Carmilla, A Recommendation

Carmilla, Sheridan Le Fanu

“Why, she has been dead more than a century!”

“Not so dead as you fancy, I am told.”

The ground is wet again and the frogs are leaping for their lives. The paths in the local park seem especially treacherous for them. Their outstretched legs remind me of galvanic illustrations; of scientists tweezing nodes with bated breath and bloodied fingers. I think of authors who also dissect nature, looking for answers to more supernatural questions.

The titular Carmilla, in Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella, also lives an “amphibious existence”. She crashes into the life of Laura, cosseted and closeted, who yearns for another young woman to keep her company in rural Styria. They form an intense bond - protected in Laura’s ancestral castle from a mysterious epidemic that is sweeping the local villages, if not from portraits in the attic, feline phantoms, and Carmilla’s own mercurial nature.

Carmilla has been thrilling readers for 150 years (and a good 26 before Dracula first flashed a smile). You may know her reputation as “the original lesbian vampire”, but Carmilla does more to seduce than just running fingers along the coverlet. Le Fanu pinpoints the ambiguity of 19th century Ireland, as well as the anxieties of Victorian society. In little over 100 pages, the story covers themes of religion, folklore, and the unrest we feel when we hide our true selves.

If you find the classics daunting, I would recommend books that were originally published as serials, as many from that era were. Pacy and suspenseful, the stories are - much like our vampire - designed to keep readers thirsting for the next encounter.

Joanna Martin, 2022