Book Review: Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu

Carmilla by Sheridan le Fanu

Publisher: Puskin Press

Publication date: 24 October 2021 (1872)

Genre: Gothic horror

Page count: 160 pages

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Carmilla is the original vampire story, steeped in the sexual tension between two young women and gothic romance.

In an isolated castle deep in the Austrian forest, teenaged Laura leads a solitary life with only her father, attendant and tutor for company. Until one moonlit night, a horse-drawn carriage crashes into view, carrying an unexpected guest — the beautiful Carmilla.

So begins a feverish friendship between Laura and her entrancing new companion, one defined by mysterious happenings and infused with an implicit but undeniable eroticism. As Carmilla becomes increasingly strange and volatile, prone to eerie nocturnal wanderings, Laura finds herself tormented by nightmares and growing weaker by the day…

I love Gothic fiction and classics, and have been after this particular edition of Carmilla ever since it came out. A foundational work of horror and LQBTQ literature, I was so excited to read it and I ended up loving it.

Carmilla clocks in at 156 pages, making it quite a short and accessible classic work. Unlike some classic authors who are incredibly long winded — getting paid by the word was a very real thing — Le Fanu manages to construct a short and fast paced story filled with tension and tropey goodness. Carmilla is the book that is filled with a number of well-known vampire tropes (beautiful virginal victim, an isolated castle in an eastern European forest, hypnotic glamour, etc.)
and laid the foundation for books like Dracula. I absolutely loved imagining how terrifying this book must have been for people reading these tropes for the first time.

This book is obviously about vampires, but it really focuses on the relationship between Laura and Carmilla. The sexual tension sizzles on the page, to the point where I’m kind of surprised that this book was published in the 1870s — you don’t always think of classic literature as having blatant sapphic tension. This book doesn’t read only as a great work of Gothic fiction, but as a seminal work of lesbian literature.

Carmilla is a great read for any horror and Gothic fans, as well as those looking for LGBTQ literature. I’d highly recommend adding this one to your spooky autumn TBR.

Want to pick up a copy of Carmilla for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links): 

Blackwells | Book Depository

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