If you think of Dracula as the origin of the modern vampire story in Western literature, well, you might be stunned and also amazed to learn that Bram Stoker, in this instance, needs to take two steps back.
Though it has been more than a hundred years since Stoker meticulously researched and penned Dracula, there was, in fact, someone did it first.
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, an Irishman, wrote a novel called Carmilla – and many believe it should have the title of the original vampire novel out of modern Europe.
The novella, written in 1871, is the first person narrative of Laura, a young English woman who gets entangled with Carmilla, a stranger who turns out to be a vampire.
At first Laura is afraid of Carmilla, who looks like a ghost she saw in a nightmare as a child, but very quickly, the two begin an ardent and intense relationship.
In a concurrent timeline, maidens from nearby towns are dying from a mysterious illness – an illness that visits Laura, as well, along with recurring nightmares of a cat that pounces and attacks in the dead of night.
Laura is guarded by several people as her father, along with the general and a vampire hunter, find Carmilla’s hidden tomb. They drive a stake through her heart, cut off her head, and burn the body (because better safe than sorry, am I right?).
Though Laura recovers slightly, she never gets back to her former self and is haunted by memories of Carmilla until her untimely death.
Most scholars believe that not only was Stoker aware of the existence of Carmilla, but that the story heavily influenced his masterwork. The aesthetic of the female vampire is almost identical, a similar vampire hunter comes to the rescue to save the confused victims, and even the firsthand accounts of those being unknowingly terrorized are quite alike.
The thinly veiled lesbian undertones set Carmilla apart in the best of ways, and the premise of the novel – that even the purest of hearts cannot resist seduction by the supernatural – probably would have been eaten up in the tightly-cosseted Victorian upper class (particularly the women).
Laura is the perfect character for her time. She’s repulsed by, but still drawn to, the vampire as she fights between wanting to give in to her desires and wanting to escape her feelings for Carmilla. Once you add in that the vampire is a woman but not a man, and you’ve got something special.
Oh, and Carmilla has fallen in love with Laura, too.
Now I need to read this immediately.
In order to keep Laura, her love, forever, Carmilla knows Laura will have to die. If she drinks enough of her blood the two of them can be together, and so adds a bit of a tragic tone to the story.
I can’t imagine that this book wouldn’t have a fine resurrection in this day and age, if enough people grab some shovels and get digging.
I’ve got mine – want to come?