AuthorJoseph Sheridan le Fanu

"Carmilla" is a Gothic novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. First published in 1872, it tells the story of a young woman's susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire named Carmilla. "Carmilla" predates Bram Stoker's Dracula by twenty five years and has been adapted many times for cinema.


"Carmilla" was first published in the magazine The Dark Blue in 1872,[1] and then in the author's collection of short stories, In a Glass Darkly the same year.

There were two original illustrators for the story, both of which appeared in the magazine but which do not appear in modern printings of the book. The two illustrators, D. H. Friston and M. Fitzgerald, show some inconsistencies in their depiction of the characters, and as such some confusion has arisen in identifying the pictures as part of a continuous plot.

Plot summary

A wealthy English widower, retired from the Austrian Service, moves to a stately castle in Styria with his daughter Laura. When she is six years old, Laura has a vision of a beautiful visitor in her bedchamber. She later claims to have been bitten on the chest, although no wounds are found on her.

Twelve years later, Laura and her father are admiring the sunset in front of the castle when her father tells her of a letter he received earlier 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 is saddened by the loss of a potential friend, and 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 or her background, despite questioning from Laura. Her secrecy isn't the only mysterious thing about her. Carmilla sleeps much of the day, and seems to sleepwalk at night. When a funeral procession passes by the two girls and Laura begins singing a hymn, Carmilla bursts out in rage and scolds Laura for singing a Christian song. When a shipment of family heirloom restored portraits arrives at the castle, Laura finds one of her ancestor, "Mircalla, Countess Karnstein", dated 1698. The portrait resembles Carmilla exactly, down to the mole on her neck.

During Carmilla's stay, Laura has nightmares of a fiendish cat-like beast entering her room at night and biting her on the chest. The beast then takes the form of a female figure and disappears through the door without opening it. Laura's health declines and her father has a doctor examine her. He speaks privately with her father and only asks that Laura never be left 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 entreated to follow after once the perpetually late-sleeping Carmilla wakes up. En route to Karnstein, Laura and her father encounter General Spielsdorf. He tells them his own ghastly story.

Spielsdorf and his niece had met a young woman named Millarca and her enigmatic mother at a costume ball. The General's niece 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.

The General's niece fell mysteriously ill and suffered exactly the same symptoms as Laura. After consulting with a priestly doctor who he had specially ordered, the General came to the realization that his niece was being visited by a vampire. He hid in a closet with a sword and waited until seeing a fiendish cat-like creature stalk around his niece's bedroom and bite her on the neck. He then leapt from his hiding place and attacked the beast, which took the form of Millarca. She fled through the locked door, unharmed. The General's niece died immediately afterward.

When they arrive at Karnstein the General asks a nearby woodsman where he can find the tomb of Mircalla Karnstein, so that he may remove her head and end the nightmare. The woodsman relates that the tomb was relocated long ago, by the hero who vanquished the vampires that haunted the region. He goes to find his master who knows of all the monuments of the Karnstein family.

While the General and Laura are left 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 flees and the General explains to Laura that Carmilla is also Millarca, both anagrams for the original name of the vampire Countess Mircalla Karnstein.

The ordeal ends when Mircalla's body is exhumed and destroyed.


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).

Carmilla selected exclusively female victims, though only became 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.

Some critics, among them William Veeder, suggest that "Carmilla", notably in its outlandish use of narrative frames, was an important influence on Henry James's The Turn of the Screw.

Bram Stoker's Dracula

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 short story. Harry Ludlam has said that Dracula is "the product of [Stoker's] own vivid imagination and imaginative research", but it is clear that Stoker was inspired by Carmilla.

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 typified the now-stereotypical appearance of the waif-like victims and seducers in vampire stories as being tall, 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 Dr. Hesselius: 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. (Baron Vordenburg also influenced Dracula's Lord Godalming.)

Carmilla in culture


  • Danish Director Carl Dreyer loosely adapted "Carmilla" for his 1932 film Vampyr. 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, David 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 England 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.
  • A more-or-less faithful adaptation starring Christopher Lee was produced in Italy in 1964 under the title Crypt of the Vampire.
  • The British Hammer Film Productions also produced a fairly faithful adaptation of "Carmilla" entitled The Vampire Lovers (1970) with Ingrid Pitt in the title role and Madeline Smith as her victim/lover. An explicit erotic lesbian theme was emphasised in this film which was the first of the Karnstein Trilogy, followed by:
    • Lust for a Vampire (1971): here Carmilla (Yutte Stensgaard), develops heterosexual interests: despite landing the ideal job for a lesbian vampire as a student in a girls' finishing school. This change in her sexual orientation seems to have been at the behest of the chief film censor, John Trevelyan, who closely monitored the film in production.
    • Twins of Evil (1971): Mircalla (Katja Wyeth) plays a very minor role in this story, whose main interest is the two titular characters.
  • The novella served as a very loose basis for the 1971 film Let's Scare Jessica to Death.
  • The novella was freely adapted in Spain in 1972 as The Blood Splattered Bride (La Novia Ensangrentada), directed by Vicente Aranda.
  • The theme of lesbian vampires was further explored in the erotic and bloody Vampyres (1974) by José Ramón Larraz.
  • In 1990, Gabrielle Beaumont created a film adaptation for a horror Anthology television series "Nightmare Classics" titled Carmilla, which is one of the more faithful adaptations of the story, though the setting was transported to pre-Civil War Deep South of the United States. It starred Meg Tilly as Carmilla and Ione Skye a lonely Southern girl who Carmilla seduces.
  • In 1998 Carmilla was updated to present-day Long Island, New York in a film of the same name. The film is the brainchild of Jay Lind, the writer, director, and producer for the film. Starring Maria Pechukas, Heather Warr and Andy Gorkey, and co-produced by Jeff Schelenker, Carmilla is a horrific, gory, erotic counterpart to the Gothic novel. While the film is in no way Gothic or romantic, it shows a different side of the story presented in the book.
  • In 2001, Carmilla also makes an appearance in the anime film Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Her backstory is that her bloodlust grew so out of control that D's father, the Lord of Vampires (presumably Dracula, though this is not explicitly stated), impaled her in her sleep, leaving her body to rot and her spirit confined to her haunted Castle of Chaythe. When Meier Link and his beloved Charlotte come to her for help, she tricks them to resurrect her body, but the plan is foiled and she is killed once and for all by D.
  • The story was very loosely adapted in the 2004 straight-to-video splatter movie Vampires vs. Zombies.
  • Carmilla appears as the bride of Dracula in the direct-to-DVD animated movie The Batman Vs. Dracula (2005).


