Carmilla Background

Carmilla Background

Before there was Count Dracula, there was Carmilla. Indeed, it was Sheridan Le Fanu who introduced the vampire into the English literature tradition. “Carmilla” was first presented to the world in serial form, published in four editions of a magazine called The Dark Blue between 1871 and 1872 The four sections were then presented as a full length novella (or very long short story) in a collection alongside other tales from Le Fanu published under the title In a Glass Darkly. “Carmilla” was the final entry in that collection which predated the publication Bram Stoker’s Dracula by quarter of a century.

The stake through the vampire's heart was introduced in Sheridan La Fanu's “Carmilla.” That is not on the only gothic tradition which is to be found in this vampire novel that diverges from the blazed trail primarily by virtue of having a female bloodsucker at the heart of its narrative of horror. The title character is a self-created victim of anagrammatic confusion; she presents her variously as Carmilla, Millarca and Mircalla inside the high isolated castle dominated inside by a large portrait of a dead former occupant. Add in a travel accident involving a carriage and nightmarish visions at night and Le Fanu givs the reader everything that should be expected from a vampire story of the highest order.

Victorian readers who picked up copies of The Dark Blue or In a Glass Darkly were treated to a bit more than expected, however. “Carmilla” does not just diverge from literary tradition by presenting a tale of the supernatural and occult from the perspective a female vampire, it also veered quite widely from the path of Jane Austen loved stories and Charles Dickens moral fables which dominated the best seller lists of the times. For the lady is not just a vampire, but a lesbian as well.

Indeed, “Carmilla” goes against the grain of proper Victorian literature by indulging in not just the gothic horror of vampirism, but by touching up on themes related to the darker borders of sadism and masochism on existing on the fringes of lesbian love in that castle high above and isolated far from the madding crowds in the time and space between John Polidori’s The Vampyre and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

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