|Carmilla: A Critical Edition|
Originally published as a serial between 1871-1872, Carmilla is a novella (almost a long short story) of a young English expat named Laura and her encounters with the Styrian vampire Carmilla. The story is told through the offices of a narrator, who has collected the testimony of Laura and the vampire-hunting peer that helped rid the area of the predatory menace. The bulk of the story is told from Laura's perspective, as she meets Carmilla and falls victim to her before switching over the vampire hunter for the abrupt conclusion. That's really about all there is to the plot.
|Carmilla and her victim. Nothing sexy about this, right?|
One of the essays in the book, "An Irish Carmilla?" by Jar Lath Killeen, attempts to create a political and ethnic context for Carmilla. Killeen tries to show that Carmilla is a symbol of the Irish and that Laura represents the Anglo-Irish gentry. But, it's a stretch in my reading of the book. No fault to Killeen, who makes the case with many citations to the historical context of Sheridan Le Fanu's world. I didn't see any of it in the text itself. The essay that made the most sense to me in my interpretation of the book was Renée Fox's essay, "Carmilla and the Politics of Indistinguishability," which paints Carmilla in terms of gender transgressions. This essay was much more persuasive to me, even without all the references to other critical interpretations of Carmilla and Sheridan Le Fanu. Fox writes:
In other words, if Carmilla seems to take on both feminine and masculine roles, then...the Irish Catholicism she is meant to represent appears that much more perilous: imbued with all the domestically destabilizing power of the dominant female, all the socially transgressive power of the homosexual, and all the emasculating power of the sexual usurper.*But if this reading is right, it suggests to me that the strangely anti-climactic ending is Sheridan Le Fanu chickening out over what he created and just letting the menfolk sort Carmilla out with a stake and an axe. After chapters and chapters of building suspense and dread, Carmilla just...ends.
Even though there are some references to the reaction to the book in 1872, I suspect there were a lot of male readers forbidding their female relatives and servants from reading this book because of its potentially corrupting influence. I don't think many modern readers will pick this book up for its own sake; it's sort of the book only a critic could love these days.
* Kindle unpaginated version. Quote begins at location 1567.