02 January 2012

Carmilla, by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu

I suppose the primary interest of this novella is the fact that Bram Stoker almost certainly borrowed from it quite liberally when writing Dracula. As an early forefather of vampire fiction, it undeniably has an important historical status, but it has to be admitted that Dracula is a much more complex and satisfying read, building on and developing elements of Carmilla into a far more interesting whole. 

But Carmilla is not totally uninteresting. I suppose there are some spoilers ahead, but to be honest, it's not like the plot isn't extremely predictable, so ima go ahead and "ruin" it. The most entertaining thing, to me, about the novel is the fact that Carmilla is pretty forthcoming about her murderous intentions on the narrator. She keeps repeating that she loves her, and that this love will lead to the narrator's death. The narrator declares these odd speeches to be unintelligible, symptoms of some strange illness or general flights of fancy rather than openly expressed death threats. One could reflect, I suppose, on the way love and death are so intertwined as to make this confusion somewhat plausible - but it's really not. Even in the context of the story, Carmilla sounds completely loony tunes, and it's preposterous that the narrator is so blind. 

The other vaguely interesting aspect is the unbelievable clumsiness of the denouement/explanation. After all this suspense and mystery, just when the novella starts planting some clues and making it seem like the family is finally gonna catch on to what's happening - a family friend whose daughter is dead shows up (admittedly, this has been prepped already in the opening, when we first heard about the daughter's death) and relates the story of his child's demise. Whadya know, it is virtually identical to the narrator's own story (ironically, it was the death of this daughter that led to Carmilla being welcomed into the narrator's home!). Mystery solved, next there is a rapid slaying and some pseudo-scientific explanation (couched in terms of an attempt to persuade a skeptical audience and deploying all kinds of scientific language) and boom, the end. 60 pages of build-up, 4 pages of climax and resolution. It might not be quite that extreme, but it's pretty close. 

Like I said - makes you appreciate (and want to re-read) Dracula.


Camilleon said...

I read Carmilla! You summed it up pretty well. Ironically, though, I have never read Dracula, although I really enjoyed the movie (Gary Oldman is one of my all-time favorite actors).

Camilleon said...

You know what I thought was weird was how Carmilla bites her victim in the chest. Now, you know, it's "neck or nothing", so I thought it was sort of odd. Or maybe in Victorian times, the chest could imply the very base of the neck?

culture_vulture said...

Good point. I'm not sure - don't they describe the teeth as being like hollow needles? That sort of implies an injection type procedure, rather than just making two bloody holes and slurping the blood. You know? So the chest might be the actual chest. I mean, nobody seems to see the narrator's wounds unless she specifically shows them (though I guess her clothes might be high collared too). The neck definitely seems more picturesque, no?