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Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

13 Dec

I read Carmilla one Sunday night after going on a Gothic fiction binge at Project Gutenberg. This novella pre-dates Dracula by about 25 years and lays the foundation for the modern vampire novel. I can’t say that I love this story–I had issues with the story’s pacing and plausibility (in the sense that NO ONE seemed to be able to figure out what was going on right under their noses, even though the author hit us all hard with the foreshadowing hammer at the very beginning of the story).

Carmilla is part of Le Fanu’s collection In A Glass Darkly, each framed as papers by fictional occult detective Dr. Martin Hesselius. Laura, the story’s protagonist, narrates the story (which robs it of some of its suspense). The main action picks up after Laura, heartbroken that a house guest to-be has died under mysterious circumstances, convinces her father to take in a young woman named Carmilla, who had a carriage accident near their home. The girls bond quickly, although Laura seems unsettled by her new friend’s ardent interest. As Carmilla becomes a constant household fixture, we learn that village girls are dying one by one. When Laura falls ill, she realizes may not be what she seems.

I wanted to like Carmilla; it had all the elements of a wonderfully spooky Gothic story: far-flung locale, creepy castles, questionable house guests, and family tragedy. Yet, I found it difficult to connect with Laura as a protagonist, and found her, in certain instances, fairly stupid, and generally two-dimensional. Carmilla herself is potentially an interesting villain, but she, too, lacked dimension. Overall, the story seemed rushed, robbing the reader of the opportunity to immerse fully in Le Fanu’s fictional world. I’d recommend this to fans of the genre, but I probably wouldn’t read it again.

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