A classic (and sapphic!) Victorian vampire novella, which influenced Bram Stoker’s later treatment of the vampire mythos in Dracula. It was written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
So… I was first influenced to pick up this book because of a Kpop music video. This one to be exact:
There was a stan twitter theory that the music video was based on Carmilla’s storyline. So, after my gay ass heard it was the first lesbian vampire novel- I just had to read it. I had it on my Goodreads “to read” list for MONTHS and I finally got to it this week.
I devoured this book. It was a fun time, with a lot of spooky and romantic moments. But, it was also infuriating and puzzling- both due to the age and the drawn out ending. (I’ll touch on that later.)
What really surprised me was how overt the relationship was. I thought it would be the standard queerbait- a glance here, a hug there, maybe holding hands, but I was so wrong. There was not a pinch of homophobia in this book! (I am exaggerating; the links between sickness/evil and lesbianism are there, but I felt it wasn’t written with that purpose.) The way Carmilla just exists in our main character’s mind is so riveting- as someone who is both so lovely and so strange and all around so mysterious. Laura describes her feelings as, “a paradox” of “adoration and also abhorrence”. Peak tsundere?
Carmilla is so flirty too and not exactly subtle about it. “Her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, ‘You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever.'” Like if that is not a declaration of undying love, I don’t know what is. Through these flirtations, Carmilla also alludes to her being a vampire, which filled me with a rising dread. I felt conflicted, much like Laura in her paradox.
At one point in the story, the two girls watch a funeral progress. Laura sees it as an honor to the girl who died and is worried a plague is coming. While Carmilla loathes it, with all the religious imagery and hymns. She lashes out, “What a fuss! Why, you must die- everyone must die- and all are happier when they do.” I laughed for six consecutive minutes. Carmilla is such an entertaining character- probably my favorite vampire.
I did find the other characters (Laura included) a bit dense, but not to a fault.
If anything, it only built up the terror aspect of the story as I waited for characters to inevitably die as the details of Carmilla’s backstory and Laura’s sickly condition emerged.
Except that didn’t happen.
Carmilla’s story was revealed at such a slow pace. It was unearthed by a general who was at loss by his “ward’s” recent death. His recollection was really excessive and repetitive from things that were hinted at before and kind of made the story drag.
I hoped it would climax into something meaningful when Carmilla eventually came to the village ruins with Madame Fontaine later, but it didn’t. She took an old man by the wrist as he was about to attack her and ran off. The general confirmed her as a vampire too.
There was no final closure between the girls, not even a glance. The next time Laura saw her was in a coffin, steak through her heart. It was so tragic and I was devastated they couldn’t be together. I mean, it was written like that since the beginning, but I still had some hope! Maybe Carmilla could drink animal blood?
Even though I was heartbroken, I wished that the story focused more on Laura’s emotions when she found out about Carmilla’s nature. I felt like those feelings were rushed (unlike the flirty gay ones).
But, what we do get is a stunning last paragraph, one that reminded me of why I loved the story in the first place. The growing romance, the growing fear, and their shared dreams.
This will definitely be one of those books I’ll come back to when I need a gothic gay moment.