History

"Carmilla" is The Lesbian Vampire Story That Came Before "Dracula"

When you think of vampires, you probably think of "Dracula" (or, if you must, "Twilight"). Cue an eye-roll from Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, the Bram Stoker you've probably never heard of. Sorry, Count Dracula, you weren't the first vampire on the block. Meet Carmilla, the lesbian vampire who started it all.

Team Edward, Jacob, or Carmilla?

In 1897, Bram Stoker gave the world his Gothic horror masterpiece, "Dracula." But rewind a few decades and you'll find "Carmilla," the novella written by Irish Gothic writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. This 1871 work could be called the original vampire novel of modern Europe. It's probably the first lesbian vampire tale the world has ever seen, too.

Le Fanu's work is a first-person account of a young English woman named Laura who eventually falls prey to the beautiful vampire, Carmilla. It begins with a carriage accident outside Laura's house. A young girl in the carriage requires care, so Laura and her father take her in. The stranger, Carmilla, is a beautiful girl about Laura's age. The two immediately recognize each other from a dream or nightmare they had 12 years prior. Not weird at all, right?

Laura is instantly taken by the pretty and unapologetically sensual Carmilla. "Her complexion was rich and brilliant; her features were small and beautifully formed; her eyes large, dark, and lustrous; her hair was quite wonderful, I never saw hair so magnificently thick and long when it was down about her shoulders; I have often placed my hands under it, and laughed with wonder at its weight."

And Carmilla was quite into Laura, to say the least. "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 along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, 'You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.'" Yow.

Funeral scene from Carmilla

Forrreeevvvvvveeerrr

While that's all thrilling and romantic, it takes a dark turn. This is Gothic vampire fiction, after all. Soon enough, the women in the town start falling ill and dying. Laura, too, gets mysteriously sick. A general catches on to Carmilla's story (hint: she's the vampire), and sets out to find her and kill her. The general, Laura's father, and a vampire hunter uncover Carmilla's hidden tomb and drive a stake through her heart, decapitate her, and burn her remains, just to be safe. For the most part, Laura returns to good health but is haunted by the memory of Carmilla forever. Dun dun DUUUNNNN!

So why didn't this tale take off? A "Twilight"-esque version would surely make it a blockbuster, don't you think? As described by Atlas Obscura, "The novella was written during the Victorian Era, a period known for its strict moral laws and sexual repression, so no wonder vampire novels rose into prominence. The premise of these novels is that even the most pure of hearts cannot resist the supernatural seduction. This idea was extremely attractive for the Victorian upper class, especially women, whose desires have always been rigidly restricted." But during this time, women sure weren't the newsworthy demographic. The heteronormative "Dracula" story was much better suited for the larger public interest. We think the 21st century is a perfect time to bring back this unassuming villain. Come on down, Carmilla!

Want to read the whole novella? Check out "Carmilla" by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu right here: https://curiosity.im/amazon-carmilla. The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible, and when you listen or buy, you help to support Curiosity.

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Written By Joanie Faletto October 17, 2017