Historical context of Le Fanu’s Carmilla

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was published in 1871 and was one of the first-ever documented works of vampires. The gothic novella even predates Bram Stokers Dracula by more than a quarter of a century. The novella was originally published in a scholarly magazine, The Dark Blue, However, the story was so popular that it was published as its own independent novella.  The story has also been made into numerous films and has gained much recognition from other media outlets.

The story is told from the protagonist perspective, Laura. The vampire character of the story, Carmilla, is a homosexual vampire. Laura meets Carmilla in her early 20s when there is carriage accident involving Carmilla and her mother outside of Laura’s castle. During Carmilla’s stay with the family, Laura learns the truth about Carmilla from General Spielsdorf, whose niece died after a visit from Carmilla. A stake is driven through Carmilla’s heart and her body is beheaded. Laura and her father tour Italy the following year to recover from the tragedy. Although the plot of the novel is intended to be frightening, it also carries profound references and metaphors for sexuality, gender and acceptance in modern society.

It is believed that Le Fanu drew inspiration from various sources when drafting his novella. The most primary one being from Dom Augustin Calmet’s A dissertatiation on magic, vampires and the apparition of spirits, along with other literary works such as Schloss Hainfeild written by Captain Basil Hall and the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould’s The book of Were-wolves.

La Fanu’s depiction of Carmilla as a lesbian vampire inspired a culture for many other folktales to portray vampires as homosexual females. The novella also influenced what is argued to be one of the most famous vampire stories of all time, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Carmilla has influenced lesser-known forms of media sources as well such as comics, films, books, music, periodicals, radio, television, video games and more.

In Class Sources:

Le Fanu's Carmilla

Bram Stokers Dracula

Victorian Sexualities by Holly Ferneaux

Outside sources:

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