Literature: Carmilla

"Love will have its sacrifices. No sacrifice without blood."
Carmilla, chapter VI

Written and published in 1872 by Irish author Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, this novella mixes authentic Middle- and Eastern European folklore and Gothic literature. It formed the last story of five in the collection In a Glass Darkly, but it has since often been published separately.

Its heroine and narrator is Laura, an English girl that lives with her father and few servants at a secluded Austrian schlossnote . Laura is suffering deeply from loneliness, when a strange incident leads to a mysterious girl to stay as a guest at the schloss – the beautiful Carmilla. In Carmilla, Laura finally finds the friend she was looking for, but she is puzzled by Carmilla’s odd habits and her unwillingness to reveal her true identity.

An unknown disease that only kills young women strikes the countryside. Eventually, Laura herself falls ill of the ominous sickness — when by chance, a friend of the family shows up with a tale of news that leads to a horrible revelation.

Carmilla is a milestone in the vampire genre: It includes a Haunted Castle, the Überwald (officially Styria), and tells you that Your Vampires Suck — the latter when Laura compares Carmilla to "fictitious" vampires. Subtly, the striking beauty of the eponymous character suggests that Vampires Are Sex Gods. Yes, all these tropes are Older Than Radio.

Most notably though, the novella is the Trope Maker for the Lesbian Vampire. The trick here is that Carmilla’s unmentionable secret echoes the taboo status of homosexuality in Victorian society, and Carmilla’s unholy appetite also evokes a different kind of forbidden desire. And while the story never ever talks about sex, the subtext is so obvious that Carmilla (or rather, the author through the mouth of Carmilla) can discuss homosexuality without actually naming it.

The story has long been in the public domain, so feel free to check out the text or audiobook. It currently has been adapted into a modern day Vlog Series similar to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, featuring Laura and Carmilla as college roommates, the trope page for which can be found here.

Carmilla contains examples of:

