Carmilla, by Sheridan Le Fanu

This is the girl-on-girl vampire novel that you always wanted to read.  It also has the most Gothic introduction of any novel ever…

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In Styria, we, though by no means magnificent people, inhabit a castle, or schloss. … Nothing can be more picturesque or solitary. It stands on a slight eminence in a forest. The road, very old and narrow, passes in front of its drawbridge, never raised in my time, and its moat, stocked with perch, and sailed over by many swans, and floating on its surface white fleets of water lilies…Over all this the schloss shows its many-windowed front; its towers, and its Gothic chapel…The forest opens in an irregular and very picturesque glade before its gate, and at the right a steep Gothic bridge carries the road over a stream that winds in deep shadow through the wood. I have said that this is a very lonely place. Judge whether I say truth. Looking from the hall door towards the road, the forest in which our castle stands extends fifteen miles to the right, and twelve to the left. The nearest inhabited village is about seven of your English miles to the left. The nearest inhabited schloss of any historic associations, is that of old General Spielsdorf, nearly twenty miles away to the right.

I have said “the nearest inhabited village,” because there is, only three miles westward, that is to say in the direction of General Spielsdorf’s schloss, a ruined village, with its quaint little church, now roofless, in the aisle of which are the moldering tombs of the proud family of Karnstein, now extinct, who once owned the equally desolate chateau which, in the thick of the forest, overlooks the silent ruins of the town.

Respecting the cause of the desertion of this striking and melancholy spot, there is a legend which I shall relate to you another time.

Once the scene is set the fun can really start.  Laura our narrator introduces herself by telling sharing her first significant memory – of lying in bed as a child and suddenly seeing a very pretty young lady kneeling down next to her.  ‘I looked at her with a kind of pleased wonder, and ceased whimpering. She caressed me with her hands, and lay down beside me on the bed, and drew me towards her, smiling; I felt immediately delightfully soothed, and fell asleep again. I was wakened by a sensation as if two needles ran into my breast very deep at the same moment, and I cried loudly. The lady started back, with her eyes fixed on me, and then slipped down upon the floor, and, as I thought, hid herself under the bed.’  When the servants come running they see neither woman nor any wounds on the child.  Hmmm.

It doesn’t take long for the action to start.  The mysterious Carmilla arrives and recognises Laura, the narrator, from a dream she also had as a child.  They have so much in common!  They also feel strangely attracted to each other in a way which, for Laura at least, feels so wrong and yet so right.  Really, it’s very odd to remember that this was published in the 1870s and it’s so sad that it’s fallen out of fashion.  I’m not saying that female vampires are heroines or that the story screams ‘girl power’, but it’s a lot more powerful and less misogynist than Dracula.  A must read for anyone interested in the Gothic.

For the full text of the novella go to Project Gutenberg, an amazing online collection of out of copyright texts  http://www.gutenberg.org/files/10007/10007-h/10007-h.htm.

 

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