Monday, December 08, 2014

Dust Off Your Classics: Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Dust Off Your Classics has become an ongoing challenge created by Trish @ Between my Lines and myself. See the home page for details and more reviews of classics.

A note: I grew up watching Hammer Horror films, I saw the movie 'Vampire Lovers' many times. It's based on the story Carmilla! It was a major budget film from the 70s where the vampire was a beautiful woman (Ingrid Pitt, anyone?!) and the victim was a young virgin. :O In fact, there's a great article on Nerdist about it, if you're curious. I took a few of my pictures from that article too, just because I feel the movie really did capture how I pictured the characters to be.

A young woman living at her father's castle is the narrator of this novella. When a mysterious and beautiful stranger is stranded at the castle in odd circumstances and becomes a guest, the heroine quickly forms a close bond with her --but she subsequently discovers that her "friend" has a dark and lethal secret.

My Review

How I finally got Carmilla... A month before Halloween I borrowed Rags & Bones from the library. It's a collection of classic retellings by famous (mostly YA) authors. I didn't read the whole thing, but I did look at the table of contents and saw "Carmilla" written by Holly Black. I read and LOVED it. It made me thirst for the original so badly. Also, I knew I had to read another classic for this challenge. Now determined to get a copy of this book for my shelves, I browsed Barnes & Noble and Amazon and I couldn't get past all the ugly covers because I'm picky. Anyway, I found a GORGEOUS copy at The Book Depository by a little publisher and it even had illustrations! I'm
telling you all this because if you want to get some classic or gothic book that has a gorgeous cover
for a good price maybe you'll remember Pomegranate Press. (I'm not an affiliate or anything, just a fan) ;)

As you may know, I LOVE vampire books. Starting with Anne Rice, I've branched out into futuristic and classical vampire stories. I don't discriminate. I value sparkly and bloody for different things. One of my favorites is the ultimate-- DRACULA by Bram Stoker. Carmilla was written 20 years prior to Dracula. let that sink in for a minute It's a very short, gothic vampire tale with lesbian attraction, love, and horror. So yeah, I knew a bit about Carmilla before going into it And that added to the whole mystique.

Carmilla starts right off with an introduction to the mystery. We know something is up because the start has a little note saying this was all the confession/diary written by the heroine before she died many years after the story ended. Told in the narrative, we never learn the family's name. All we learn is that her father is Austrian and well-off (hence the castle, their home). The heroine is an only child
who is a bit lonely living with her father. After a crazy "accident" happens involving a carriage and a girl and her mother, things get interesting. The mystery woman convinces the father to take in her daughter, Carmilla, until such time as she can return for her.

With the seemingly innocent story set, things get really good. The pace is perfect, the story is short but doesn't feel rushed (although I would've appreciated a longer story because I loved it so much)! Things got creepy fast, with our heroine falling in love with Carmilla and Carmilla returning it but saying odd things and disappearing.... Then the bizarre dreams start and our poor heroine falls ill. It's not the typical loss of blood + bite marks on neck. I loved that. It was incredibly refreshing.

"Certain vague and strange sensations visited me in my sleep. The prevailing one was that of a pleasant, peculiar cold thrill which we feel in bathing, when we move against the current of a river. This was soon accompanied by dreams that seemed interminable, and were so vague that I could never recollect their scenery and persons.... [they] left an awful impression, and a sense of exhaustion, as if I had passed through a long period of great mental exertion and danger." Pg 64

The prose is just downright eery at times, other times reading like a completely accurate account of something that happened to a young girl. I love that at we find two girls in love; which is pretty amazing considering the date of publication. :$

I can't recommend this gothic vampire tale enough. You definitely need to give it a read if you like gothic literature. It was easy to get through, and it has prompted me to add Le Fanu to my TBR classics list (I haven't added to that in awhile) :P


author image


(aka Dee) has loved reading for as long as she can remember. She loves many things: fantasy novels, young adult fiction, her cat, painting, and horror films from the 70s. Diamond is a grad student at UCLA. She's pursuing a Master's in Library and Information Science.