Carmilla is one of the earliest vampire stories and the inspiration behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula, apparently. Besides this, the only other known source for vampire mythos prior to Dracula is Varney the Vampire, a penny dreadful, which was sold on the streets for a penny back in the 1800’s.
Much has been said about this novel, mostly the balls on J. Sheridan LeFanu, for adding Sappho eroticism in a time frame when such would have been on par with child molesting today.
So, what does it come off as in 2018 and is it really any good? The answer, probably won’t surprise you!
A young woman lives with a family when strange occurrences start to, well, occur, leading to a less than suspenseful build up to the climax of wow, vampire.
The prose has moments of sheer beauty throughout its page. If written in a modern voice, I think the story would fail even more. Part of the charm is that 1800’s style narration with beautiful prose in some places and misplaced telling aspects that could of be written better.
The characters are mostly shallow, but still enough to get an idea for their personalities. No one character really sticks out in my mind, except for the father of the young woman who is friends with the vampress title character. He is a weird scientist of sorts and I don’t mean a literal scientist, I mean, he looks for the simplest explanation of a situation, but in the same breathe is glad that it wasn’t witches. I like this weird, juxtaposition between science and superstition. The original inspiration for Van Helsing is also present, but he isn’t as developed as he is in Dracula, but you can see where the inspiration came from, but it was less homage and more a “Hold my beer” moment, as Bram Stoker showcased he could do it better.
Unlike other reviewers, most of whom are also male, I don’t find lesbianism to be a subtext of this book. I think it is inferred by men with an inkling of homoeroticism for other men, who have projected their desires on two characters.
I know Vampires are known for their sensual nature, but they’re predators mostly, they’re also dead, thus they really don’t have a sexuality at all. I also find it weird that these same reviewers never spot male homosexual subtext in Dracula or other novels about vampires. Interview with the Vampire comes to mind with blatant male homoerotism, of which no one ever points out or holds up in esteem. The homosexuality is especially noticeable in the movie of Interview with the Vampire, where the sexual ambiguity between Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise is so thick, you could cut the fuckin thing with a knife. Just like this book, 90’s male homosexuality would have been considered loathsome and horrible, but no praise for pushing the envelope there.
This book is really short and sparse of form, while giving some of the future tropes for the vampire mythos that we either all know and love or find to be horrible clichés. I wouldn’t say Bram Stoker was so much inspired by it, as being a flat out plagiarist on quite a bit, while extrapolating with better fleshed out characters, subtext and themes. Ironically, Bram himself would later be plagiarized with Nosferatu, a lawsuit ensued which he would win, even though he really had no grounds, notwithstanding his own plagiarism. Still, the story is good, the prose is decent and while the lesbian subtext is inferred by Horny men, the book still has a lot going for it and is well worth picking up.
3 out of 5 stars.