If you love vampire novels then you have to read my review on Carmilla! It is one of the earliest vampire stories and even predates Dracula by 26 years. Many authors have been inspired by this story. Such as Anne Rice the author of the An Interview With The Vampire from The Vampire Chronicles.
Carmilla is a Gothic novella from 1872 by the Irish Author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. I would say that this story is not for the faint of heart and definitely not for children.
Carmilla would be considered a Gothic, or Horror, novella. I would definitely say it’s more towards the Gothic genre. It is a suspenseful story and has moments of being scary, but not horrifying. However, if you’re on the sensitive side, then maybe this wouldn’t be the best story for you.
Carmilla book Summary
The story is written from the perspective of Laura, a teenage woman from Styria, as a case study for Dr. Hesselius, whose is something of an occult detective. She tells the events of how she almost became the victim of a female vampire named Camilla.
Laura begins by telling of a ‘nightmare’ she had as a young girl of 6. A strange beautiful woman came into her room and laid with her. At first she is comforted by the woman, but a little later feels a sharp pain in her breast as if it was punctured, though there is no wound. She is frightened by the experience.
As an Adolescent
Many years later, the lonely girl is looking forward to a visit from a girl her own age, Bertha, who is coming for a visit. She is the daughter of a friend of the family. Unfortunately, they get news that the young woman has passed away under mysterious circumstances. Her uncle states that he will tell them all the details when he comes to see them soon.
Laura is saddened by this, but shortly afterward there is a carriage accident, and a young woman Laura’s age is injured. Her mother claims that she can not be delayed in her journey and that she can not take Carmilla with her due to her condition. After a bit of talking, the mother decides to leave Carmilla in the care of Laura and her father for three months time. During which, Camilla can not discuss her past, her family, or herself. The woman adds that Carmilla is of sound mind, which Laura thought was a needless comment.
Birds of a feather
The two young women become fast friends and feel a strange connection as they recognize each other from the dream they had when they were 6.
Everything seems perfectly well, except that occasionally Carmilla seems to have mood swings where she makes sensual advances on Laura. Laura hates it when Carmilla does this, but it passes quickly enough that Laura tries to forget it happened.
An Unexplained sickness
Carmilla has a fair amount of strange habits all of which are over looked by Laura and her father. But when Laura starts having nightmares of a black, cat like creature coming into her bedroom and biting her breast. Laura soon falls ill, and her father worries it may be the same malady that has taken the lives of may young women in the area.
Laura’s father has a doctor examine her. the doctor finds a small, blue spot, an inch or two below her collar. This spot is where the creature in her dream bit her. The doctor speaks with her father alone for a moment, and tells him only that Laura must never be left alone.
A huge reason that I highly recommend this book, and why I made this review on Carmilla, is the dramatic reading. This audiobook version from Audible was dramatized by Robin Brooks and features an all star cast. The main cast is as follows:
- Carmilla -Phoebe Fox
- Laura – Rose Leslie
- Dr Hesselius – David Tennant
- Father – James Wilby
I am a bit of an audiobook connoisseur and this was an awesome rendition! The voice acting was terrific and enthralling.
The complete list of readers for this audiobook are, Phoebe Fox, Rose Leslie, David Tennant, David Horovitch, James Wilby, Susan Wooldridge, and Hannah Genesius.
My Carmilla Review
I read the story quite a few years ago now and found it quite interesting. I can see where a lot of famous vampire stories took inspiration from this one. If you’re looking into the audiobook version the whole story is just over 2 hours long.
Carmilla is written in the first person, so you really get to understand the toll that is taken on Laura. She has to come to terms with the fact that she’s been hunted by this beautiful and deadly creature since she was a little girl.
Laura says a few times that Carmilla’s beauty is what makes her trust the girl so easily and forgive her when she acts oddly. I felt that when Laura says this, it is one of the things that haunts her even in the present. She was taken in by her beauty, as are most of Carmilla’s victims, and now feels like she can’t trust herself. This, “too beautiful to be bad” is a theme even in modern vampire books, so it’s amazing that this is one of the stories that it stems from.
This is one of those stories that you pretty much know the outcome, but read/listen to it anyway, because it’s a classic.
While I give my honest opinion in all my reviews, I don’t normally talk about the meanings behind said story. I’m doing this for my Carmilla review because I’ve seen so many articles and such talk about the lesbian aspect of this story. I read this story for the first time about 6 years ago and honestly saw it from a different perspective. So..
my take on Carmilla
Carmilla is often seen as not only one of the first vampire stories, but as an example of the first lesbian vampire. This may be a bit controversial, but I have my own thoughts on this.
I’ve seen many say that Laura was fascinated by Carmilla’s sensual advances. That the story depicts lesbianism as the sickness that Laura is suffering from and killing Carmilla is the cure. However, Laura describes these advances as an “abhorrence” and years later looked back on it with “confusion and horrible recollection”, not exactly the words I would use when enjoying something. Laura also says that, while the advances were going on, she could not move because Carmilla’s voice, “soothed her resistance into a trance”. It sound a lot like the vampire trance or mesmerization that is common in the original vampire tales. Beyond not knowing that a woman could have romantic feels for a woman.. (because of time period and Laura being sheltered) she really seems to hate those moments with Carmilla and is happy when they pass.
As for Carmilla, many describer her as a lesbian because of the sensual outbursts. But her words, while passion filled, strike me as rather dark. She talks about killing Laura because she wants her so much…but I don’t think she means sexually. I think what the author was actually trying to convey was blood lust. It’s a common thread for vamp books now, but were talking about one of the first. I think he literally used a passion filled, lustful, dialog to show how much Carmilla was craving her blood.
Additionally, they talk about all these women in the village falling ill and then dying in a few days. Carmilla is clearly feeding nightly. For some reason, possibly because of her social standing (probably because plot), she decides to form a relationship with Laura before she kills her. As she did with a young woman earlier in the story. Carmilla never mentions turning Laura, I think it’s honestly something that the vampires just do on occasion out of boredom… Romancing their pray so it’s a better lead up.
I’ve not seen this opinion on the interweb*, so I thought I’d put it out there as food for thought in my Carmilla review. Let me know what you thought about it in the comments.
*I didn’t search for it at length, but I did look more than briefly.
Where to get it
Because Carmilla is out of copyright (it was written 1872) , you can read it for free at Gutenberg Press: Camilla By Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
I also listened to the dramatized version with a full cast of talented actors. It was extremely well done, but it’s only available on audible: Camilla By Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
It’s about $6 USD, if you buy it on Audible. If you happen to be a Premier Plus member (I am) then it is free.*
*I’m not sponsored or affiliated with Audible, but I use them so I’m recommending what I listen to.
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If you’re looking for more audiobooks, check out these reviews: