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Old 10-19-2012, 01:08 PM   #1
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October 2012 Discussion: Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu (spoilers)

Let's discuss the October 2012 MobileRead Book Club selection, Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu. What did you think?
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Old 10-20-2012, 12:02 PM   #2
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I didn't vote for this one, but I ended up reading Carmilla and the one that I did vote for...this one was better! So it was a good win.

I enjoyed the whole book, though when I finished it I liked it considerably less than I thought I would during the beginning and middle. Loved the atmosphere created, it was rich and very visual, though only somewhat spooky to me (being far more jaded, perhaps, than his original audience). I felt the characters were engaging and believable, in the main.

However,the story didn't end well for me partly because it somehow seemed rushed or maybe I just wanted more material dealing with unraveling the mystery, finding the culprit, and so on.

But the real buzz kill for me was his vampire paradigm...I mean, really?
Spoiler:
The explanation of how vampires came to be and their "living" conditions....seriously? Sloshing about in seven inches of blood, but she was able to get out and be spotless and presentable once back at the schloss? And no reek of blood either? And to just leave it at "utterly inexplicable" for the exit and re-entry? And where did all this blood come from...how did it remain liquid...if there is that much blood, why go after more people in the village?

And vampires are created by suicide? Come on!...is this supposed to be the church's cautionary tale? I believe this was the point where a paperback book would have hit the wall. Fortunately, I have a Kindle so that kind of display is no longer possible!


I've read a lot of vampire books, and each one has a slant on the origins, rules for walking among humans, how to kill, etc., but this version just didn't hold up to common sense (did I just say vampires and common sense in the same sentence?!). So that downgraded my mental rating quite a bit.

That said, I would probably read it again because I liked the place that LeFanu took me to. I would just have to be better prepared to part company at the end.
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Old 10-20-2012, 11:30 PM   #3
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The best part was the description of the killing of the vampire.
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Old 10-21-2012, 02:37 AM   #4
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I thought it was interesting that it was basically a warning story against lesbianism. Like "Beware! Don't let your daughters or yourselves be lured by lesbianism because all that awaits is death and vampirism!" lol. But nevertheless it's interesting, even though it wasn't ever said outright, that he dealt with lesbianism here so openly. I think he may have been partly influenced into this female antagonist/female victims aspect by tales of Elizabeth Bathory.

I love the atmosphere; it's pure gothic. The story did resolve quickly but I like that the focus of the story was on expanding the atmosphere rather than the action. When the feeling or atmosphere of a story is good enough I can overlook inconsistencies easier, but still I wish the older lady, coachmen, et al had been explained. It seems all Carmilla's family had died out and all the other vampires of her family rooted out and killed, so who were these people helping her? I wouldn't have minded it left a mystery so much if I could conceive some sort of coherency but as it is her helpers don't seem to fit with the explanation at the end.

Quote:
The explanation of how vampires came to be and their "living" conditions....seriously? Sloshing about in seven inches of blood, but she was able to get out and be spotless and presentable once back at the schloss? And no reek of blood either? And to just leave it at "utterly inexplicable" for the exit and re-entry? And where did all this blood come from...how did it remain liquid...if there is that much blood, why go after more people in the village?
I didn't mind this. I took it as that somehow vampires can have two bodies - one comatose in the coffin and one living outside, and the one outside is sort of like a physically solid and warm superhuman ghost that is able to eat food, be in the sunlight and can transfer shapes and disappear, and that when it feeds on humans, the blood is transferred to the "real" comatose body in the coffin (possibly by the ghost visiting the coffin), where the pool of blood keeps that body alive. And that one can't well kill the ghost body but needs to kill the real body in the coffin, and when one does the ghost body is killed too.

Not that all that is so logical, but it makes some kind of sense and anything supernatural I take with a grain of salt. Also, I felt he tried to keep it all somewhat vague on purpose. I give him slack because the atmosphere is good and because this is one of the first vampire books.
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Old 10-21-2012, 02:40 AM   #5
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In a word, I'd have to describe Carmilla as boring. It ranks extremely low in my personal list of 'good vampire books'. I had the sense that the story was being rushed through and to me it was painfully obvious that a male author was narrating as a female; I don't want that to be palpable and noticeable when I'm reading, because it throws the atmosphere.

