viernes, 16 de septiembre de 2011

Carmilla

Carmilla
by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Ireland, 1872

Since there's apparently no, ahem, lesbian vampire category for R.I.P. VI (tsk, tsk--let's hope that was just an oversight), I guess I'll have to count Carmilla as an ever so vague "horror" or "supernatural" entry for Carl V.'s reading event instead.  Which is just as well since the supposedly scandalous 1872 novella (first published in the magazine The Dark Blue, later included in Le Fanu's In a Glass Darkly, and here featured as part of a bonus booklet packaged with the 2008 Criterion Collection DVD of Carl Th. Dreyer's 1932 film, Vampyr, itself partially based on this and another Le Fanu tale) is sort of nondescript and more than a little plodding if truth be told.  That being said, Carmilla isn't exactly a total loss even though it certainly doesn't come anywhere close to living up to its shocking rep.  Would I read it again?  Probably not.  But the  representation of female/female sexuality must have been edgy for its times, and there's a nice narrative arc behind narrator Laura's early, conflicted reactions to Carmilla's attentions ("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 cheeks in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, 'You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever'" [130]) and her growing appreciation for her attractive friend/predator as time goes on ("I am sure, Carmilla, you have been in love; that there is, at this moment, an affair of the heart going on," the teenaged Laura says at one moment.  To which Carmilla replies, "I have been in love with no one, and never shall, unless it should be with you."  The older Laura to the reader: "How beautiful she looked in the moonlight!"  [144]).  In addition, I also got a kick out of a couple of humorous horror tropes like the one where Laura's participation in the "sweet singing" of a funeral hymn (132) prompts the title character to ask, "Don't you perceive how discordant that is?" Apart from that, though, I don't have much else to say other than that Théophile Gautier's 1836 "La Morte amoureuse," Dreyer's 1932 Vampyr, and Alejandra Pizarnik's stupendously gory 1965 "La condesa sangriente"  (all posted on here in 2009, a banner year for the undead it would seem!) all deliver the carnal bite sorely lacking in Le Fanu's surprisingly timid "classic."  (http://www.criterion.com/)

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
(image at top: Funeral, by Michael Fitzgerald, from the original publication of Carmilla in The Dark Blue)

13 comentarios:

  1. Oh. Hello! Apparently I've landed on the wrong blog! I was looking for Richard! And might I suggest to you, whoever you are, that if you are looking for edgy depictions of sexuality in Victorian times (which, however, I doubt you are actively seeking), you could do no better than Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters.

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  2. Had this same type of reading experience twice last month reading Art of the Novella series. Timid, far from shocking offerings still billed as controversial and shocking. Can be an interesting temperature check of the time in which it was written but loses much impact upon reading now. Which brings up the whole question of why an author braves the "shocking" in subject material - to engage that worth discussion or simply to shock. Becomes obvious with the separation of years from the material. I think of Kate Chopin's The Awakening that effectively ended her writing career - themes still resonant today. And then there is this of which you write today.

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  3. Reading those quotes, I thought "Hey, LeFanu just stole this from Gautier!" As did you, it seems.

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  4. Although I've read all the stories in In a Glass Darkly, I don't remember Camilla at all. The one I remember vividly is The Room in the Dragon Volant.

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  5. you had me at lesbian vampire.

    though it doesn't sound as shocking as something that was published today, i'm curious to see what made it so shocking for 1872.

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  6. This was probably a bit risque for the time period it came out in...

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  7. I've heard of/about Carmilla but not read it. I have to say, I'm torn between thinking that those lines don't sound all that shocking and wow, for the repressed Victorian era, that must have been scandalous. I'm a little disappointed to hear that it's plodding, as I've had several Le Fanu titles on my list for a while now. (I distinctly recall watching a BBC adaptation of The Wyvern Mystery, which brought Le Fanu to my attention.)

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  8. I just started this as well and have a feeling we will not be the only ones reading it for R.I.P.
    I seem to remember the story obooki mentions. I read quite a few some time ago.
    I still think Anne Rice has written the best vampire novel there is. Interestingly it was read like a metaphor for HIV. I read it in a more existentialist way as a metaphor of the human condition.
    Carmilla does not seem as dark as that.