  • The character of Dr. Hesselius is featured in a Mutual Broadcasting Network radio drama entitled The Shadow People, an episode from The Hall of Fantasy series (1946-1947, 1949-1952, 1952, 1953). The episode casts Dr. Hesselius as an occult sleuth and aired on September 5, 1952.
  • On November 20, 1981, the CBC Radio series Nightfall aired an adaptation of Carmilla written by Graham Pomeroy and John Douglas.


  • 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.
  • Carmilla, a musical theater adaptation by Allan Jaffe and Deborah Atherton circa 1995.


  • The novel Carmilla: The Return, written in 1999 by Kyle Marffin, begins in 19th century Austria but follows Carmilla's life into 1990s Michigan.
  • 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.
  • The story of Carmilla is illustrated using old antique etchings by Tiffini Elektra X in the book In This House: A Collection of Altered Art Imagery and Collage Techniques.


  • In 1991 Aircel Comics published a 6-issue black & white miniseries of Carmilla by Steven Jones and John Ross. It was based on the story by Sheridan Le Fanu and billed as the "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.[2][3]
  • Carmilla. Nuestra Señora de los Vampiros is a black & white one-shot published in 1999 by Spanish comic publisher Dude Comics based on the story by Sheridan Le Fanu, but with a modern twist. In present day, Carmilla saved a girl named Laura from being raped and later gave her Le Fanu's book to read to explain her past. Laura finally becomes Carmilla's companion. Based on a script by Roy Thomas, the comic had two artists with radically different graphic styles: Rafa Fonteriz draw the present day part, while Isaac M. del Rivero draw the part based on Le Fanu's book.
  • Graphic Classics, vol. 14: Gothic Classics (2007) contains an adaptation of Carmilla, illustrated by Lisa K. Weber and adapted by Rod Lott.[4]
  • The webcomic Romanian Gothique features a vampire countess named "Camilla",[5] who is also a lesbian. But unlike "Carmilla", she is kind and fun loving.


  • Carmilla makes an appearance as the antagonist in the anime Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.
  • In the anime Hellsing, a succubus who claims to be the sister of Integra Hellsing makes an appearance. She goes by the name of Laura, and Integra asks her if she is the vampire Carmilla. When Alucard confronts her, she takes on a catlike appearance before she attacks him.
  • In episode 30 and beyond of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX, a character named Camula is introduced as a soul-stealing vampiress trying to gain control of the three Sacred Beast cards. She is portrayed with a stereotypical Romanian accent in the English dub.
  • 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.

Video games

  • In the video game Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand, Carmilla is one of the Immortals, who appears either as a young girl in a red dress, or a huge half-human, half-snake creature.
  • In the video game Lunar Knights, a character named Sheridan has a maid named Carmilla. The banker in the game is also named Laura.
  • In four of the Castlevania games; Circle of the Moon, the Japan-only Rondo of Blood, its PSP remake Dracula X Chronicles, and castlevania 2 Simon's Quest; there is a character named Camilla, described as being a longtime worshipper of Count Dracula.[6] The name of this worshipper has been spelled as both Carmilla and Camilla. Carmilla was changed to Vampira in the U.S. localization of castlevania 2 Simon's Quest. In the Castlevania game Portrait of Ruin there is a minor vampire enemy named "Laura" who is described as "Carmilla's servant".
  • Squaresoft's Seiken Densetsu III contains a type of monster called Carmilla and a higher level variant called Carmilla Queen.

References in other media

  • Cradle of Filth, a popular British Gothic metal band, has produced an album called Dusk... and Her Embrace inspired by "Carmilla", with an instrumental track entitled "Carmilla's Masque".
  • Two Witches, a Finnish Gothic rock band, created a song in the early nineties called "Mircalla", inspired by the novel.
  • The Doctor Who serial State of Decay features a vampire named Camilla.
  • Japanese Visual Kei artist Kaya released a single titled Carmilla in which he portrays himself as a female vampire who attempts to transform her lover.
  • There is a Japanese lesbians' magazine named after Carmilla, as Carmilla "draws hetero women into the world of love between women".[7]

See also

  • Homosexuality in speculative fiction



External links

  • Carmilla, available at Project Gutenberg.
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