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This article is about the novella. For the web series, see Carmilla (series).
For other uses, see Carmilla (disambiguation).
Illustration from The Dark Blue by D. H. Friston, 1872
Author Sheridan Le Fanu
Country Ireland
Language English
Genre Gothic
Publication date

Carmilla is a Gothic novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and one of the early works of vampire fiction, predating Bram Stoker'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 an anagram of Mircalla). The story is often anthologized and has been adapted many times in film and other media.


Carmilla, serialized in the literary magazine The Dark Blue in late 1871 and early 1872,[1] was reprinted in Le Fanu's short story collection In a Glass Darkly (1872). Comparing the work of the two illustrators, David Henry Friston and Michael Fitzgerald, whose work appears in the magazine but not in modern printings of the book, reveals inconsistencies in the characters' depictions. Consequently, confusion has arisen relating the pictures to the plot.[citation needed] Isabella Mazzanti illustrated the book's 2014 anniversary edition, published by Editions Soleil and translated by Gaid Girard.[2][3]

Plot summary[edit]

Le Fanu presents the story as part of the casebook of Dr. Hesselius, whose departures from medical orthodoxy rank him as the first occult doctor in literature.[4]

Laura, one of the two protagonists, narrates, 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 Empire. 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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Funeral, illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for Carmilla in The Dark Blue (January 1872)

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.

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.


As with Dracula, critics have looked for the sources used in the writing of Carmilla. Matthew Gibson proposes that Le Fanu used Dom Augustin Calmet's Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des demons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie, et de Silesie (1746),[5] which was first anonymously translated into English in a single volume as Dissertations Upon the Apparitions of Angels, Daemons, and Ghosts, and Concerning the Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia (1759).[6] and later translated into English in two volumes as The phantom world, or, The philosophy of spirits, apparitions, &c. (1850)[7][8] Gibson also believes that the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould's The Book of Were-wolves (1863) and his account of Elizabeth Báthory, Coleridge's Christabel (Part 1, 1797 and Part 2, 1800), and Captain Basil Hall's Schloss Hainfeld; or a Winter in Lower Styria (London and Edinburgh, 1836) are other sources for Le Fanu's Carmilla. Hall's account provides much of the Styrian background and, in particular, a model for both Carmilla and Laura in the figure of Jane Anne Cranstoun, Countess Purgstall.[9][10]


Carmilla, the title character, is the original prototype for a legion of female and lesbian vampires. Though Le Fanu portrays his vampire's sexuality with the circumspection that one would expect for his time, it is evident that lesbian attraction is the main dynamic between Carmilla and the narrator of the story:[11]

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". (Carmilla, Chapter 4).

When compared to other literary vampires of the 19th century, Carmilla is a similar product of a culture with strict sexual mores and tangible religious fear. 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. Carmilla works as a Gothic horror story because her victims are portrayed as succumbing to a perverse and unholy temptation that has severe metaphysical consequences for them.[12]

Some critics, among them William Veeder, suggest that Carmilla, notably in its outlandish use of narrative frames, was an important influence on Henry James' The Turn of the Screw (1898).[citation needed]

Bram Stoker's Dracula[edit]

Although Carmilla is a lesser known and far shorter Gothic vampire story than the generally-considered master work of that genre, Dracula, the latter is heavily influenced by Le Fanu's novella. Stoker's posthumously published short story "Dracula's Guest" (1914), known as the deleted first chapter to Dracula, shows a more obvious and intact debt to Carmilla:

