I’ve heard a lot of stuff about Sheridan LeFanu’s 1872 lesbian vampire novella Carmilla, but I’d never read it. Then I read Mallory Ortberg’s “Texts From Carmilla” post, and I laughed so hard that I thought, “Right. That’s it. I have got to read this book.”
So I’m recapping it here for you in a 4-part series. If you’d like to read along, the original text can be found here.
I swear a lot, so if that’s not your thing, then don’t read any further. There are obviously going to be spoilers.
The prologue opens with some guy writing about how he’s not going to write a prologue to the story we’re about to hear because he can’t add anything substantial. Well, this is just pointless.
The narrator, Laura, lives in a castle in Germany. Her mother is dead and her best friends are her two governesses. Everything is rural and Gothic and delightful, and they live near a forest, and there is this abandoned ghost town nearby that was formerly owned by an extinct family called the Karnsteins.
Chekov’s ghost town duly loaded.
Also Chekov’s forest and Chekov’s isolated German castle and Chekov’s ‘extinct’ noble family.
Laura recounts how, once, when she was six, she woke up in her nursery to find a weird, beautiful woman kneeling at the side of her bed. The woman put her hands under the covers, started rubbing Laura until she fell back asleep (?!) and then Laura woke up when she felt two ‘needles’ being pushed into her breast. She screamed, as you do, and the strange woman disappeared .
Wow, they are not wasting their time with the creepy lesbian vampire thing. Even creepier because Laura was SIX. Are we about to embark on Louis/Claudia territory? Or, god forbid, 100-something-year-old Edward and 16-year-old Bella territory?
The maid and the nurse come running and can’t see anyone, and examine Laura breast, and can’t see any wound, and at first they think it’s a nightmare, but then they realize that someone has very clearly been laying in her bed with Laura, and recently, as the bed is still warm and bears the shape of the adult laying there.
Laura clearly has PTSD after this and makes her nursery maid sit up with her every night while she sleeps until she’s about 14.
Meanwhile, in the present day, a dude named General Spielsdorf was going to visit Laura and her father with his niece, but he’s been delayed. Laura is bummed because she is lonely AF, as girls in isolated castle hellscapes are bound to be.
As it turns out, the General is delayed because his niece is DEAD. Wow, Le Fanu REALLY doesn’t want Laura to have any friends.
WHO WILL FILL LAURA’S GAPING VOID
I WONDER WHO WILL COME AND BE A FRIEND AND ‘BOSOM’ COMPANION
COULD IT BE CARMILLA, SHE OF THE (I assume) PREVIOUS BOOB BITING?
The general writes that his niece died of a MYSTERY ILLNESS, and oh, thank the heavenly lord she did not know what MYSTERY ILLNESS killed her, and he was going to go track down the monster responsible for this MYSTERY ILLNESS, woe, lamentation, revenge.
Later that night, there is a horrible carriage crash right outside of the castle, and a poor, beautiful girl traveling in the carriage seems to be desperately hurt. There is an old woman traveling with her who tells Laura that she has to travel onward, as a matter of life and death, but her poor girl is too ill to continue, and needs to rest in their castle until she comes back in three months. They say okay.
Well, technically her father says okay. Laura says, “OH PLEASE DADDY CAN I HAVE A FRIEND? MY LAST FRIEND DIED BEFORE I EVEN GOT TO MEET HER, AND THIS ONE ISN’T LOOKING SO HEALTHY, EITHER, PLEASE CAN I KEEP HER BEFORE SHE DIES?”
This is going to lead to some SERIOUS buyer’s remorse.
They go for the doctor and get Carmilla all safe in bed. Everyone agrees that Carmilla is super babetastic.
Then the governesses discuss the OTHER woman in the carriage, which no one has mentioned until this point. Apparently there was a hideous, creepy black woman wearing a turban, who just sort of chilled in the overturned carriage until it was righted again, and gave everyone the evil eye.
Apparently Carmilla’s mother told Laura’s father that Carmilla will reveal nothing about their urgent mission, who they are, where they’re from, etc. etc. Because that’s not ominous or anything. At least the father has the good sense to realize that he might have gotten them into some shady business.
The next day Carmilla is well enough to see visitors, so Laura practically teleports into her room and is like, “FRIEND????” Call this a little heavy-handed on Le Fanu’s part, but Laura’s father decided to give Carmilla the stateliest bedroom in the castle, complete with a tapestry depicting Cleopatra with the asp biting her bosom.
You mean an ancient, sexualized woman with some boob-biting happening? It’s about to get all kinds of sexy up in hurr.
And, sho nuff, Laura instantly recognizes Carmilla as the woman who bit Laura’s 6-year old booby all those years ago. Carmilla also recognizes Laura because apparently she had a weird dream about getting into bed with 6-year old Laura. Laura doesn’t know what to make of this, but Carmilla is super hot, so Laura gets over her PTSD and is like, “Cool! Mutual dream-hauntings! Let’s be fuck buddies!”
Laura asks Carmilla if she wants someone to sit with her through the night, but she says no, she’ll just lock the door from the inside. Then they get intimate fast, and start calling each other ‘darling’ and whispering sweet nothings into each others’ ears. It’s only a matter of time before they start whispering sweet nothings into each others’ vaginas.
They keep stating that they are just really really really good friends, and I’m like, “Guys? Who are you lying to? Me, or yourselves?” This closet is flimsier than wet cardboard. Let’s see how long it takes them break through it.
END PART ONE
The next three parts will take place over the course of the next three entries.