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I am currently working on a comedy mystery novel set in a world somewhat like ours. I can draw with either my right or my left hand, and I love to paint. I administer the blog for The Original Tree Worshippers of Rock County--rocksherlockotw.blogspot.com--a Sherlockian group I co-founded that meets in Janesville, Wisconsin, and am a founding member of The Cherry Street Irregulars, writers who gather (in groups of two or more) with laptops to create, critique, and support one another.
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2011/10/28

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Review by Resa Haile

In 1872, twenty-five years before the publication of Dracula by Bram Stoker, a vampire tale by another Irish writer saw the light of day. This story was Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. It is not difficult to find a copy today, as it is included in many vampire, ghost, and horror anthologies, as well as being published in slender book format on its own.

The true heroine of the tale is not Carmilla, but the narrator, who “bear[s] an English name.” She and her father come to the titular character’s aid when the lady (apparently) suffers a malady while traveling with her mother. The mother is on “a journey of life and death, and cannot stop,” so it is arranged for Carmilla to come and stay with the heroine and her father.

Bram Stoker acknowledged the debt he owed to his predecessor. As Dracula would later later do, Carmilla cultivates a personal relationship with her victim. With the increase of intensity in Carmilla’s devotion, the object of her affections becomes more listless and unwell.

Reading Carmilla today, one may be struck by an undercurrent of lesbianism in Carmilla’s pursuit of her victims, who are always female. (The movie The Vampire Lovers is based on this book.) It is possible that Le Fanu thought females seemed more vulnerable to becoming victims of a predator, even when the predator was female.

It is interesting that Carmilla’s heart beats and she breathes, two things that rarely occur in modern vampire fiction. This story is quite atmospheric and well worth the time for anyone interested in the roots of horror fiction.

Artwork accompanying this article is by Resa Haile.

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