  • Appeal to Nature: Carmilla, she believes that all things are natural and are part of the natural order, including her vampiric nature and implied, your homosexual nature.
  • Antagonist Title
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: When a poor pedlar remarks in good will, but with little tact on Carmilla's fanged teeth, she flies in a rage and declares "we would have had him whipped!" She also reacts very contemptuously on Laura's empathy on the death of a peasant girl that was (as is implied) killed by vampires (maybe by Carmilla herself), stating she doesn't "trouble her head about peasants."
  • Author Vocabulary Calendar: Le Fanu (or is it Laura?) sure uses the words "languid" and "languor" an awful lot.
  • Byronic Heroine: Carmilla is not devoid of morals, she looks for arguments to justify her actions. She is capable of great affection for her victims, turning close friend of them, rather than kill them quickly. Carmilla is seductive, charming, intellectual, with bipolar tendencies, despises Christianity, is self-critical and intense in the anger and passion.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: Laura is captivated by Carmilla, who unbeknownst to her is a vampire. While Laura thinks of Carmilla as a friend, without any apparent erotic component, Carmilla declares several times that she is in love with Laura.
  • Bury Your Gays: Of course at the end of the story the lesbian vampire dies.
  • Cats Are Mean: Carmilla can assume the shape of a monstrous cat.
  • Cassandra Truth: The peasants says that the disease in the region was attack of oupire, aka vampire, and Laura's father don't believe them.
  • Claimed by the Supernatural: Laura claimed by Carmilla.
  • Combo Platter Powers: Carmilla has super power, is super fast, can evaporate into the air, she cross walls and if transformed into a monstrous cat.
  • Daywalking Vampire: Carmilla is not hurt by sunlight; however, she appears to be more powerful at night.
  • Dark Is Evil: Carmilla's mother wears black velvet in the chariot scene, Carmilla is described by Laura as having Black Eyes and dark hair with "something golden". Also, Carmilla assume the shape of black cat.
  • First Name Basis: Carmilla, till the revelation of her true name: Countess Micarlla Karnstein.
  • Genre Blindness: To some extent, Laura can be forgiven her naïveté due to living in a time when the vampire genre barely existed. Still, she's overly willing to give Carmilla the benefit of the doubt even as her behaviour grows increasingly suspicious, showing fear and hatred towards religious symbols and ceremonies, disappearing from her room every morning and returning in the late afternoon, and even after Laura herself turns up with bite marks on her chest.
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold paired with Innocent Blue Eyes: Laura, your Beauty Equals Goodness.
  • Haunted Castle: Though it is technically not haunted before Carmilla shows up there.
  • Hemo Erotic: It is strongly implied that sucking blood is a lustful experience for Carmilla.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Carmilla and Laura are constantly kissing, hugging, touching and caressing one another.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Technically played straight: The facts that Carmilla obviously only stalks women, preferably girls of her own age, and is eager to form a romantic relationship with Laura (instead of finishing her off within days, as she does with other victims), are superficially glossed over as just a peculiar manifestation of vampiric bloodlust. Carmilla is never defined as a lesbiannote , and this is justified insofar she does not seek satisfaction for sexual desires, but for her hunger for blood. However, because erotic connotations are inherent to the vampire genre to start with (and accordingly, literary vampires from the beginning in general prefer victims of the opposite sex), this could still be read as a clear implication of lesbianism on Carmilla's part (and most readers seem to take it as this). On the other hand, there is an alternative interpretation that Carmilla stalks young women because she herself died as a young woman, and therefore is cursed to drain the life of other young women out of desire to regain a taste of the life she herself was not allowed to live. So whether Carmilla is a lesbian or not is ultimately in the eye of the reader. The ambiguity between the two interpretations may very well be deliberate on the author's part.
  • Ill Girl: What Carmilla appears to be at first; a lot of her seeming quirks are forgiven on that basis. Also what vampire victims slowly become if they happen to attract the vampire (otherwise the vampire kills them quickly).
  • Innocence Lost: Laura. At end the book, it is clear that she never recovered by Carmilla. [..] and 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.
  • Left Hanging: Carmilla apparently converted Laura's cousin. What happened to her? Also, what happened to the Lady in black velvet supposed to be Carmilla's mother? Who was the old ugly woman that never left the coach that brought Carmilla? Who (or what) were the repulsive-looking servants that handled the coach? Who was the tall pale man in black that took Carmilla's mother away from the masquerade? If all these were vampires, why is the threat supposed to be ended, when only Carmilla has been destroyed?
  • Lesbian Vampire: Trope Maker, if not Trope Codifier. Note that the novella never makes it clear whether Carmilla's attraction to Laura is erotic in nature ... or gastronomical. The ambiguity, however, is quite unambiguous.
    • Somewhat prefigured and quite possibly inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Christabel. Scholars have noticed the similarities between Christabel and Laura, and also those between Coleridge's mysterious Geraldine and Le Fanu's Carmilla.
  • Last Name Basis: General Spieldorf, Madame Perrodon, Mademoiselle LaFontaine and Baron Vordenburg.
  • Missing Mom: Laura is motherless.
  • Masquerade Ball: The ideal opportunity for vampires to stalk potential victims.
  • Must Be Invited: Pretending to be human, the vampires go to great lengths to trick their victims into actively inviting them into their houses. However, the same limitation seems not to apply to Carmilla's nightly feeding forays.
  • No Time to Explain: What the father of Laura tells her when the she asks what the doctor said.
  • No Name Given: Laura's dad and Carmilla's mother. As it's told from her viewpoint, the narrator (Laura) goes nameless for half of the story until another character finally address her by name.
  • Not Using the Z Word: The word "vampire" is never used until the last few pages. Before that, there is only ominous talk about the oupir, the North-slavic version of the vampire.
  • Only One Name: Laura.
  • Oblivious to Love: Laura seems not to notice that feelings of Carmilla are deeper than friendship, even when she says that loves her. Other alternatives are that she acts as oblivious, because she is frightened by the passion of Carmilla and feel the same, after all, she lives in a time that there is no reference to female homosexuality. Or because she is telling his story to a man, Dr. Hesselius, that she knows he can judge her.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: For the curious: Le Fanu's vampire facts. Click here 
  • Parental Substitute: Madame Perrodon is for Laura a second mother.
  • Rasputinian Death: According to the local vampire expert, the following must be done to prevent a vampire's resurrection: first they have to be impaled, then decapitated, burned, and then have their ashes thrown into a river. This is Carmilla's ultimate fate.
  • Science Is Wrong: The father of Laura thinks that the deaths in the region are caused by an epidemic or plague, he mocks and is skeptical of the superstitions. What he does not realize is that the deaths really have supernatural cause, the peasants are right, and the killer is his guest.
  • Secondary Character Title
  • Significant Anagram: Carmilla apparently creates new aliases for herself by anagramming her original name Mircalla; a previous victim knew her as "Millarca."
  • Stalker with a Crush: Carmilla to Laura.
  • Stalking Is Love: In Carmilla's head. She see her obsession for Laura how love is, she says: "You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me and still come with me. and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature."
  • Straight Gay: Carmilla. Laura says that despite her 'passionate declarations', hers habits and ways are female, nothing indicates 'masculinity'.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Laura seems to nourish some affection for Carmilla, even after discovering that she's a vampire.
  • Tsundere: Laura to Carmilla. She admits that feels pleasure to be in the arms of Carmilla, but also disgust.
  • Together in Death: It is likely that this was the plan of Carmilla because of dialogues like, "But to the lovers may die - to die together, so that they may live together."
  • Überwald: Styria.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: The implied sexual tension between Laura and Carmilla throughout the book.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: Although there is no actual sex in the story, everyone is smitten by Carmilla's beauty and charm (well, until The Reveal). Also, her "mum" is definitely a looker.
  • Vampire Hunter: Baron Vordenburg (likely the Trope Maker).
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: In this case, Laura or Le Fanu. She says in the first chapter that was 19 years old when the story happened and it has passed eight years. But as soon as she recounts the supposed dream, about the visit of the woman (Carmilla) in your room, she says that had no more than six years and then when she finds Carmilla, both say it's been 12 years since the "dream"... That is, Laura must have 17, 18 at the time of the story, not 19. Later in the middle of the book she says that "10 years have passed since then", but Laura, were not eight ??
    • Some authors argue that the confusing dates have been intentional on the part of Le Fanu, indicating that Laura is not a reliable narrator.
  • Yandere: Although the story predates the term by over a century, this is definitely what Carmilla is in regards to Laura