Carmilla: A Critical Edition by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu

First serialized in the journal “The Dark Blue” and published shortly thereafter in the short story collection In a Glass Darkly, Le Fanu’s 1872 vampire tale is in many ways the overlooked older sister of Bram Stoker’s more acclaimed Dracula. A thrilling gothic tale, Carmilla tells the story of a young woman lured by the charms of a female vampire.
This edition includes a student-oriented introduction, tracing the major critical responses to Carmilla, and four interdisciplinary essays by leading scholars who analyze the story from a variety of theoretical perspectives. Ranging from politics to gender, Gothicism to feminism, and nineteenth-century aestheticism to contemporary film studies, these critical yet accessible articles model the diverse ways that scholars can approach a single text. With a glossary, biography, bibliography, and explanatory notes on the text, this edition is ideal for students of Irish and British nineteenth-century literature.–Description from Goodreads


Paperback, 196 pages
Published March 15th 2013 by Syracuse University Press (first published 1871)
0815633114 (ISBN13: 9780815633112)
original title
My Thoughts
I am divided over this book. I can’t really decide if I respect it for being a pioneering work of its time or if I think the author should have kept this one private.

The draw for me was the idea of a vampire novel created 25 years or so prior to the much more well known Dracula, and a Gaelic Gothic novella at that. I’m not sure I was exactly expecting what I found in this book. I’m not only referring to the content of the story, but also the length of the critical thoughts. The discussion of Le Fanu’s work in this book is actually longer than the work itself. Although the introduction was very interesting and the later analyzing of the work was also interesting, if you are looking for a book for simple entertainment I certainly wouldn’t recommend this edition.

If you are instead looking for a breakdown of the story and would like to further study this subject, this would be the book to choose. This critical edition is filled with fact, historical information and theories on how this story came to be and what influenced the author to write it the way he did. The discussion of the effects of those novella on society at the time gave me pause and reason to stop and consider other aspects of this work I might have ordinarily overlooked.

So, here is my breakdown:

The story itself I loved and hated. The idea of a creature of such magnificent beauty with an underlying current of such grotesque evil has been done many times, both before and after the writing of this work. The visually appealing creature of vampiric nature that does not distinguish between male or female victims was interesting and complex.

For the Victorian Era this book concerns, the idea of an older woman preying on a younger woman in a lesbian fashion must have been shocking to the readers of the time. This being said, there are a lot of ideas in this book that have been used in more modern literature to create the vampire image that we are now familiar with and perhaps not enough credit has been bestowed upon Carmilla for changing the face of the vampire that we know today.

If I were pressed to choose a favourite part of this story, it would be the overall mysterious quality of Carmilla herself. She is guarded toward the other characters in the book as well as toward the audience. One is never entirely sure how she came to be what she is and why she behaves as she does. I was intrigued by the idea that she was as much a mental vampire as she was a physical one.

This is a book that must be left for the reader to interpret and draw conclusions from. Did the author have some type of agenda? Possibly. There are psychosocial and political elements to this story that the reader can certainly spend days evaluating and still not have a perfect sense of the author’s intentions.

I personally enjoyed the critical view of the book more than the book in and of itself. I agreed strongly with the author on many points and found it didn’t take much persuasion for me to side with the connections that were made in reference Le Fanu’s work. This study text was thought provoking and not only made me consider the way the world has changed from the 1800’s to now in a literary aspect, but was also aroused my curiosity on a number of other levels.

One things is for certain, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was certainly bold in his writing of this tale. The novella debuted at a point in history when sexual deviance among men was quite common and spoken of freely, but the idea of women engaging in such acts was unheard of and a taboo in society. I wonder what he would think of the world today.

4 thoughts on “Carmilla: A Critical Edition by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu”

  1. Hmm, from your description, it sounds like he could fit quite nicely into today’s society. So…. I thought Dracula invented the whole vampire thing so this is kind of shocking to me. How old are vampire tales?


    1. There are legends of vampire-like creatures from as far back as 125 AD, when one of the first known vampire stories occurred in Greek Mythology. But the word Upir (an early form of the word later to become ‘Vampire’) appears for the first time in written form in 1047 in a document to a Russian prince as Upir Lichy or ‘Wicked Vampire’.


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