Carmilla Study Guide

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 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 of Bram Stoker’s Dracula by a quarter of a century.

Carmilla may have been inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Cristabel” (1797), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819).

Writing for Trinity College, Emma Sorenson explains, “[Carmilla] predates Dracula by 26 years. It shares several key themes and elements that would directly influence Stoker. These include a prototype for Van Helsing (Dr. Hesselius), an epistolary narrative, and a Central European theme (which was later removed eastwards for Dracula). Carmilla, outside of being a Countess, shares similar feeding patterns, abilities (e.g., shapeshifting), and *spoiler alert* ways to be killed with Dracula as well. One major difference between the two vampires, however, has been how Carmilla has become an LGBTQ+ icon. The novella features considerable lesbian subtext between the vampire and one of the main characters. Due to the nature of the Victorian Era, though, Le Fanu was restricted with what he could write.”

Carmilla has been adapted in full or in part to almost every medium: television, film, opera, video games, radio, comic books, and more.