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  9. Richard - quite an oversight indeed. I mean, what kind of horror reading challenge is this without a review of Charles Busch's "Vampire Lesbians of Sodom"? I'll see about trying to help remedy this unforgivable genre gap.

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  10. *Jill: Ha ha, apparently you missed the memo where I talked about going all paranormal all the time the rest of the year. Community outreach and all that. Will keep Ms. Waters in mind for a future genre fix if you can assure me that no unicorns or moon babs will appear in these edgy genre yarns of hers. I can trust you, right?!? :D

    *Frances: Don't know enough about Le Fanu to speculate on what might have made him go the shocking route, but I agree it wasn't the artistic engagement you mention in Chopin nor is it even all that engaging on shock factor alone (Lautréamont's Maldoror and Lewis' The Monk, to name just two well-known predecessors, wipe the floor with Carmilla in terms of storytelling and shock value). Had the story not been about a lesbian vampire, in fact, I don't think anybody would even be discussing this novella over a hundred years later. It's pretty bland.

    *Amateur Reader: Gautier's writing, despite its occasional excesses, has a lot more oomph and imagination than Le Fanu's here. Of course, Le Fanu prob. never got to partake of the elixirs from the Weird France drinking fountains (a possible explanation for his decided humdrum-ness).

    *Obooki: See, that's the problem with Carmilla. It's not memorable. In fact, what novella were we just talking about?

    *Luxehours: Ha ha, the lesbian vampire angle is quite the bait, is it not? Just don't blame me if you find you require a little extra caffeine for your reading adventure! Hope you enjoy it, though, and thanks for the visit. Cheers!

    *Kailana: Risqué, maybe; entertaining, not so much. The weird thing is as great an idea as Le Fanu had, the work isn't very provocative from a horror or a storytelling point of view.

    *Amanda: Not knowing all that much about Victorian-era morality, I'm not sure how provocative those scenes really would have seemed to contemporaries. Hopefully somebody can enlighten me on that point. Even if they were considered scandalous, though, it's ironic that the writing itself was so dull and soporofic. It's like Le Fanu had a great idea and then didn't know what to do (or chickened out) when it came time to make things happen.

    *Caroline: I tried reading the Rice book years and years ago and just couldn't get into it. Not sure what I'd make of it if I tried it again now, but your description at least sounds appealing to me. Haven't read any other Le Fanu that I can think of, but I'll be interested in hearing what you make of Carmilla and whether you end up agreeing with me or end up thinking that I was too hard on it.

    *Scott: Although I had to look up that title to make sure you weren't just making it up, I'd appreciate any help you could provide in rectifying that "unforgivable genre gap"! Anyway, thanks for two big laughs: one for your comment itself and the second for the review of the play where I learned that the cast members in the Busch work refer to Sodom and Gomorrah as "the twin cities." Priceless!

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  11. Richard, I don't know all that much about Victorian-era morality either, but the general impression I get is that on the surface, or in the homes of the "respectable," there was a lot of prudery, while in the "back alleys" pornographic writing sold like hotcakes. Perhaps the only shock of "Carmilla" would have been if the more sheltered ladies read it...

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  12. I just read Carmilla for RIP and had a completely opposite response than you. I loved it, I didn't find it plodding and considering when it was written, I thought it must have been rather scandalous for the times. Maybe I liked it so much because I was expecting overwritten gothic and something more akin to Dracula but got a much simpler, straightforward story instead that makes me want to read more Le Fanu.

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  13. *Amanda: Sorry for the delay in getting back to you about this (oops), but I think your impression sounds plausible. Had hoped to read another sensation novel or two from the era in question this year--which might have helped clarify "morality" things somewhat--but I don't know where all the time's disappearing to.

    *Stefanie: Given how flat I found the novella writing-wise, I'm relieved to hear that you enjoyed it more than I! Like I told Frances, though, I don't think people would even be talking about this work were it not for the novelty of the lesbian angle. To each his/her own and all that, of course, but the ironic thing is that I personally would have much preferred "overwritten gothic" to what you and I both got instead. Go figure, huh?!?

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