Published: January 25th 2015 by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
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Carmilla by J Sheridan Lefanu is an early gothic vampire novel published 26 years before Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I’ve been curious about Carmilla ever since I first heard about it, and Halloween is quickly approaching, it seemed like the perfect time of year to read it!
Carmilla is narrated by Laura, a lonely girl who lives with her father in on a remote estate. She doesn’t really have friends, because so few people live nearby. Laura is anxiously awaiting a visit from one of her father’s friend’s daughters, but tragedy strikes. Instead, Laura’s father ends up hosting a young woman named Carmilla, and she and Laura become fast friends. But it soon becomes apparent that Carmilla and Laura are more than just friends, and that the two of them are infatuated with each other.
Their romance is interrupted as Laura falls ill, and it soon becomes apparent that all is not as it seems. (Y’all guessed it. Laura’s illness is supernatural. Carmilla’s a vampire.)
I was surprised by the similarities between Carmilla and Dracula. It’s pretty clear that Bram Stoker borrowed a lot from Carmilla, and just omitted the eroticism/lesbianism and switched around some names. Aside from that, the story is almost exactly the same, even down to the presence of Baron Vordenburg/Von Helsing at the end to explain the nuances of vampire lore. But of course Dracula is the story that everyone knows, and Carmilla remains a footnote. It was pretty much the same experience as when I discovered how much George Orwell borrowed from Yevgeniy Zamyatin’s We when writing 1984.
Verdict: While Carmilla wasn’t earth-shattering, it’s worth reading as an early piece of vampire lore. It’s a pretty quick read (all of 90 pages), so if you’re interested, definitely give it a go. It will change the way you look at Dracula.