  • In the narrative, an Englishman finds himself in Germany midway upon his journey from England to the castle of Dracula; stumbles upon a tomb of a female vampire whose inscription reads: Countess Dolingen of Gratz / in Styria / sought and found death / 1801.
  • Both stories are told in the first person. Dracula expands on the idea of a first person account by creating a series of journal entries and logs of different persons and creating a plausible background story for their having been compiled.
  • Both authors indulge the air of mystery, though Stoker takes it further than Le Fanu by allowing the characters to solve the enigma of the vampire along with the reader.
  • The descriptions of the title character in Carmilla and of Lucy in Dracula are similar, and have become archetypes for the appearance of the waif-like victims and seducers in vampire stories as being rosy-cheeked, slender, languid, and with large eyes, full lips, and soft voices.[citation needed] Additionally, both women sleepwalk.
  • Stoker's Dr. Abraham Van Helsing is a direct parallel to Le Fanu's vampire expert Baron Vordenburg: both characters used to investigate and catalyse actions in opposition to the vampire, and symbolically represent knowledge of the unknown and stability of mind in the onslaught of chaos and death.[13]

In popular culture[edit]


(Alphabetical by first author's surname)

  • In the Japanese light novel series High School DxD, written by Ichiei Ishibumi and illustrated by Miyama-Zero, the vampires are depicted as having a society divided among two major factions: The Tepes and the Carmilla. The Carmilla faction favors a matriarchal society for the world of vampires while the Tepes prefer a patriarchal government.
  • Carmilla: A Dark Fugue is a short book by David Brian. Although the story is primarily centered around the exploits of General Spielsdorf, it nonetheless relates directly to events which unfold within Carmilla: The Wolves of Styria.[citation needed]
  • The novel Carmilla: The Wolves of Styria is a re-imagining of the original story. It is a derivative re-working, listed as being authored by J.S. Le Fanu and David Brian.[14]
  • Carmilla: The Return by Kyle Marffin is the sequel to Carmilla.[15]
  • Ro McNulty's novella, Ruin: The Rise of the House of Karnstein, is a sequel to Le Fanu's novella and takes place over 100 years later. Carmilla continues to play games with mortals, inserting herself into their lives and breaking them to her will. She settles herself around a teacher and his family, feeding on his baby daughter.[citation needed]
  • A vampire named Baron Karnstein appears in Kim Newman's novel Anno Dracula (1992). Carmilla herself is mentioned several times as a former (until her death at the hands of vampire hunters) friend of the book's vampire heroine Geneviève. Some short stories set in the Anno Dracula series universe have also included Carmilla.
  • Author Anne Rice has cited Carmilla as an inspiration for The Vampire Chronicles; a series of bestselling vampire books she wrote from 1976-2003.


(Alphabetical by series)

  • In 1991, Aircel Comics published a six-issue black and white miniseries of Carmilla by Steven Jones and John Ross. It was based on Le Fanu's story and billed as "The Erotic Horror Classic of Female Vampirism". The first issue was printed in February 1991. The first three issues adapted the original story, while the latter three were a sequel set in the 1930s.[16][17]
  • In the first story arc of Dynamite Entertainment's revamp of Vampirella, a villainous vampire, named Le Fanu, inhabits the basement of a Seattle nightclub called Carmilla.


