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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 by 26 years. First published as a serial in The Dark Blue (1871-72), its narrator is a young woman preyed upon by a female vampire named Carmilla. 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).

The two illustrators, David Henry Friston and Michael Fitzgerald, whose work appears in the magazine but not in modern printings of the book, show inconsistencies depicting the characters. As a result confusion has arisen relating the pictures to the plot.

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.[2]

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 Austrian service. 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 is 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 from Laura. Her secrecy is not the only mysterious thing about her. Carmilla never joins the household in its prayers, sleeps much of the day, and 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 family heirloom restored portraits arrives at the castle, Laura finds one of her ancestors, "Mircalla Karnstein," dated 1698. The portrait resembles Carmilla exactly, down to the mole on her neck.

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. 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.

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 exhume the body of the vampire. Immersed in blood, it seems to be breathing faintly, its heart beating, its eyes open. A stake is driven through its heart, with a corresponding shriek, and the head is struck off; the body and head are burned to ashes, which are thrown into a river.

Afterwards, Laura's father takes her 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 the text. 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),[3] which was first anonymously translated into English in a single volume in 1759 as Dissertations Upon the Apparitions of Angels, Daemons, and Ghosts, and Concerning the Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia,[4] and later translated into English in 1850 in two volumes as The phantom world, or, The philosophy of spirits, apparitions, &c.[5] 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, and Captain Basil Hall's Schloss Hainfeld; or a Winter in Lower Styria (London and Edinburgh, 1836) are other sources for Le Fanu's work. 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.[6][7]


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:

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.[8]

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.

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.

In the earliest manuscript of Dracula, dated 8 March 1890, the castle is set in Styria, although the setting was changed to Transylvania six days later. Stoker's posthumously published short story "Dracula's Guest", known as the deleted first chapter to Dracula, shows a more obvious and intact debt to Carmilla: 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 them having been compiled. Stoker also indulges the air of mystery further than Le Fanu by allowing the characters to solve the enigma of the vampire along with the reader.

The descriptions of Carmilla and the character 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. Both women also 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.[9]

In popular culture[edit]


Ingrid Pitt portrayed Carmilla/Mircalla in The Vampire Lovers
  • Danish director Carl Dreyer loosely adapted Carmilla for his 1932 film Vampyr but deleted any references to lesbian sexuality.[10] 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 television adaptation from Poland, starring singer Izabela Trojanowska in the title role and Monika Stefanowicz as Laura.
  • In 1989, Gabrielle Beaumont adapted Carmilla as an episode of the American television series, Nightmare Classics, featuring Meg Tilly as the vampire.
  • In the 2005 direct-to-video movie, The Batman vs. Dracula, 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 2009 movie Lesbian Vampire Killers, a comedy starring Paul McGann and James Corden, with Silvia Colloca as Carmilla.
  • 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.
  • The Unwanted (2013) from writer/director Brent Wood relocates the story to the contemporary southern United States.
  • Carmilla is a web series on YouTube starring Natasha Negovanlis as Carmilla and Elise Bauman as Laura. It is a comedic, modern adaptation of the novella which takes place in a university, where both girls are students. They become roommates after Laura's first roommate mysteriously disappears and Carmilla moves in in her place.



  • Elfriede Jelinek's play Illness or Modern Women uses Carmilla as the name of one of its female protagonists, who becomes a vampire. In the play, 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.[11]
  • The Wildclaw Theater in Chicago performed a full-length adaptation of Carmilla by Aly Renee Amidei in January and February 2011.[12]
  • 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.[13]


  • Cradle of Filth, a popular British extreme metal band, has produced an album called Dusk... and Her Embrace, largely inspired by Carmilla and Le Fanu's writings in general, and have also recorded an instrumental track titled "Carmilla's Masque". The lyric "Portrait of the Dead Countess" in the track "A Gothic Romance" could be in reference to the portrait found in the novel of the Countess Mircalla. There is also a track on the accompanying EP V Empire or Dark Faerytales in Phallustein titled "Queen of Winter, Throned", which contains the lyrics: "Iniquitous/I share Carmilla's mask/A gaunt mephitic voyeur/On the black side of the glass". Lead singer Dani Filth has often cited Sheridan Le Fanu as an inspiration to his lyrics.
  • Theatres des Vampires, an Italian extreme gothic metal band, has produced a video single called "Carmilla" for its album Moonlight Waltz. They also reference the novel in innumerous other songs by them.
  • Alessandro Nunziati, better known as Lord Vampyr and the former vocalist of Theatres des Vampires, has a song named "Carmilla Whispers from the Grave" in his debut solo album, De Vampyrica Philosophia (2005).
  • A chamber opera version of Carmilla appeared in 1970 (Carmilla: A Vampire Tale, music by Ben Johnston, script by Wilford Leach). Seated on a sofa, Laura and Carmilla recount the story retrospectively in song.
  • The 1980s band LaHost's track on the 1985 EMI compilation album Fire in Harmony was "Blood and Roses" - the lyrics of which are loosely based on the Roger Vadim film version of Carmilla.
  • The title track of German gothic metal band Leaves' Eyes's album Symphonies of the Night was inspired by Carmilla.[14]