Like victauria, I found the mythos of LeFanu's vampire weak at best. I really didn't enjoy the way that vampires are presented in this book, and in generally I am extremely un-fussy with my vampires. Alongside that, the vampire herself struck me as vapid and stupid throughout the entire novel - now that's just not a personality that I can associate with vampires and it's one of the reasons that certain sparkle-pires set my teeth on edge in a very similar way.
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Old 10-21-2012, 04:13 PM   #6
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I'll give some of my own opinions about this remarkable work later on but for now I'll just mention an interesting source which deals with the interpretation of the novel.

Carmilla has been analysed in considerable depth. There is a "Scholarly edition" available for $3.68 from the Kindle store. It is edited, annotated and introduced by Jamieson Ridenhour.

The introduction is quite brilliant and profound. It deals with "The Literary Vampire" {the vampire of folklore, the Femme fatale, and the Byronic Vampire} and its relationship to Carmilla.

This selection of a paragraph taken from the introduction will give some idea of the comprehensive way the editor approaches the story:

"Thus, Carmilla has been read as a fable of repressed sexuality {with Carmilla representing Laura's own awakening sexual identity}, . . . and as a parable of patriarchal repression. . . . Other readings have highlighted ethnic differences, demonization of women, and Le Fanu's fascination with the spiritual theories of Emanuel Swedenborg. The multiple meanings critics continue to find in Le Fanu's short tale are a demonstration of the ways in which the vampire tale is itself a mirror, casting back a dark image of whatever society holds up to the cold surface."

After examining the Literary Vampire and some of the various theories and approaches to it, the editor goes on to discuss what is now probably the most interesting modern theory of the book. In a long section entitled "Blood Sacrifice and Irish Identity" Ridenhour gives a quite thorough discussion of the political overtones of Carmilla. Le Fanu was a member of the Anglo-Irish, Protestant ruling class, deeply suspicious of the ethnic, Catholic population--particularly those who advocated National Independence.

I am familiar with this approach to the work and I think that this part of the essay is quite comprehensive in its treatment of it.

Throughout the entire essay--which is about 20 percent of the total length of the ebook--significant and extended use is made of quotations from the book supportive of the positions taken.

The essay is probably what you are paying your money for. Personally, I think you get your money's worth both for the essay and the many useful footnotes.

The one problem with this edition is that there is no way of accessing specific chapters other than by using your own bookmarks--in fact, JSWolf provides a far superior text in terms of general formatting and ease of reading. So you'll have to decide for yourself if you think it's worth getting this ebook for its introduction.

One final point: Carmilla was originally presented as a four part serial over four months. The sequence was as follows:
Chapters 1-3
Chapters 4-6
Chapters 7-10
Chapters 11-16

Last edited by fantasyfan; 10-21-2012 at 06:34 PM.
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Old 10-21-2012, 06:52 PM   #7
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I really enjoyed this story. I have been reading and enjoying more 19th century and early 20th century books this year than I have in a long time, so this fit in very well with that.

No in depth analysis from me, but I also wanted more background as to the group who left Carmilla. I am wondering if they were more vampires or what exactly. I suppose one advantage of reading a modern book would be that we can just go pester the author for the unanswered questions.
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Old 10-21-2012, 07:31 PM   #8
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fantasyfan...thanks for talking about the scholarly edition. It does sound pretty interesting, and might be a big help in liking it more, or at least relating to it more.

Is the idea of suicide creating vampires addressed, do you recall? (That one still just baffles me....)
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Old 10-21-2012, 07:39 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by melancholia View Post
sparkle-pires


I have to admit that the first time I saw those vampires you refer to, day walking and sparkling, I had a real resistance. But the difference for me is that the paradigm is maintained and holds up throughout that particular world. The rules of their existence among humans was explained and the world was pretty cohesive. That's what is, for me, missing with Carmilla. I don't feel that LeFanu justified his world within the story.

