Review by Shwetha H S
Author: Sheridan Le Fanu
Imprint: Pushkin Press, UK
ISBN Number: 978-1-78227584-8
Genre: Classic, Fiction, Horror, Gothic, Vampires, Sapphic/Lesbian
Sheridan Le Fanu is an Irish writer, who lived in Dublin in the 1800s. He is touted to be Stephen King of his times. His work, Carmilla, is said to be the cult classic that inspired Bram Stoker to write his cult classic, Dracula.
Young Laura and her father live in a schloss (German for castle) in a place called Styria where families live very far from each other, but would like to visit each other. Laura doesn’t have any friends of her age, except her governesses who are of course older than her. She awaits visits from her far away neighbours hoping they would bring in their young nieces or friends with whom she could be friends. One such visit of an elderly neighbour with his niece gets cancelled at the last moment due to sudden death of the niece, for reasons unexplained to them by the neighbour. One night, in an accident outside their schloss, an injured girl of the age about that of Laura, is taken in after a lot of discussion with a lady who claims to be her mother. Joyed to have a friend at last, Laura spends a lot of time with her new friend, Carmilla, who is always tired, languid and tantrum-throwing. As Laura becomes closer to Carmilla, the more the former girl becomes weak. Unable to understand why Laura is weakening and getting nightmares, her father searches for answers. What answers does he get? What happened to the neighbour’s niece? Who is Carmilla? What happens to Laura? Read the book to get your answers.
If you have already read Dracula by Bram Stoker, you will find Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu a little pale. But, on the other hand, Carmilla is an easy read compared to Dracula. I personally don’t like epistolary novels. Dracula took me a very long time to finish reading. I struggled with it. Although Carmilla is in a similar form, it is a short read and hence tolerable. But, that is just me. Apart from this, I must acknowledge the fact that while writing one of the early fictions of vampirism, Sheridan Le Fanu also included homosexuality in it. Must have been too much to handle for the people of his era. However, it is very subtly handled in the narration. That might have avoided any furore. We don’t know what might have happened at that time. Sheridan Le Fanu is more dead than Carmilla now to answer our questions.
All in all, I neither recommend nor reject Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu. You are on your own with this.