  • Ro McNulty's novella, "Ruin: The Rise of the House of Karnstein," is a sequel to Le Fanu's novella and takes place over one hundred 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.
  • A vampire named Baron Karnstein appears in Anno Dracula by Kim Newman. 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 universe have also included Carmilla.
  • In the Japanese light novel series High School DxD 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.
  • Author Anne Rice has cited Carmilla as an inspiration for The Vampire Chronicles; a series of bestselling vampire books she wrote from 1976-2003.
  • 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.
  • Carmilla: A Dark Fugue is a short book by David Brian. Although the story is primarily centered around the exploits of General Spielsdorf; nonetheless it relates directly to events which unfold within Carmilla: The Wolves of Styria.
  • Carmilla: The Return by Kyle Marffin is the sequel of Carmilla.
  • (French) Carmilla, illustrations by Isabella Mazzanti, Editions Soleil, 2014


  • In 1991, Aircel Comics published a six-issue black and white miniseries of Carmilla by Steven Jones and John Ross. It was based on the story by Sheridan Le Fanu and billed as "The Erotic Horror Classic of Female Vampirism". The first issue was printed in February 1991. The first three issues were an adaptation of the original story, while the latter three were a sequel set in the 1930s.[15][16]
  • 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 named Carmilla.

Anime and Manga[edit]

  • In Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust Carmilla is a villain and patron of the vampire Meier Link. Long ago Count Dracula killed her out of disgust due to her unnaturally strong bloodlust, but she survives as a ghost. To revive herself, she tricks Charlotte (the woman Meier Link loves) into allowing her blood to be sucked by Carmilla. Later she is killed again in a fight with the Vampire Hunter known as D.
  • In Glass Mask (episode 29 of the anime and volume 17 of the manga), Ayumi Himekawa played Carmilla in a stage adaptation of the novella.
  • In the mecha anime Valvrave the Liberator, there are themes of vampirism including the fourth Valvrave unit being nicknamed Carmilla by its pilot, Saki.[17]
  • In idol-themed anime Aikatsu!, one of the main characters, vampire-themed Yurika Tōdō, claimed her mother as the Carmilla.
  • In Black Butler vol. 9 Ciel makes a reference to Le Fanu's Carmilla because they are facing a murder mystery and one of the victims has a bite mark on the side of his neck, but that theory was ruled out by Lau.
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh GX a character named Camula is the second shadow rider faced by the protagonists. The name could possibly be an homage to both Carmilla and Dracula, evidence towards the former being that the character is a female vampire.

Video games[edit]

References in other media[edit]

  • In episode 36 of The Return of Ultraman, the monster of the week in the episode, Draculas, originates from a planet named Carmilla. He also possesses the corpse of a woman as his human disguise.
  • The Doctor Who serial State of Decay features a vampire named Camilla 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.
  • There is a Japanese lesbians' magazine named after Carmilla, as Carmilla "draws hetero women into the world of love between women".[18]
  • In the HBO TV series True Blood, in episodes 5 and 6 of season 2, a hotel in Dallas, Texas has been built for vampires called "Hotel Carmilla". They have heavy shaded rooms, and provide room service of human "snacks" (with blood type and sexuality) for their vampire clientele.
  • The webseries Carmilla is based on the novella and aired on YouTube, set in a modern-day university.

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. ^ Dr Martin Hesselius
  3. ^ 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. Paris: De Bure l'aîné
  4. ^ Calmet, Antoine Augustin. (1759). Dissertations Upon the Apparitions of Angels, Daemons, and Ghosts, and Concerning the Vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. (Anonymous, Trans.). London: M. Cooper
  5. ^ Calmet, Antoine Augustin. (1850). The phantom world, or, The philosophy of spirits, apparitions, &c. (Henry Christmas, Trans.). London: Richard Bentley Vol. 1 Vol. 2
  6. ^ Gibson, Matthew. Jane Cranstoun, Countess Purgstall: A Possible Inspiration for Le Fanu's “Carmilla” in Le Fanu Studies, November 2007, ISSN 1932-9598
  7. ^ Gibson, Matthew (2006). Dracula and the Eastern Question: British and French Vampire Narratives of the Nineteenth-century Near East, ISBN 1-4039-9477-3 & ISBN 1-4039-9477-3
  8. ^ Auerbach, Nina (1995). Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 42.  ISBN 0-2260-3202-7
  9. ^ "Le Fanu, J.S." in Jack Sullivan (ed) The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural: 260
  10. ^ Grant, Barry Keith; Sharrett, Christopher (2004). Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. Scarecrow Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-8108-5013-3. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Steven Philip Jones Previous Credits in comics
  16. ^ The Grand Comics Database Team: Carmilla (1991 Series)
  17. ^ Valvrave The Liberator, Episode 6: Saki's Comeback, Air Date: May 17, 2013
  18. ^ Celebrating Lesbian Sexuality: An Interview with Inoue Meimy, Editor of Japanese Lesbian Erotic Lifestyle Magazine Carmilla

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]