Carmilla: A Book Review

David Henry Friston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
David Henry Friston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla, first published as a serial in The Dark Blue (1871-1872) twenty-six years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), isn’t a long read. It can be read in only a couple of hours. But what this story lacks in length it makes up for in lush, dense Victorian prose and a captivating story.

The story centers around the protagonist Laura and her interactions with a female vampire the novella is named for called Carmilla, a rarity for the time (before female vampires were so common).  And features the same interesting, if sometimes convoluted storyline that is so common with Victorian fiction.

But perhaps the best part of the story is the relationship between Laura and Carmilla, the friendship that grows between them into something very near what modern readers would think of as a romance. Watching Laura be both drawn to Carmilla and her overtures and repelled by them is fascinating, especially since she is the only character who seems to notice anything odd about Carmilla for much of the novella.

However, I would say that the ending of the story and sudden knowledge of what Carmilla is feels a bit rushed. And I am not thrilled with the fact that Laura is saved by the men in the story, her father, a friend of her father’s whose niece was killed by Carmilla, and a vampire hunter. Or the fact it falls into the trap of what was considered unnaturalness at the time needing to punished, which contradicts the understanding way Le Fanu had, up to that point, treated the relationship between Carmilla and Laura.

It is as if he was forced by societal expectations to end the story in that manner. Despite this, though, I do love the story and count it among my favorites. Carmilla isn’t  a female vampire in Gothic Fiction, Clarimonde in Gautier’s 1836 short story La Morte Amoureuse seems to have that honor when it comes to Gothic Fiction. But it is one I would highly recommend everyone read at least once if they have the chance.

You’ll most likely have to read the story on Kindle or some other type of e-reader, however, if you want to read the story on its own. Outside of academic editions, the novella is notoriously hard to find when not bundled with other works by Le Fanu. Great if you want to read more of his work, not so great if you don’t.

I recommend this critical edition version:
Carmilla: A Critical Edition

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