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Book Review Of The First Vampire Novella 'Carmilla'

Updated on August 30, 2019
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Working towards a Bachelor of Arts, Simran writes articles on modern history, art theory, religion, mythology, and analyses of texts.


Carmilla: Critical Edition (Irish Studies)

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Editor: Kathleen Costell-Sullivan

Syracuse University Press




The story of Carmilla (1872) is a Gothic novella written by Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Carmilla was one of, if not the first example of vampire fiction in Europe.


Carmilla is an engaging novella presenting itself as one of the hallmarks of gothic fiction and birthed the idea of vampire fiction along with representations of the prototypical lesbian vampire. Due to mature themes such as violence, the text seems to be intended for the young adult to the adult audience. While there are no overly intimate scenes, there is inappropriate intent portrayed in Carmilla's words. After all, she is a vampire who preys on vulnerable young women.

The text is broken into sixteen chapters and written with formal language. Illustrations are peppered within the novella, adding to the overall gothic vibe of the story.

The Real Inspiration Behind Dracula: Carmilla


Upon reading the novella, several reasons struck me as to how the text kept me hooked on its poetic, formal language up until the end. The readability of the story allowed for a continuous flow which made reading it feel like passing down a river. The author’s ability to keep truths held captive by suspense is what made me want to continue flowing down this river.

The supernatural interweaves with the mundanity of the characters’ everyday lives. For example, the loneliness of the protagonist, Laura and her desire for companionship is a common and mundane aspect of the human experience. This void is filled with the supernatural: her relationship with Carmilla. The relationship between both concepts provides a strong comment of the human desire for the mystical to cope with the boredom of mundanity. This tempts many to become as curious just as Laura seeks to understand her connection with Carmilla.

The novella enlightened me as to where tropes of vampiric literature once began. The main trope which piqued my interest is the predatory aspect of the vampire as portrayed by Carmilla’s characterisation.

along with its overwhelmingly passionate, romantic aspect is a trope which is prevalent in vampire fiction. A simple assessment of Carmilla's characterisation highlights what began this trope.

Her portrayal similar to the archetypical sociopathic serial killer who preys on beautiful women: she’s charming, she’s irresistible and enraptured by the passionate, romantic gestures which come from her, there is an abundance of red flags the victims ignore.

Main character Laura is binary opposite to Carmilla. Laura is characterized as an innocent, sheltered 'good girl' archetype who is lonely and looking for excitement in life. Carmilla is characterised as 'evil', wearing a mask of a beautiful, magnetic girl who is easy to trust. Her toxic idea of romance is highlighted by her dialogue.

You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to

death; or else hate me and still come with me, and hating me through death and after

— Carmilla

Carmilla exploits Laura’s desire for companionship. She formulates a connection by appearing in Laura's 'nightmares' and pronouncing it was fate. Despite these being vampiric visits Camilla uses to draw on her blood, she acts as though they are fated for an intense romance. Laura remains under her spell, acknowledging but not acting upon the red flags from her possessiveness, her charm, her ability to shower her with compliments, her secrecy, her outbursts and how she convenient has the 'nightmares' Laura has at the same time. This is metaphoric for toxic relationships.

At the time, the author clearly possessed knowledge of folklore concerning vampirism within the time period. This shows heavily through the character's descriptions of vampiric poison and how it impacts the victims. This was presented in a remarkably engaging manner.

As someone who is invested in gothic literature, I appreciate how descriptions of grand castles, or masquerade balls, of forests where all used to add to the mystical vibe of the text. Furthermore, although a portrayal of a toxic relationship, I appreciate the romantic, lesbian interest portrayal of Carmilla's character. This is refreshing to see, especially in older texts.

Although, one disagreement I had with the text was its racist portrayal of people of colour. While the sentiments themselves would have been present within society at the time, racism does not add much to the text or the characterisation. Rather, it suggests a distinction of what is considered 'ugly' comparable to the underlying, hideous nature of Carmilla, yet the reg flags concerning her are ignored due to her 'white, beautiful' appearance. This confuses the overall meaning of the text.

Regardless of this concern, I recommend this text strongly to anyone interested in Gothic Literature and give it a 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Carmilla - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu Book Review

Identification Of Reviewer

Beginner critical reviewer, Simran Singh is a student at Griffith University studying towards a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Creative Writing.

© 2019 Simran Singh


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