Author: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Publisher: *Not Listed
Cover Artist: Publisher
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Publication Date: 05/23/2015
Length: Novella (~ 15K-50K)
Genre: Lesbian, Paranormal
Nothing remained to assure us that the adventure had not been an illusion of a moment but the young lady, who just at that moment opened her eyes.
First of all the publication date, publisher etc. refer to the ebook I downloaded for this review. My own copy does not appear on Amazon, but is part of an anthology by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu that is available – called In the Glass Darkly. Good, Gothic fun.
Carmilla was actually first published in 1872 some twenty-six years before the publication of Dracula by Bram Stoker. If Dracula was a Victorian melodrama using blood and swooning to represent sex, and bodily fluids, in mainly heterosexual attractions – Carmilla is a Victorian Gothic lesbian tale.
Gothic novels have various devices that mark them as such. These metaphoric devices were easily understood by the readership of the day. I had quite a bit of fun noting them for this review…but don’t worry I won’t turn it into a lecture.
Carmilla is written in first person from the point of view of Laura, whose dead mother was Austrian and whose father is an English gentleman, comfortably off, but not royalty or super rich. They live in a castle (Shloss) in Austria. She tells the story from a point eight years hence, and therefore reassures the reader that the horror is in the past.
Gothic relevance…The foreign setting (alien) because it is too horrible to think anything so unnatural would take place in England. However, the female heroine is the daughter of an English gentleman and therefore, English enough to be believed and empathised with. They live in a castle…isolated and surrounded by trees. Traditional Gothic setting, with the wood representing the unknown, the impenetrable. There are also local ruins, a deserted village, a tower… oh and the castle has a drawbridge. It also has a contingent of nameless servants and a major domo. There is also a Gothic chapel and a woodsman…..
Laura has the correct companions a Swiss governess and a French ‘finishing’ governess. Although French or German would have been easier in this household, English is the language spoken everyday. She tells us she is lonely and isolated but kept within the bounds of propriety by these ‘gouvernantes’. They have fairly regular visitors, but these are the generally the same people. She has one blot on her idyllic childhood – a terrifying dream when she was six, where a women dressed in black, paces at the bottom of her bed at night, caresses her cheeks, and bites her ‘breast’. Although, this is explained to her as a dream, there are weird worrying looks from servants and governess enough that she grows up with someone sleeping in her room at night. The dream never returns.
One evening close to their drawbridge there is a coach accident that the ‘family’ observe while out for a stroll. While the coach is being fixed, an older, wealthy aristocratic woman begs Laura’s father to take in her weak recuperating daughter for three months whilst she goes on some important business never to be revealed. On seeing the beautiful unconscious girl they agree. The girl is called Carmilla and appears to be of similar age to Laura. Laura now has a companion her own age and a beautiful one. Her grace and beauty is described very often.
From this time on strange deaths start occurring in the local village, and their good friend’s beloved ward dies suddenly. There are also slightly worrying things about Carmilla who is always ‘languorous’ and doesn’t get up until late afternoon (tho this seems fine to me!) On top of this Carmilla is ’embarrassingly’ enchanted by and fond of Laura…
…my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled (sic) along my cheek in kisses…
In order for the author to include several passionate scenes and passages he has to make one of the protagonists evil. Vampirism and sex have always been interlinked in Western culture and the vampire has been accused of everything from lesbianism, STIs, fainting in women, impotence in men, surprise pregnancies and adulterous affairs. If early western society had an ill, or something it could not accept, it was blamed on the unnatural, the ‘phantasmagoric’, the un-Christian – the vampire.
Remembering this was over a quarter of a century before Dracula, Carmilla includes; transformation to mists or beasts, blood sucking from breast and throat, inability to cross running water without fainting, langor in victims, langor in vampires during the day, coffins, staking, and decapitation.
Only beautiful young women are the victims of this vampire’s ‘seduction’ – don’t expect a feminist view or a modern day take on lesbianism. This is a sensual, Gothic Victorian novella. It is fun and perhaps is good to read to see how far we have come, while highlighting how far we still have to go, where equality for women is concerned.
I recommend this, and the anthology it came from….HAVE A SPOOKILY GOOD HALLOWEEN !!!
I would like to thank the publisher for providing me with the eARC of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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