feature as an advantage in preying on other victims. The story of Carmilla has been adapted several times in various sources of media and has been used as a model for other females in the Vampire genre such as Elvira, Vampirella, Vampire Diaries characters, and (although she is not a vampire,) Buffy. Carmilla has also been able to make waves for LGBTQ representation in the vampire genre along with Lord Byron, author of The Vampyre.
Carmilla and Dracula (1897) Similarities Edit
Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu was published in 1872 and Dracula by Bram Stoker was published in 1897. Carmilla paved the way for Dracula and share many different ideas and motifs (1). The similarities that are apparent are the style that both novels are written, the occult doctors, vampire bait’s innocence, and lesbian suggestions.
Firstly, both are written in the first person point of view (2). Laura, the narrator of Carmilla, tells her story as if she is having a conversation with some unknown person that the audience is unaware of. While Dracula is told in the first person point of view through multiple narrators that each relate their portions of the story through letters or journal entries. The style of first person leaves the audience with only having the knowledge that the narrators do, which forces the audiences to come to their own conclusions.
The doctors, or experts in vampirism, that are called in to aid the girls that are being victimized by the vampires are also a common thread within the two stories (3). In Carmilla this character was Baron Vordenburg who suggests to Laura’s father that there was a vampire around them and that he needed to send his daughter to a priest. In Dracula this character was Van Helsing who aids the Lucy, Mina, and their men in the fight against Dracula as his preys upon both young women.
Furthermore, the women targeted in Carmilla and Dracula share similar characteristics (1). They are both innocent, attractive, and otherwise unrevealed to the world. These women are Laura and Mina. Laura is unaccounted to the outside world and often comments about how isolated she has been throughout her whole life. This confirms her innocence and the descriptions of her confirm her beauty. Mina, on the other hand, is also described as attractive and it is suggested that she innocent through Jonathon’s descriptions of her.
A major overtone in Carmilla is lesbian attraction and sexuality in the relationship between Laura and Carmilla (2). Dracula has less of a lesbian factor and the bit that is there centers around the relationship between Mina and Lucy. In Carmilla, Carmilla pays special attention to Laura and often embraces and kisses. Laura, at first, is uncomfortable by these actions, but further along in the story is mentions how excitable and pleasurable these interactions are. In the case of Mina and Lucy there are not overt examples like this, but there is a deep friendship that conveys love. These stories have lesbianism threads that center around the encounters of the main female characters.
Dracula and Carmilla both features strong, persuasive, and diabolical vampires. In many ways Carmilla paved the way for Dracula, but the most obvious is through several of the characters like the vampire experts and the female victims.