ARC Review: Carmilla

Lesbian vampire novels from the 1800s is a genre I didn’t know I needed until now.

Laura is devastated when her summer companion dies before making it to her household. When the bewitching and beautiful Carmilla shows up shortly after, it seems like a stroke of good fortune. But with a strange illness sweeping through the town and increasingly odd events surrounding Carmilla, everything may not be as it seems.

So full disclosure, I haven’t read Dracula, but I know this book is supposedly its inspiration. And when I found out it was the sapphic inspiration, I was even more intrigued (although slightly disappointed when I found out it was written by a man, not a wlw, but I guess we can’t have everything).

My biggest fear/issue with the classics is the cumbersome language, so I was surprised to find that this book moved pretty fast. It wasn’t too much work to wade through, and felt more entertaining than analytical. The fact that it was only 160 pages probably helped. I know some other people wished it were longer, but honestly I thought the story worked pretty well with the small page number.

Carmilla was an interesting character, and I really wish we got to see more of her. I almost think the story would have been more interesting from her point of view, but at the same time the mystery surrounding who she was and where she came from was a big draw of the story. The romance was more subtle than in modern books, but definitely more explicit than I would expect from a book of this time period.

The plot seemed pretty standard, but I wasn’t really disappointed about its predictability. It felt like a familiar kind of story that I didn’t mind slipping into again. Almost like revisiting a comfort read. However, I will say that the ending, combined with the fact that it was written by a man, makes me question the message. I won’t spoil anything, but as another reviewer alluded to, it seems to paint sapphic relationships in quite a sinister light.

Overall I’d say this was a solid book. It wasn’t earth shattering for me, so I don’t think there’s actually too much more for me to say. But I can also appreciate how revolutionary it probably was for when it was written, despite the questionable message. If you’re a fan of sapphics, vampires, atmospheric writing, or classic literature you’ll probably enjoy this book.

Happy reading!

Rating: 3.5/5
Pacing: medium
Intended audience: adult
Content warnings: death of a loved one, murder

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19 thoughts on “ARC Review: Carmilla

  1. Wow – lesbian vampire novels from the 1800. That’s a genre now! Can we call it LEVAN1800 for short?

    I guess you learn something new every day!
    (Like the fact this was the inspiration for Bram Stoker – who would have thought?)

    Thanks for the great review!

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  2. Loved your review! This book has been on my radar for a while and I’ve read Dracula so I’ve got quite a bit of interest in it (plus, gothic sapphic romance? Sign me up!) The fact that it was written by a man and has a problematic message is unfortunate, though :/

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  3. Bram Stoker’s book has gotten loads of attention, so I was really surprised when I learned about “Carmilla” a few years ago. I listened to the audio version and thought it was a decent story. I think the ending was a bit flat, though.

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  4. It’s cool to see someone finding this for the first time, I’ve been meaning to give it a re-read for Halloween this year.

    That said, I feel like a big part of the iffy messaging is a matter of when it was written and can wind up being fascinating if you look at it as an artifact of the time as much as a story. Like, Le Fanu was writing this back in 1872, he was going to ultimately wind up having his vampire killed by the narrator’s father and his help from out of town because his audience would have expected it. Carmilla’s feelings for Laura were part of what would have clued the readers in on her nature in a time before vampire fiction had really been codified fully. But her feelings also aren’t treated as being horrid in and of themselves, strange and exceedingly intense for Laura but not bad on their own. That the reader is invited and even expected to have sympathy for Carmilla because Laura cares about her makes for a punch when her being a vampire and the cause of all the village deaths is revealed, but it also leaves the reveal incapable of killing the reader’s sympathy. I think that expected sympathy, and changing views on human sexuality, might be part of why it’s so easy to read the romance in the novella today.

    Sorry for the long comment, I think I might be headed off to start that re-read sooner rather than later.

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    1. Wow, this is a really interesting take! I think there were a couple lines that made me scratch my head–specifically the ones where Laura described her feelings in a way that suggested disgust or shame to me. And I think it’s interesting too that one of the first vampire novels chose to have a sapphic romance, which made me wonder if it might be metaphorical in a “watch out for evil women that want to seduce and then steal your life” kind of way. Although I hadn’t considered the fact that an audience would be expecting the vampire to be killed–that’s definitely true! As soon as I found out this was written by a man, and not a lesbian, I kind of expected that it wouldn’t have a happily ever after given the time period. Of course, I could also be reading too much into it with my modern lens haha. I’m curious if your reread will spark any more thoughts on this topic!

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  5. Wow you did it! The review is already up! But it’s a shortish book so good on you!
    I am more intrigued than when I saw your preview of it.
    I might actually pop this on my TBR list near the top since it’s a shorter read too! Sounds like it’s got an alright plot but interesting for the time.

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  6. Yes, you’re not wrong about the ending. Sheridan Le Fanu was attempting to demonstrate how dangerous the corrupting influence of gay women was on “proper young ladies.” That being said, vampirism in literature and media has always been very tied up in sexuality and specifically “deviant” identities, so it’s no surprise that works such as Carmilla and Dracula which are very much horror stories based on the fear that young ladies will be corrupted by sexual beings have been reclaimed by many LGBTQ+ readers. If you want a more interesting, wlw based story I whole heartedly recommend Carmilla the Series! There are three full seasons of the webseries on YouTube, as well as lots of extras such as a Christmas special set after the first season and a prequel mini season. They even got enough money to make a full length film! The producers, writers, and actors were very conscious of reclaiming the tale–and many are part of the community themselves. Additionally, there’s a webseries called Mina Murray’s Journal that should still be up on YouTube in which a bisexual Mina visits Count Dracula instead of Jonathan!

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  7. Wow, I actually had a hard time focusing on all the individual words because I was too busy absorbing the revelation that Dracula had a sapphic inspiration! 🤯 I only read bits of Dracula, but now I am really curious about Carmilla. Thanks for your review!

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