Ingrid Pitt portrayed Carmilla/Mircalla in The Vampire Lovers


  • Danish director Carl Dreyer loosely adapted Carmilla for his film Vampyr (1932) but deleted any references to lesbian sexuality.[18] The credits of the original film say that the film is based on In a Glass Darkly. This collection contains five tales, one of which is Carmilla. Actually the film draws its central character, Allan Gray, from Le Fanu's Dr. Hesselius; and the scene in which Gray is buried alive is drawn from "The Room in the Dragon Volant".
  • French director Roger Vadim's Et mourir de plaisir (literally And to die of pleasure, but actually shown in the UK and US as Blood and Roses, 1960) is based on Carmilla and is considered one of the greatest of the vampire genre. The Vadim film thoroughly explores the lesbian implications behind Carmilla's selection of victims, and boasts cinematography by Claude Renoir. The film's lesbian eroticism was however significantly cut for its US release. Mel Ferrer stars in the film.
  • A more-or-less faithful adaptation starring Christopher Lee was produced in Italy in 1963 under the title La cripta e l'incubo (Crypt of the Vampire in English). The character of Laura is played by Adriana Ambesi, who fears herself possessed by the spirit of a dead ancestor.
  • The British Hammer Film Productions also produced a fairly faithful adaptation of Carmilla titled The Vampire Lovers (1970) with Ingrid Pitt in the lead role, Madeline Smith as her victim/lover, and Hammer's regular Peter Cushing. It is the first installment of the Karnstein Trilogy.
  • The Blood Spattered Bride (La Novia Ensangrentada) is a 1972 Spanish horror film written and directed by Vicente Aranda, is based on the text. The film has reached cult status for its mix of horror, vampirism and seduction with lesbian overtones.
  • Carmilla (1980) is a black-and-white made-for-television adaptation from Poland, starring singer Izabela Trojanowska in the title role and Monika Stefanowicz as Laura.
  • In the direct-to-video movie, The Batman vs. Dracula (2005), Carmilla Karnstein is mentioned as Count Dracula's bride, who had been incinerated by sunlight years ago. Dracula hoped to revive her by sacrificing Vicki Vale's soul, but the ritual was stopped by the Batman.
  • Carmilla is featured as the main antagonist in the movie Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009), a comedy starring Paul McGann and James Corden, with Silvia Colloca as Carmilla.
  • The Unwanted (2013) from writer/director Brent Wood relocates the story to the contemporary southern United States.
  • The Curse of Styria (2014) is an adaptation of the novel set in late 1980s with Julia Pietrucha as Carmilla and Eleanor Tomlinson as Lara.



Rock music[edit]

(Alphabetical by group)


  • A Japanese lesbians' magazine is named after Carmilla, as Carmilla "draws hetero women into the world of love between women".[20]




  • In Elfriede Jelinek's play Illness or Modern Women (1984), a woman, Emily, transforms another woman, Carmilla, into a vampire, and both become lesbians and join together to drink the blood of children.
  • A German language adaptation of Carmilla by Friedhelm Schneidewind, from Studio-Theatre Saarbruecken, toured Germany and other European countries (including Romania) from April 1994 until 2000.[26]
  • The Wildclaw Theater in Chicago performed a full-length adaptation of Carmilla by Aly Renee Amidei in January and February 2011.[27]
  • Zombie Joe's Underground Theater Group in North Hollywood performed an hour-long adaptation of Carmilla, by David MacDowell Blue, in February and March 2014.[28]


(Alphabetical by series title)

  • The Doctor Who serial arc State of Decay (1980) features a vampire named Camilla (not Carmilla) who, in a brief but explicit moment, finds much to "admire" in the Doctor's female travelling companion Romana, who finds she has to turn away from the vampire's intense gaze.
  • A television version for the British series Mystery and Imagination was transmitted on 12 November 1966. Jane Merrow played the title role, Natasha Pyne her victim.
  • In 1989, Gabrielle Beaumont directed Jonathan Furst's adaptation of Carmilla as an episode of the Showtime television series Nightmare Classics, featuring Meg Tilly as the vampire and Ione Skye as her victim Marie. Furst relocated the story to an American antebellum southern plantation.[29]
  • In episode 36 of The Return of Ultraman, the monster of the week in the episode, Draculas, originates from a planet named Carmilla. He possesses the corpse of a woman as his human disguise.
  • In season 2, episodes 5 and 6 of the HBO TV series True Blood, Hotel Carmilla, in Dallas, Texas, has been built for vampires. It features heavy-shaded rooms and provides room service of human "snacks" for their vampire clientele, who can order specific blood types and genders.

