Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Carmilla; Literary Criticism

Carmilla is a short story about a girl name Laura who gets attacked, without her knowing, by a vampire. A girl named Carmilla pretended to get injured in a carriage accident and asked Laura’s father to take her in. Carmilla then used her “charm” on Laura and they fell in love. At night, Carmilla would sneak into Laura’s bedroom and drink from her. Carmilla was finally found out by men and then staked and burned. This story is a classic lesbian vampire novel written in 1872. Tamar Heller wrote a literary criticism about it entitled The Vampire in the House: Hysteria, Female Sexuality, and Female Knowledge. I believe that the title “The Vampire in the House” is a perfect fit for Carmilla. Laura and her father obviously did not know of the vampire and that is why she was allowed in the house.
            In the literary criticism the author states,
While the episode from Laura’s childhood thus suggests she knows too much too soon about sexuality, the behavior of the adults to whom she relates her experience reveals their anxiety about this knowledge. The nervous reaction of Laura’s nurses and father, through ostensibly to a supernatural menace, recalls the reaction of Victorian doctors to the notion that young girls might have sexual feelings: they deny that anything could have happened while, at the same time, betraying a fear the very worst has (83).
First off, I believe the episode form Laura’s childhood that they are talking about was when she first saw Carmilla in the middle of the night. The reason that her nurses and father were so nervous was because that the supernatural reason why Laura was becoming so sick was true. The doctor came in and asked Carmilla to show him where she felt the ‘bite’ and when she did he saw a blue dot about the size of the tip of her finger. I honestly do not know how this did not throw up a big red flag but maybe it was because in these days vampires we not common so they did not know exactly what to look for.  I think that even though the doctor told Laura’s father that she would be ok he was still a little worried that something more was wrong. It was not until the General came and told Laura’s father what had happened to his daughter who had recently passed away. He told her a story about a girl named Millarca and her mother that he had met at a ball. The mother had asked him to keep Millarca for a little while. The Generals daughter became very fond of just like Laura was of Carmilla. After a little more talking Laura’s father and the general realized that Carmilla and were the same person.
            Another idea that Tamar Heller touches on is the fact that Carmilla does not eat. It says,
Carmilla epitomizes the nineteenth-century female invalid. ‘[V]ery languid’ in her movements (290), she sleeps late, does not eat, and can scarcely walk several steps before becoming completely exhausted. In not eating, the ‘slender’ (290) Carmilla is like the ‘fasting girls’ whom Joan Brumberg has discussed in her study of the history of anorexia, a condition which resembled hysteria and which was identified as a distinctive syndrome in 1873, the year after ‘Carmilla’ was published. Yet some nineteenth-century physicians read anorexia as evidence, not of the denial of desire, but of its pathological expression; Philippe Pinel, head of the Salpetriere, claimed that in his anorexic female patients periods of starvation alternated with ‘nymphomania’ and the ‘impulse toward frantic desires (80-81).’
When I read that they are almost saying that Carmilla was anorexic really makes me think. Was she? I mean I know she did not eat real food but she did drink blood. And while reading the story I did not see Carmilla as someone who was weak. Hysterical probably but she still had powers because she could influence Laura into being attracted to her. Are they just using Carmilla as a way to show that thin girls are not right and that they are hysterical?
            Tamar Heller later elaborates on the topic of Carmilla’s influence. “What Laura is saying, in other words, is that she did not know what was happening to her while it was happening. Carmilla’s influence, like a clandestinely administered cup of opium, is ‘unsuspected (85).’” I think that this is just stating the obvious. I mean would Laura really have let Carmilla suck her blood if she knew it was happening? Probably not. If we look at the phrase “clandestinely administered cup of opium” we see that this means that Carmilla is being able to do this to Laura and is not even suspected of anything until the General comes and reveals her true self. I also think that the reason that Carmilla chose another female to influence was also symbolic. I think that they are trying to show that women can be dominant and the fact that she is a lesbian just adds to that. It is, in the time this was written, two uncommon things.
            Towards the end of the criticism they talk about how the killed Carmilla. It was almost like the authorites created a rape-like surgery on her. Is this symbolic of something? Do you think that this goes back to the idea that Carmilla is anorexic and hysteric? Maybe they are trying to make a point saying this is what happens to people who do things like this. “The body, therefore, in accordance with ancient practice, was raised, and a sharp stake driven through the heart of the vampire, who uttered a piercing shriek….Then the head was struck off, and a torrent of blood flowed from the severed neck (89).” I think this was a gesture made to make a point about vampirism. I think that by pointing out the part about “in accordance with ancient practice” they are saying that this has happened before and we know how to handle it. But do they? It took them too long to figure out what was happening to Laura even though they say the marks on her neck.

Hellar, Tamar. The Vampire In The House: Hysteria, Female Sexuality, and Female        
Knowledge in Le Fanu's "Carmilla" (1872). Article
Le Fanu, Sheridan. "Carmilla." In A Glass Darkly. New York: Oxford UP, 1872. 243
319. Print.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that Carmilla was a female for a reason. If the vampire had been a teenage boy, I'm sure Laura and her father would not have been so quick to invite him to stay with them. With all the weird behaviors exhibited by Carmilla, if they had been done by a boy, people would be suspicious. I think Le Fanu chose a girl because people are going to be more trusting especially of the way Laura and her father met her. She was a weak damsel in distress, of course she had to be harmless. Also i don't think Laura's father would like the idea of Laura and a hormonal teen boy getting so close and spending so much time together.