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In 1872 one of the greatest and most influential vampire stories was published – Carmilla. The short story written by Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu is the inspiration behind countless vampires tales we all know and love. With its amazing style, wicked sense of horror and its risky use of vampiric lesbianism, it was a perfect vampire tale. A story that influenced many writers, including the legendary Bram Stoker, who according to some scholars, wrote Dracula thanks to Le Fanu.

Le Fanu definitely did his research when it came to the undead. Using the old myths and legends to make Carmilla even more impressive. His character, Carmilla Karnstein, continues to be one of the greatest female vampires of all time.

– Spoilers –

The story starts off with heroine Laura reminiscing about her childhood and the nightly visit to her home in Styria from a mysterious woman who caused Laura to feel needle-like puncture wounds on her breast. About twelve years later, Laura helps out a beautiful young woman who survived a horrible wagon crash. Her name is, of course, Carmilla. Carmilla appears to be the same woman from Laura’s dreams; she also looks very similar to a portrait of Countess Mircalla Karnstein in Laura’s house, painted in 1698 (many years before).

Laura and Carmilla soon develop a close relationship, but Laura growing weak and exhausted with every passing day, suffering an attack from a phantom or cat coming into her room. Her death is prevented by the arrival of a close family friend, a general, who lost his own daughter to a woman named Millarca. It is soon obvious that Millarca, Mircalla and Carmilla are one and the same. Found in the ruins of an old castle, Carmilla is staked decapitated and cremated. Laura’s final words:

To this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations — sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla  at the drawing-room door.

– Moonlight

Moonlight (aka Amanda) loves to write about, read about and learn about everything pertaining to vampires. You will most likely find her huddled over a book of vampire folklore with coffee in hand. Touch her coffee and she may bite you (and not in the fun way).

bram stokercarmillaCarmilla Karnsteindraculasheridan le fanuvampire story

Moonlight • May 5, 2010

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  2. David Zahir May 5, 2010 - 11:32 am Reply

    I don’t mean to be rude but you’ve got some facts wrong.

    Bram Stoker never acknowledged reading CARMILLA at all (although it seems very likely he did). Laura did not suffer/enjoy “nightly” visits as a child, but one only–of sufficient vividness that she recalls every detail yet virtually nothing before. The wounds Carmilla herself leaves are not on the neck, but the breast above the heart.

    You’ve also simply not mentioned a host of other things that make LeFanu’s novella so memorable. The dreamlike atmosphere of the tale, for one. For another, the numerous subtle mysteries that are left dangling throughout (What happened to Laura’s mother? Who were Carmilla’s ‘mother’ and ‘servants’? Why does Carmilla seem attracted to those in some way related to her?)

    I will also point out that LeFanu drew upon his own Irish background and its folklore to supplement his tale. The carriage that brings Carmilla to the schloss harkens to the “Death Coach” while the vampire herself is spotted a few times in ways that echo legends of the banshee.

    • Moonlight May 5, 2010 - 12:35 pm Reply

      Thanks for the info :) It’s been a while since I read Carmilla, my memory is a bit off. My apologies. I’ll make sure to fix it for future readers.
      The sources I use all consider Carmilla to be Bram’s inspiration, that’s where I got that from. It’s a common assumption.
      Everyone has their favorite parts in a story, and I can’t very well write about each one without posting the entire novella here ;)

  3. Christine May 6, 2010 - 5:03 am Reply

    This is indeed great story, and Carmilla is my favorite vampires among Gautier´s Clarimonde (another wonderful 19th century classic) and Stoker´s female vampires.

    • Christine May 6, 2010 - 5:18 am Reply

      This story mixes Gothic romance and original folklore – Carmilla is rosy, not pale, and warm, she breathes and have heart-beats, and she has “paralyzing touch” which she uses to one character who tries to kill her. I remember vaguely reading about “paralyzing touch” from some “true” vampire story of folklore but I don´t remember which one… was it Johannes Cuntius?

  4. Scorpio Vamp
  5. D.MacDowell Blue August 23, 2011 - 8:42 pm Reply
    The Annotated Carmilla — source of all kinds of trivia and background for this classic.
    So ends a blatant plug by the author–with apologies.

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