But maybe the critique that fantasyfan mentions would help explain things.
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Old 10-21-2012, 10:04 PM   #10
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Other then the description of the death of the vampire, I found it to be one of those stories where you wanted to slap everyone for missing the obvious. It was silly and it had 0 scare value. Why is it we allow books to be nominated for October that are not scarey in the least? Please, let's not do it again. The best thing about this was that it was short and the tedium of reading it wasn't too long.
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Old 10-22-2012, 06:36 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by victauria View Post
fantasyfan...thanks for talking about the scholarly edition. It does sound pretty interesting, and might be a big help in liking it more, or at least relating to it more.

Is the idea of suicide creating vampires addressed, do you recall? (That one still just baffles me....)
The link between suicide and vampirism is associated with folk beliefs. Here's a snippet from Wikipedia on the subject:

"The notion of vampirism has existed for millennia; cultures such as the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans had tales of demons and spirits which are considered precursors to modern vampires. However, despite the occurrence of vampire-like creatures in these ancient civilizations, the folklore for the entity we know today as the vampire originates almost exclusively from early-18th-century southeastern Europe, when verbal traditions of many ethnic groups of the region were recorded and published. In most cases, vampires are revenants of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but they can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire. Belief in such legends became so pervasive that in some areas it caused mass hysteria and even public executions of people believed to be vampires."

The introduction to the Scholarly Edition does say that Le Fanu was drawing from folk traditions as well as the Byronic tradition--which is the one with which we are most familiar.

Concerning this introduction--If you download a free sample of the book to your Kindle I suspect that you'll get a good chunk of it.
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Old 10-22-2012, 03:57 PM   #12
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It's been noted already in this thread, but for a book written in 1872 I was very surprised at the obvious homo-eroticism. While such passages are fare for family-hour on TV these days, they must have raised more than a few eyebrows 140 years ago. Where sun surfer sees the book as having been written as a warning story against lesbianism, I see it as a roundabout way to explore a topic that was taboo at the time. It appears to me that the author found the topic quite enticing, and any warnings against it seem to me to be lip service necessary in those days to avoid censor.

Spoiler:
Quote:
She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, "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." And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek.
Quote:
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 ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever."
Quote:
"And you asked for the picture you think like me, to hang in your room," she murmured with a sigh, as she drew her arm closer about my waist, and let her pretty head sink upon my shoulder.

"How romantic you are, Carmilla," I said. "Whenever you tell me your story, it will be made up chiefly of some one great romance." She kissed me silently. "I am sure, Carmilla, you have been in love; that there is, at this moment, an affair of the heart going on."

"I have been in love with no one, and never shall," she whispered, "unless it should be with you."

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Old 10-24-2012, 04:42 AM   #13
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I've read it a lot of time ago (it was one old spanish traduction), but I can not agree with the idea of it as a warning against lesbianism. I see more of a way to explore sexuality and the tabus of the time it was written. It was the first book about female vampires, and it set a stereotype to our days, and not only for female vampires. Carmilla uses its beauty and feminine arts with her victims, who fall in love and voluntarily surrender to her. This too happens in Dracula, and in more modern vampire books.
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Old 10-24-2012, 04:02 PM   #14
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I agree. The lavish descriptions in the book of the sexual tension between Carmilla and Laura are not of the sort that would have been written by an author who was repulsed by the subject.
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Old 10-24-2012, 04:35 PM   #15
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Yes. I would tend to agree. But it is interesting that Laura is deeply conflicted about her feelings towards Carmilla:

"Now the truth is, I felt rather unaccountably towards the beautiful
stranger. I did feel, as she said, "drawn towards her," but there was
also something of repulsion. In this ambiguous feeling, however, the
sense of attraction immensely prevailed. She interested and won me; she
was so beautiful and so indescribably engaging."

So perhaps there is a comment on the contradiction of feelings which are socially acceptable and those which are innate and spontaneous but deemed to be unacceptable.
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