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British Lit Ii.

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British Lit II

Carmilla

        Before the infamous vampire Dracula elevated the popularity of vampire stories to new heights, one vampire by the name of Carmilla was causing trouble in the lives of young girls in Austria and paving the way for Dracula. Carmilla is a character in the Gothic novella Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu’s story is one of the first vampire fictions in British literature. The short story holds true to Gothic elements such as a beautiful setting in Austria, missing mother figure, the vulnerable protagonist Laura, and order restored at the end. The novella takes the reader through some events that occurred to young Laura, which found her falling prey to Carmilla both physically and sexually. Published in 1872 during the Victorian Era a time of morality and sexual repression, Le Fanu's short story contradicted its time period because in the novella there is an underlying theme of lesbianism and sexual awaking. Le Fanu’s vampire tale is a great representation of sexuality and the fear of sexuality in the Victorian Era.

        Queen Victoria ruled England from 1837-1901 a period know as the Victorian Era. In an article called “Domestic Fathers and the Victorian Parental role,” by Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair they state that:

From the late eighteenth century secular attitudes to the mother–child relationship, which emphasized the importance of childhood as a stage in the life cycle, conjoined with religious discourses which privileged female piety. The consequence was to exalt moral motherhood and to conceive of it primarily in relation to its moral and educative responsibilities to children (Gordon, Nair 552).

Queen Victoria emphasized that women should maintain “Angel in the House” status, follow the moral laws and repress their sexual desires. Lesbianism during this time was looked upon in a unfavorable manner and women who indulged in the act were considered to be fallen women. Laura Mayhall author of “Did the Victorians Accept Female Marriage?,” posits that “The homosexual and the lesbian were defined by secrecy, stigma, and their asocial deviance from married couples” (Mayhall 77). Carmilla went against the hegemony of the Victorian Era, which perhaps made this literature captivating to its readers.

The story starts by introducing the reader to the perfect vampire fiction victim and narrator Laura. She is an innocent, vulnerable, and young English girl living in Styria which she describes as “Nothing can be more picturesque or solitary” (Le Fanu 1). She lives in a castle with her father and her two tutors. Despite the company of adults in the castle, she yearns for a friend close to her age. In an unexpected turn of events her desire is fulfilled when she witnesses an accident near her castle. With her father’s approval Laura welcomes a stranger Carmilla into their home. At first she is fearful of the new addiction in their home, because Carmilla is the woman that haunted her dreams at an early age. However things quickly turn into a sensual friendship.

Carmilla is the antagonist of the story and the bringer of change and destruction in the story. Carmilla symbolizes the fallen women. During the Victorian Era once a fallen woman left a household, children couldn’t be tended to and more often than not the destruction of the household soon followed. In the stories exposition and rising action very little is known about Carmilla but Laura describes her as “so beautiful and so indescribably engaging” (Le Fanu 19). Carmilla upon meeting Laura in the beautiful drawing room in the schloss, the reader becomes aware of her sexual attraction in the innocent Laura. Over the course of weeks Carmilla and Laura grow closer together, and intensify their exotic friendship.

Laura once a sheltered and pure example of traditional Victorian women with good morals but with the injection of lusty Carmilla; Laura finds herself in a battle against pleasure and regaining self control. In the novella readers are exposed to an array of exotic behavior lead by Carmilla on a helpless Laura. One example shows the over-powering of the controlling vampire and the victim’s embarrassment and lack of control over the new found pleasures:

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever." Then she had thrown herself back in her chair, with her small hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling. (Le Fanu 23)

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