Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I read this story out of the A Taste for Blood Anthology. I was excited to finally read the story that is really the grandmother of the vampire tale. It preceded Dracula by Bram Stoker by more than twenty years.
Well I have to say that I have mixed feelings about Carmilla. In some moments, it was very eerie, if not downright frightening, but those moments didn't quite occur often enough for me. There were passages of description that became rather mind-numbingly boring. I have read enough classic horror by now to be used to the flowery prose of Victorian writing, so I don't think that was the problem. I just think Le Fanu spent too much time on minutiae.
I have this book three stars because of the elements that I felt were strong and enjoyable about this story:
The lesbian subtext was pretty strong, in my opinion. The relationship between Carmilla and the narrator could have be characterized as a girl's friendship, but there were aspects that were more along the lines of a sensual relationship. I haven't studied Victorian female interactions very well, but I felt that Carmilla and the narrator were intensely touchy-feeling, caressing and kissing each other in a passionate fashion, although not on the mouth, and it was clear that her interactions with and Carmilla herself had an erotic effect on the narrator that simultaneously thrilled and repulsed her. I really do have to admire Le Fanu for incorporating this element. I would imagine that it was pretty outre' for this prudish era. I don't know that he did it to give his opinion of the sinful nature of same-sex relationships, or just in a matter of fact way. It felt more matter of fact than an overt denouncement (at any rate no moreso than the interpretation that vampire fiction be taken as a denouncement of sensuality and sexuality.)
The other aspect I enjoyed were the scenes that sent a shiver down my spine. The scene where they find Carmilla in a coffin, floating in inches of blood was really scary. Carmilla might appear to be a youthful, beautiful girl, but she an ageless, evil creature of terrifying menace, who had taken many innocent young girl's lives, preying on the bonds of friendship and the susceptiblity of a young girl to seduction. There are some scenes that had imagery that affected my subconscious. As a matter of fact, I woke up in the middle of the night and turned my TV on, so I think it did give me a scare or two.
The traditional elements of the vampire tale I truly enjoy: The fact that the creature is afraid of anything representing God. The creature will avoid light and roam in the dark. The method of killing the creature, and its supernatural powers (such as going through locked doors and taking the shape of animal). These are all staples of the vampire tale that has more or less stood the test of time. This is proven in the fact that many modern vampire tales still employ these elements. And those that don't, acknowledge them by saying, the traditional vampire folklore (see above) doesn't apply.
I end this review by stating that were it not for the overabundance of seemingly endless, dry monologues, I would have thoroughly enjoyed this at times harrowing tale (and would have rated it higher). Despite its shortcomings, I still recommend this tale to a true vampire fiction fan. Read this story, because this story should be honored as a building block of the vampire genre.
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