Vampires! I can always come back to that well, right? The undead, blood-drinking well. That has bats in it. And cats. And also dogs, and wolves, and basically animals, is what I’m saying, vampires are a lot of animals and stuff and maybe people too, but never good people. That’s what I’m saying. Are we clear? Good. So. “Carmilla” by Sheridan Le Fanu.
And now we can talk about lesbian vampires! I’m sure you’re excited. OK, so here’s what happens. Laura lives out in the middle of nowhere with her father in the woods, in her family’s ancestral hall. Her father’s friend, the General, has a daughter, and that daughter is supposed to be coming for a visit. Then she dies. Laura is sad. Then a carriage crashes near her home, with a young lady, Laura’s age, named Carmilla inside it. A woman says she is on urgent business and must leave her daughter, Carmilla, behind if she is too injured to go on. She will return for her. Laura’s father volunteers to care for her. Naturally Laura and Carmilla realize, after Carmilla wakes up, that they were in each other’s dreams when they were younger. Carmilla assumes this means they are fated to be together. This story is not subtle with the implied lesbian urges here. Not subtle at all.
Carmilla sleeps most of the day and hates Christian hymns. She also slips into Laura’s room at night and feeds on her in the form of a giant black cat. But I guess that was supposed to be a secret? I mean, look, Carmilla’s a vampire, was that clear? I thought it was clear. If not, the story can yell at you some more about it. Laura’s dad finds some old portraits and one of them is of his great-great-a lot of greats-grandmother, and of course it looks exactly like Carmilla. Because Carmilla is a vampire and is the person in the portrait. Not that anyone in the story can realize this. Ever. I should mention the name of the woman in the painting is Mircalla. Just let that sink in a moment. Yeah, go on, shout at the screen. These characters are idiots.
Carmilla and Laura spend a lot of time together, holding hands and such. Laura says Carmilla’s attentions are like a lover’s and that they disgust her, but in the same passage she takes careful note of how hard Carmilla’s chest rises and falls – which seems to me to indicate she’s staring at Carmilla’s boobs. Like I said, real subtle, this story.
Eventually Laura gets sick from her nightly bloodletting and her dad takes her on a trip to look at a cemetery. I would make a joke about how weird this is if it weren’t something I do for fun regularly. Carmilla is to come along when she’s ready, and by ready I mean awake. They run into the General, because why not I guess? Or, alternately, plot. He tells them all about how his daughter died shortly after taking in a new friend named Millarca they met at a costume ball, and how he discovered, after a lot of research, that really Millarca is a vampire! Shock!
Also, she is actually Mircalla, which is totally a legit name and not an anagram of Carmilla, the only name in this mess that makes sense. They wander around, try to find the tomb of Mircalla, fail, find the descendant of the guy that buried her in a hidden tomb and get him to tell them where she’s buried, go there, and kill her. Hurray! ? I guess? Woo!
All right, all right. I like this story, though it may not seem that way. It’s very ridiculous. Le Fanu is good times, you should read him. He also wrote “Green Tea” which I will probably write about at some future date, and a bunch of other stories set in the notebooks of Dr. Hesselius, who is, according to Wikipedia, the first occult doctor/detective character in British literature. I think that might be true. In “Carmilla” Hesselius doesn’t actually appear, it’s just an account in one of his books or notebooks. But it’s increased data on this mystical world he’s investigating that no one knows about. I think in “Green Tea” he’s called a metaphysical physician or something like that, which is pretty interesting. Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, and even (sorta) Arthur Machen all had mystic detectives of one kind or another. These Le Fanu stories are arguably the start of all that.
I’m trying to think of any contemporary versions. I haven’t read them, but I think the Jim Butcher novels are one example. Terry Pratchett does it sometimes in his Discworld novels. The most obvious one, I guess, is The X-Files.
But what about the vampires, you might ask? What about them? Well, “Carmilla” predates Dracula and was certainly a source for the later work – Stoker originally put Dracula’s castle in the same countryside that Laura and her father live in, though he moved it to Transylvania later. The sexuality clearly bled over – other earlier vampire stories lightened or sublimated the sexuality, but not “Carmilla” and not Dracula. Fuck that noise. It’s all heaving breasts this and men creepily blending their blood that. Man.
I also have to wonder, personally, if “Carmilla” is where vampire get the anagram name stuff. I mean, is that an actual folk legend somewhere, or is it Le Fanu’s fault that generations of Dracula fictions have told us that the most brilliant vampire in history thinks “Alucard” is a really good incognito?
I mean, I watched Monster Squad, I know this shit is out there. Really? Mircalla? I mean, jeez…