“You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.”
When a mysterious carriage crashes outside their castle home in Styria, Austria, Laura and her father agree to take in its injured passenger, a young woman named Carmilla. Delighted to have some company of her own age, Laura is instantly drawn to Carmilla. But as their friendship grows, Carmilla’s countenance changes and she becomes increasingly volatile. As Carmilla’s moods shift, Laura starts to become ill, experiencing fiendish nightmares, her health deteriorating night after night. It is not until she and her father, increasingly concerned for Laura’s well-being, set out on a trip to discover more about the mysterious Carmilla that the terrifying truth reveals itself…
Can’t go wrong with the classics, can you?
Considering how much I loved this book, it’s amazing that I put off reading it for so long. I certainly preferred it over Dracula and the less said about Varney The Vampire, the better. (Sorry, Mr. Rymer, Varney’s a fun penny dreadful character, and he’s important to the genesis of the vampire novel and all but his name sounds like he teaches spelling on Sesame Street.)
So, we’ve got a lonely girl living with her father in an isolated castle in a district of Austria. (Really, though, its contemporaneous audience would have probably thought any European country beyond the Alps was a little… backwards and traditionalist, shall we say.) Laura gains a new friend in Carmilla, a sweet, beautiful girl her age who takes her on as her best friend, despite being weird as all hell. She’ll mention her family has a title, but then refuse to give Laura any information about what country she’s from or any nobles she’s related to. Since Carmilla is such a sweet girl, Laura just lets it slide until she starts suffering from nightmares and discovers a mysterious bite wound one morning. Then Carmilla goes missing, and the final act is trying to dig up information on Laura’s strange condition, culminating finally in figuring out what the heck is up with Carmilla.
I’ve read many books from the Victorian era, the Regency, and a lot of the time it seems like many writers don’t have much of a grasp on subtlety. Maybe it’s my more modern tastes in literature, and maybe it’s hard to disengage oneself from all the horror tropes ever encountered in modern fiction, but the moment Laura got that painting of the Countess von Karnstein, and Carmilla was acting all cagey over it… Yeah. And to top it off, the Countess in the painting is supposedly called Millarca. (You don’t have to be a Countdown whiz to figure out that particular anagram.)
I’m not sure if that was supposed to be climactic in a way, because it absolutely killed the mystery for me. When the General is explaining how Carmilla came to be, and why the noblewoman in the painting actually died 100 years ago yet bears such a strong resemblance to Carmilla… Yeah. Sorry, Joe. I’m not going to dock off too much of my rating, because I still enjoyed this book a lot; but seriously, it’s a common thing in books of this era. (I’ll rant about elements I didn’t like about Count Fosco’s portrayal in The Woman in White at another time.)
The writing is lovely, though. Laura was sweet and intelligent, not prone to fits of the vapours, and genuinely happy to have some company around after spending almost her entire life growing up in a castle with her eccentric father. I really loved how genuine the friendship seemed between her and Carmilla, and oh, the les yay subtext.
Shame about that ending. The novel builds and builds and builds, then Captain Obvious steamrolls through the plot and kind of ruins it until the novel hastily wraps itself up. Sure, it is only a short story, and I really did love the writing and the characters enough to say it is one of the better Gothic novels I’ve read. I just wish the Captain Obvious humdinger hadn’t happened.
But now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to check out all that hullabaloo surrounding the Carmilla YouTube series. The cream puffs are on standby in the fridge.