At the end of the world…will you find me?

carmilla

„Carmilla” captured me in an amazing dark read, I must say I was impressed by the richness of the vocabulary of such a few pages write. The story and the characters, alltogether with the environment, are brilliantly exposed in an very unique and special way, somehow typicall for the 19 th century British novelists :  the way it was written was in such a possession of words that captures imagination,  reveals strong sensations and reflects the power of  the character, dark ones are always surrounded by a black mist of mystery and sensuality, although there’s the mystery and sensuality of death, as you can guess  the story, yet remain in awe if she get’s caught or will  live forever.

“You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me, and still come with me.” 

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 ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever.

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“Carmilla”  is a Gothic Novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and one of the early works of  vampire fiction, predating Bran Stocker’s “Dracula”  (1897) by 26 years. First published as a serial in The Dark Blue (1871–72), the story is narrated by a young woman preyed upon by a female vampire named Carmilla, later revealed to be Mircalla, Countess Karnstein.

Carmilla is the eponymous anti-heroine that was born into the aristocratic Karnstein family in 17th Century Austria. She was originally called Mircalla (the more observant amongst you will note this is an anagram of Carmilla), and changes her name whenever it suits her. She is the archetypal upper class vampire; a beautiful countess, whose youthful looks bely her age.

Carmilla is the original prototype for a legion of female and lesbian vampires.  The vampire’s sexuality it’s portraied with the circumspection that one would expect for his time, it is evident that lesbian attraction is the main dynamic between Carmilla and Laura.

While Carmilla selected exclusively female victims, she only becomes emotionally involved with a few. Carmilla had nocturnal habits, but was not confined to the darkness. She had unearthly beauty, and was able to change her form and to pass through solid walls. Her animal alter ego was a monstrous black cat, not a large dog as in Dracula. She did, however, sleep in a coffin. 

The first glimpse of Carmilla takes place hundreds of years after her birth. Over the years, she has developed an elaborate feeding ritual, that involves infiltrating the families of young girls and living alongside them, while she gradually drains their lifeblood over a period of weeks.

Laura is the other protagonist of the story – the victim, she’s the one that narrates the story, presented as written in a letter, beginning with her childhood in a “picturesque and solitary” castle amid an extensive forest in Styria, where she lives with her father, a wealthy English widower retired from service to the Austrian Empyre. When she was six, Laura had a vision of a beautiful visitor in her bedchamber. She later claims to have been punctured in her breast, although no wound was found. Yet still, Laura is not like the other victimis of Carmilla.

„I can’t have been more than six years old, when one night I awoke, and looking round the room from my bed failed to see the nursery maid. Neither was my nurse there; I thought myself alone. I was not frightened, for I was one of those happy children who are studiosly kept in ignorance of ghost stories, of fairytales and of all such lore as makes us cover up our heads when the door cracks suddenly, or the flicker of an expiring candle makes the shadow of a bedpost dance upon the wall, nearer to our faces. I was vexed and insulted at finding myself, as I conceive, neglected, and I began to whimper, preparatory to a hearty bout of roaring; when to my surprise, I saw a solemn, but very pretty face looking at me from the side of the bed. It was that of an young lady who was kneeling, with her hands under the coverlet. I looked at her with a kind of pleased wonder, and ceased whimpering. She caressed me with her hands and lay down beside me on the bed, and drew me towards her, smiling; I felt immediately delightfully soothed and fell asleep again. I was  wakened  by a sensation as if  two needles ran into my breast very deep at the same moment, and I cried loudly. The lady started back, with her eyes fixed on me, and then slipped down upon the floor, and, as I thought, hid herself under the bed.”

Twelve years later, Laura and her father are admiring the sunset in front of the castle when her father tells her of a letter from his friend, General Spielsdorf. The General was supposed to bring his niece, Bertha Rheinfeldt, to visit the two, but the niece suddenly died under mysterious circumstances. The General ambiguously concludes that he will discuss the circumstances in detail when they meet later.

Laura, saddened by the loss of a potential friend, longs for a companion. A carriage accident outside Laura’s home unexpectedly brings a girl of Laura’s age into the family’s care. Her name is Carmilla. Both girls instantly recognize the other from the “dream” they both had when they were young.

Carmilla appears injured after her carriage accident, but her mysterious mother informs Laura’s father that her journey is urgent and cannot be delayed. She arranges to leave her daughter with Laura and her father until she can return in three months. Before she leaves, she sternly notes that her daughter will not disclose any information whatsoever about her family, past, or herself, and that Carmilla is of sound mind. Laura comments that this information seems needless to say, and her father laughs it off.

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Carmilla and Laura grow to be very close friends, but occasionally Carmilla’s mood abruptly changes. She sometimes makes unsettling romantic advances towards Laura.

“I have been in love with no one, and never shall,” she whispered, “unless it should be with you.”
How beautiful she looked in the moonlight!
Shy and strange was the look with which she quickly hid her face in my neck and hair, with tumultuous sighs, that seemed almost to sob, and pressed in mine a hand that trembled.
Her soft cheek was glowing against mine. “Darling, darling,” she murmured, “I live in you; and you would die for me, I love you so.”
I started from her.
She was gazing on me with eyes from which all fire, all meaning had flown, and a face colorless and apathetic.
“Is there a chill in the air, dear?” she said drowsily. “I almost shiver; have I been dreaming? Let us come in. Come; come; come in.” 