Web series[edit]

  • Carmilla is a web series on YouTube starring Natasha Negovanlis as Carmilla and Elise Bauman as Laura. First released on August 19, 2014, it is a comedic, modern adaptation of the novella which takes place at a modern-day university, where both girls are students. They become roommates after Laura's first roommate mysteriously disappears and Carmilla moves in, taking her place.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The story ran in one issue of 1871 (December, pp. 434–448) and in three issues of 1872 (January, pp. 592–606; February, pp. 701–714; and March, pp. 59–78).
  2. ^ Le Fanu, Sheridan & Girard, Gaid (Translator) & Mazzanti, Isabella (Illustrator) (2014). Carmilla (in French). Editions Soleil. 
  3. ^ Stein, Rivka (January 21, 2014). "Book Artists and Their Illustrations: Isabella Mazzanti's Illustrations for "Carmilla"". Quora. 
  4. ^ "Dr Martin Hesselius". 
  5. ^ Calmet, Antoine Augustin (1746). Dissertations sur les apparitions des anges, des demons et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Boheme, de Moravie, et de Silesie (in French). Paris: De Bure l'aîné. 
  6. ^ Calmet, Antoine Augustin & Anonymous Translator (1759). Dissertations Upon the Apparitions of Angels, Daemons, and Ghosts, and Concerning the Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia (First English Translation ed.). London: M. Cooper. 
  7. ^ Calmet, Antoine Augustin & Christmas, Henry (Translator) (1850). The phantom world, or, The philosophy of spirits, apparitions, &c. 1. London: Richard Bentley. 
  8. ^ Calmet, Antoine Augustin & Christmas, Henry (Translator) (1850). The phantom world, or, The philosophy of spirits, apparitions, &c. 2. London: Richard Bentley. 
  9. ^ Gibson, Matthew (November 2007). "Jane Cranstoun, Countess Purgstall: A Possible Inspiration for Le Fanu's Carmilla". Le Fanu Studies. ISSN 1932-9598. 
  10. ^ Gibson, Matthew (2006). Dracula and the Eastern Question: British and French Vampire Narratives of the Nineteenth-century Near East. ISBN 1-4039-9477-3. 
  11. ^ Keesey, Pam (1993). Daughters of Darkness: Lesbian Vampire Stories. Cleis. ISBN 0-939416-78-6. 
  12. ^ Auerbach, Nina (1995). Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 42. ISBN 0-2260-3202-7. 
  13. ^ Sullivan, Jack (Editor). "Le Fanu, J.S.". The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural. p. 260. 
  14. ^ Brian, David & Le Fanu, J.S. (2013). The Wolves of Styria. Night-Flyer. ISBN 978-1481952217. 
  15. ^ Marffin, Kyle (1998). The Return. Design Image Group. ISBN 1-891946-02-1. 
  16. ^ Jones, Steven Philip. "Previous Credits in comics". Fuzi On Digital. 
  17. ^ "Carmilla (1991 Series)". The Grand Comics Database Team. 
  18. ^ Grant, Barry Keith; Sharrett, Christopher (2004). Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. Scarecrow Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-8108-5013-3. 
  19. ^ "The Stories of Symphonies of the Night". 
  20. ^ "Celebrating Lesbian Sexuality: An Interview with Inoue Meimy, Editor of Japanese Lesbian Erotic Lifestyle Magazine Carmilla". Intersections (12). 
  21. ^ "GENERIC RADIO WORKSHOP OTR SCRIPT: Columbia Workshop". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 
  22. ^ Payton, Gordon; Jr, Martin Grams, Jr (2004-01-01). The CBS Radio Mystery Theater: An Episode Guide and Handbook to Nine Years of Broadcasting, 1974-1982. McFarland. p. 105. ISBN 9780786418909. 
  23. ^ "Sears Radio Theater". Retrieved 2015-11-12. 
  24. ^ Smith, Ronald L. (2010-01-11). Horror Stars on Radio: The Broadcast Histories of 29 Chilling Hollywood Voices. McFarland. p. 82. ISBN 9780786457298. 
  25. ^ "Afternoon Play: Carmilla - BBC Radio 4 FM - 5 June 2003 - BBC Genome". Retrieved 2015-11-14. 
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Carmilla Review, Wildclaw Theatre Chicago". Chicago Theater Beat. January 18, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Carmilla: Zombie Joe's Underground Theater Group". Los Angeles Bitter Lemons. March 3, 2014. 
  29. ^ "Carmilla - Trailer - Cast - Showtimes -". Retrieved 2015-11-10. 

External links[edit]