Book Review: Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu

The cover of the edition I read enticingly promises that Carmilla inspired Dracula.  Reading it, one thinks this may be so!  If you are a fan of the Gothic, this book is for you.  If you like Vampire stories, this book is for you.  If you are looking for a novella that encapsulates the five point story structure, this book is for you, too.
The setting, as in all good Gothic novels, is in a remote castle in a Catholic country, in this case Austria.  So far, so good. There is the hint of the supernatural, but until the story really gets rolling, it is just a hint.  The story is told by the erstwhile victim of said vampire, who has, thankfully, escaped her clutches and so lived to tell the tale. She tells it looking back, a device which can be helpful, as the narrator can let the reader in on things that story characters don’t know. 

Here is the story in a nutshell (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW):

  1. Inciting incident—carriage accident that leaves a beautiful stranger (Carmilla) staying with our narrator.
  2. Complications—Mysterious illness afflicting Carmilla and narrator and they have a weird connection.
  3. Crisis—Family friend comes to visit and tells narrator’s father about his daughter’s death at the hand of a mysterious undead beautiful woman.
  4. Climax—They confront beautiful Carmilla in her coffin. (Gross factor—she is floating in blood, eeewwww…)
  5. Resolution—Carmilla is killed, grave destroyed, order restored, but narrator is sad.

This tiny little novel is great on many levels, but also just as an interesting story with a lot of discussion potential.  There are strange relationships, why are the predator and the prey both women?  Usually that is not the case? Why is the familiar of the female vampire a huge cat, rather than the wolves and bats we see in other vampire tales? Are we really supposed to believe that teeth make tiny puncture marks that look like they could have been made by needles?  What kind of teeth are those?  You see what I mean. 

If it takes your fancy, I would recommend it as worth your time.  

Published by Robin Henry

Independent Scholar and Book Coach specializing in Historical Fiction and Literary Fan Fiction.

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