Monday, March 20, 2006

Classic Literature: Carmilla


More often than not, I will cite “Dracula” by Bram Stoker as a key piece of vampire literature. The reasoning is obvious, the book has never been out of print since its publication in 1897 and there are very few people that have not heard of the character, even if they haven’t read Stoker’s seminal work. A quick search on imdb shows over 140 movies with a full or partial name match to Dracula, not to mention those other movies directly linked to the book and/or character.

Another, less well known vampire story was by another Irishman, Sheridan Le Fanu and his story “Carmilla”, which was first published in 1872, has had a defining effect on the genre also. It is clear that Stoker was aware of “Carmilla”. Le Fanu’s story is set in the country of Styria and, in an early manuscript, “Dracula” was also destined to be set there, until Stoker changed location to Transylvania. The deleted first chapter (according to Florence Stoker) of “Dracula”, “Dracula’s Guest” is still set in Styria.

Spoilers ahead:

In Le Fanu’s novella, a wealthy English widower retires to Styria with his daughter Laura. Laura awaits the arrival of a friend when General Speilsdorf, her friend’s father, sends a letter to say that his daughter has died.

There is then a carriage accident outside their home. Carmilla, the young passenger, is uninjured but her mother informs Laura’s father that she is on urgent business and cannot be delayed, thus arranges for Carmilla to stay with the family.

Carmilla is, of course, a vampire, and takes both a predatory and romantic interest in Laura – a brave move by the author considering when the story was written.

As Laura’s health declines so we discover some of the “rules” LeFanu introduces for his vampire. She sleeps often through the day, she is enraged by the singing of Christian hymns, she can pass through walls and takes the form of a monstrous black cat.

We eventually discover that the General’s daughter was killed by Millarca, Carmilla under an anagrammed pseudonym and the source of many film makers using the anagram of Alucard for Dracula, and they go to find Carmilla’s tomb. The tomb is that of the Countess Mircalla Karnstein and Carmilla is disposed of by staking through the heart, cutting off the head, burning the remains and scattering the ashes in a river.

Amongst the movies Carmilla inspired are a trio of Hammer productions “The Vampire Lovers” (1970), “Lust for a Vampire” (1970) and “Twins of Evil” (1971), the latter being the source of the still at the head of this piece. You can find the novella itself through Project Gutenburg and it is well worth a read.

11 comments:

christine said...

Yes, Carmilla is lushly atmospheric Gothic romance, a true classic.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I cannot disagree :)

Zahir Blue said...

I continue to hope that some day, some one will make a really top-knotch film version of this marvelous story.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Zahir, whilst I really love the Vampire Lovers production I can safely say you and me both

Unknown said...

Allot of things in Carmilla are up for interpretation. I don't Believe the Christian nature of the singing is what bothered her personally.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Unknown, I think she is but the question is why? In this case her dialogue states that it is not her religion: "Besides, how can you tell that your religion and mine are the same; your forms wound me..."

Admittedly the 'besides' adds in a degree of ambiguity and therefore interpretation.

What do you believe bothered her about the singing?

Unknown said...

I think it was guilt, he hearing them mourning her victim form the previous night. I'd always preferred to view Carmilla as one of the Tragic Vampires.

Unknown said...

I believe it is her guilt that is bothering her during the singing.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Interesting concept and one that is a possibility. Sorry for not authorising straight away - I have been away a week

Unknown said...

There is an Annotated Carmilla on Amazon.
http://www.amazon.com/Annotated-Carmilla-Joseph-Sheridan-Fanu/dp/1460901347/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_nC?ie=UTF8&colid=PWU83TPBRH2M&coliid=I1T563J71UW0SS

Figured that might interest you since you've done a separate review for an Annotated Dracula.

It's editor has joined my Shadowmen Lounge.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi, Please always do mention anything you spot like this. In this case I already have the volume but haven't looked at it in a review sense as I wrote the preface for the volume :)