So, if you follow this blog, you know I hold a fair share of unpopular opinions, so I thought I’d bring this one out in the sunlight to burn in the warm golden glow: I think that J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla is better than Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
But first I should probably tell you who Carmilla is, since not many people have read her story.
Summary of Carmilla
Don’t be fooled by the title. The actual protagonist of this novel is the teenage narrator, Laura. She lives a pretty solitary life in a remote castle in Styria, Austria. Her only real companions are her father, who she’s close to, and her governess. Sometimes the Gentry will pop in for a visit, but Laura doesn’t have any friends her own age.
Then one day there is a carriage accident at the gate of their castle. A mother and daughter are in the carriage and the daughter, Carmilla, is injured. Her mother insists that their journey is of dire importance, so Laura’s father agrees to take care of this stranger’s child while her mother completes their journey (I don’t know if leaving your injured child with a rich stranger was normal in 1800s Austria, but everyone in the story acts like this is a great idea).
Carmilla and Laura immediately become best friends even though Carmilla has a few obvious character flaws. Specifically, she has really weird mood swings, occasionally getting angry for no apparent reason, and making romantic advances towards Laura, which seems to totally confuse the naive protagonist. Carmilla is also incredibly secretive, appears to sleep most of the day, sleepwalks at night, and never joins in household prayers.
All of this is easy to overlook for Laura, a sweet girl who has never before had a friend, but when girls in the nearby towns start dying from some unknown illness, and Laura finds a portrait of one of her ancestors bearing a striking resemblance to Carmilla, things take a turn for the weird.
I can’t say much more about the story without giving it all away, but believe me, it is worth the read. The Audible version is even better if you’re a fan of audiobooks. Add it to your TBR for October and you won’t regret it because she really is superior to Dracula.
Carmilla was the Original!
What was the first really successful vampire novel? Did you say Dracula? Because that is the WRONG answer! (I was surprised by this, too.) J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s killer lady, Carmilla, was scaring the pee out of readers over 20 years before Stoker’s main man was unleashed, and it’s about time someone started recognizing her as the original vampire.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that Stoker “copied” Le Fanu. The characters, plots and overall lore is vastly different in both novels.
NO Genre Refugees for Carmilla
Do you Dracula fans remember Quincey P. Morris? You know, the American cowboy who meandered his way inter the famous Gothic Horror story set in Britain? Every time that guy spoke up with his obvious American dialect I was thrown completely out of the story, and I like cowboys! I also thought that Quincey is a fun, snarky character, but he just does not fit into the story. In a novel full of supernatural happenings, the most difficult thing for me to grasp was that Cowboy Quincey would cross the sea to flirt with Mina’s annoying friend, Lucy. Maybe it’s a personal problem.
Carmilla is one Sneaky Villain
Dracula is able to lure Jonathan into his castle plan his move to England, but Jonathan suspects him from the beginning and he’s notoriously bad at hiding his villainy.
Meanwhile, Carmilla is getting herself invited to the fancy homes of Austrian Gentry, sucking the blood of their daughters, and then moving on to the next castle. She doesn’t even have home-field advantage! There is something truly terrifying about a teenage villain who no one expects.
Sure, Dracula can turn into a bat and fly into your window if you happen to leave it open, but Carmilla will get herself an invitation and make you think she’s your best friend before sucking the blood from your neck.
Yes, I know that Dracula‘s Mina was a great protagonist for a time period when women were expected to just stay home and knit, and I admit that her maturity and understanding is appreciated next to Laura’s teenage naivety.
However, Carmilla manages to challenge the patriarchy, trick all the menfolk, and basically get her way for centuries before being caught. I’m not saying we should make her a feminist icon because she is ruthless and spends most of her time murdering women, but she’s a much more interesting female character because of her numerous flaws.
Whether you agree with me or not, you should really give the original vampire a chance. Check out Carmilla ASAP!