In Irish writer Le Fanu’s (Willing to Die, 1872, etc.) classic novella, a peculiar visitor arouses strange visions and sensations in a lonely young woman.
Nineteen-year-old Laura lives “rather a solitary” life in a Gothic manor tucked in the forests of Styria. So when a carriage overturns nearby, Laura urges her father to house the passenger inside: the beautiful yet capricious Carmilla, who mesmerizes Laura with her charisma and ability to enter her dreams. Le Fanu’s lush, lyrical prose adds a sinister dimension to the budding relationship while also conveying the passion the two women share: “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 forever.' ” Since this is a foundational piece of vampire lore, readers will find little mystery around the root of Carmilla’s strange behavior—and why Laura falls prey to an inexplicable illness. Still, Laura’s wistful narration and Robert Kraiza’s expressive illustrations maintain an air of dread throughout. Carmen Machado’s (Her Body and Other Parties, 2017) introduction adds new dimensions to the tale by revealing that Le Fanu based his story on real letters written by a woman named Veronika Hausle, but he excised the queer content: “There was, in fact, so much more detail given” about Laura’s desire for Carmilla, Machado writes. “She spoke not of the fear of Carmilla’s return but of a profound desire for it.” Machado powerfully highlights the “inadequacy” of the original text and calls readers to do the hard work of reading the real story: “See if you cannot perceive what exists below: the erotic relationship of two high-strung and lonely women. The shared metropolis of their dreaming. An aborted picnic in the ruins.”
Simultaneously a delicious vampire tale and a meaningful exercise in remembering silenced voices and questioning the authority of tradition.