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Carmilla refuses to tell anything about herself, despite questioning by Laura. Her secrecy is not the only mysterious thing about Carmilla; she never joins the household in its prayers, she sleeps much of the day, and she seems to sleepwalk outside at night.

„You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me, and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature.” 

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She quickly insinuates herself into the household, and despite a certain strangeness in her habits and conversation, succeeds in seducing the unsuspecting Laura. This proves a fairly simple task, as Laura has a strange fascination with her newfound friend, stemming from a dream she had when she was just a small child. Little does she know that Carmilla is gradually sucking her dry of blood. The lesbianesque scenes that occur between Carmilla and Laura are surprisingly risque for the period. The girls spend many langurous hours kissing, fondling, and gazing into each others eyes. Carmilla even professes her love for Laura, though this doesn’t stop her from continuing her nightly visitations.

“Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die–die, sweetly die–into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.”

“From these foolish embraces, which were not of very frequent occurrence,
I must allow, I used to wish to extricate myself; but my energies seemed
to fail me. Her murmured words sounded like a lullaby in my ear, and
soothed my resistance into a trance, from which I only seemed to recover
myself when she withdrew her arms.
In these mysterious moods I did not like her. I experienced a strange
tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with
a vague sense of fear and disgust. I had no distinct thoughts about her
while such scenes lasted, but I was conscious of a love growing into
adoration, and also of abhorrence. This I know is paradox, but I can
make no other attempt to explain the feeling.” 

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Young women and girls in the vicinity have begun dying from an unknown malady. When the funeral procession of one such victim passes by the two girls, Laura joins in the funeral hymn. Carmilla bursts out in rage and scolds Laura, complaining that the hymn hurts her ears.

When a shipment of restored heirloom paintings arrives, Laura finds a portrait of her ancestor, Mircalla, Countess Karnstein, dated 1698. The portrait resembles Carmilla exactly, down to the mole on her neck. Carmilla says she might be descended from the Karnsteins.

During Carmilla’s stay, Laura has nightmares of a large cat-like beast entering her room and biting her on the chest. The beast then takes the form of a female figure and disappears through the door without opening it. In another nightmare, Laura hears a voice say, “Your mother warns you to beware of the assassin,” and a sudden light reveals Carmilla standing at the foot of her bed, her nightdress drenched in blood. Laura’s health declines, and her father has a doctor examine her. He finds a small blue spot on her chest and speaks privately with her father, only asking that Laura never be unattended.

„For some nights I slept profoundly; but still every morning I felt the same lassitude, and a languor weighed upon me all day. I felt myself a changed girl. A strange melancholy was stealing over me, a melancholy that I would not have interrupted. Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome possession of me. If it was sad, the tone of mind which this induced was also sweet. Whatever it might be, my soul acquiesced in it.”

Her father then sets out with Laura, in a carriage, for the ruined village of Karnstein, three miles distant. They leave a message behind asking Carmilla and one of the governesses to follow once the perpetually late-sleeping Carmilla wakes. En route to Karnstein, Laura and her father encounter General Spielsdorf. He tells them his own ghastly story.

At a costume ball, Spielsdorf and his niece Bertha had met a young woman named Millarca and her enigmatic mother. Bertha was immediately taken with Millarca. The mother convinced the General that she was an old friend of his and asked that Millarca be allowed to stay with them for three weeks while she attended to a secret matter of great importance.

Bertha fell mysteriously ill, suffering the same symptoms as Laura. After consulting with a specially-ordered priestly doctor, the General realized that Bertha was being visited by a vampire. He hid with a sword and waited until a large black creature crawled onto his niece’s bed and to her neck. He leapt from his hiding place and attacked the beast, which took the form of Millarca. She fled through the locked door, unharmed. Bertha died immediately afterward.

Upon arriving at Karnstein, the General asks a woodman where he can find the tomb of Mircalla Karnstein. The woodman says the tomb was relocated long ago by the hero who vanquished the vampires that haunted the region.

While the General and Laura are alone in the ruined chapel, Carmilla appears. The General and Carmilla both fly into a rage upon seeing each other, and the General attacks her with an axe. Carmilla disarms the General and disappears. The General explains that Carmilla is also Millarca, both anagrams for the original name of the vampire Mircalla, Countess Karnstein.

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The party is joined by Baron Vordenburg, the descendant of the hero who rid the area of vampires long ago. Vordenburg, an authority on vampires, has discovered that his ancestor was romantically involved with the Countess Karnstein before she died and became one of the undead. Using his forefather’s notes, he locates Mircalla’s hidden tomb. An Imperial Commission exhumes the vampire’s body. Immersed in blood, it seems to be breathing faintly, its heart beating, its eyes open. A stake is driven through its heart, and it gives a corresponding shriek; then the head is struck off. The body and head are burned to ashes, which are thrown into a river.

Afterwards, Laura’s father takes his daughter on a year-long tour through Italy to recover from the trauma and regain her health.

“You are afraid to die?’
Yes, everyone is.’
But to die as lovers may – to die together, so that they may live together. Girls are caterpillars when they live in the world, to be finally butterflies when the summer comes; but in the meantime there are grubs and larvae, don’t you see – each with their peculiar propensities, necessities and structures.”

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At the end of the world…will you find me?

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