Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu is rated 4 stars, though probably more like 3.5 stars because it was a bit predictable, but otherwise well done and engaging. Though, I say a bit predictable as is if there was a genre for this kind of work before this book, so 4 stars is the more accurate rating, time period considered and all.
NOTE: This review and reflections have all sorts of spoilers, but also, I haven’t seen a summary of this work that doesn’t essentially spoil the big reveal, so take this spoiler alert for what it is. The review mostly reveals the same spoiler Goodreads does, but I do mention my interpretation of something that could be considered a spoiler. I will list that specifically as a spoiler, in case you want to read the rest.
First a Review
Carmilla is a beautiful, atmospheric story of a vampire written before Dracula. It shows a vampire that is neither evil nor good; she simply is a human immortal. I greatly enjoyed this complex rendering of such a creature. I am personally not a fan of vampire stories, but I was interested in reading this one due to the YouTube series Carmilla. [SPOILER ALERT] That series takes seriously the lesbian elements in the story and I very much read the story that way, though I can understand how other readers would see the relationship as mearly platonic. I was happy to see this story have elements of romantic love between two women as it is rare a classic or old story has such elements. [/SPOILER ALERT]
I find it challenging to review classics as it feels as though everything one could say about it has already been said. I don’t have much more to add than my personal account above. I do recommend this book to anyone interested in reading one of the first, if not the first, novels to write about a vampire, or a story alongs the lines of a gothic mystery.
Next a Reflection
Reminder: There are spoilers, or least spoilerly interpretations ahead.
Platonic friendship or romantic relationship? This is a question up for debate in books like Carmilla where there is enough intimacy, it could be interpreted as a romantic intimacy. Who gets to decide what kind of relationship it is? Should we assume it’s platonic unless otherwise specified? Where is the line? Why is the line often so much more clear when two men are involved than when two women are?
I definitely do not have fully articulated arguments for all of these questions, let alone clear thoughts. The thing that was clear for me when I read Carmilla is that it. is. so. incredibly common to dimiss lesbian relationships as close friendships and I don’t think we should. I don’t think we should dimiss lesbian relationships as friendships because that only feeds into homophobia and lesbian and bi erasure and it. is. so. incredibly hurtful and harmful. I myself have experienced erasure and it deeply hurt me. It damaged my heart and soul in a way that I have not been fully able to heal. Telling women, particularly young girls, that a deeply meaningful, soul-mate love level relationship is just a misunderstood friendship is devasting to the core. It shakes their ability to determine what they are actually feeling and who they are sexually. Maybe it seems like it should be a minor thing to dismiss a sexual relationship as a friendship, but in a society in which women are routinely dismissed all. the. time. it is crucial we don’t dimiss them and who they are, even when we are not sure what we are seeing. I would rather people assume I am dating my female platonic friend than assume I am not dating my girlfriend, my partner. It is painful to feel invisible, even when that invisibility affords some privilege. Some female same sex relationships pass as friendships and that helps keep them safe from violent homophobes. Some female same sex relationships pass as friendships and they are allowed additional sexual opportunities straight couples would not have. My high school girlfriend and I were able to stay over at each other’s houses because neither of our parents believed us when we told them we were dating. We were even allowed to go on a vacation together, with her parents, and have our own hotel room for an entire week. We had much more freedom sexually than I did at the time with any male I was dating. Yet, none of this made it any less painful that very few people ever saw the love and commitment we had for each other nor did they believe us when we told them. This kind of dismissal is not reserved for the young. My same sex relationships as an adult have been dismissed as friendships, even when we’ve engaged in public displays of affection. My point is that J. Sheridan Le Fanu could have wrote in Carmilla the words, “these two women were sexual lovers and considered each other to be fulfilling romantic partners on the deepest of levels” and people would still argue they are just friends. Whenever possible, please think carefully about whether your interpretation of a bookish relationship feeds into bi and lesbian erasure or if it tries hard to avoid doing just that.
Lastly, a Bookish Freak-Out
Have you seen Carmilla the YouTube Series by KindaTV? The YouTube series is how I first heard about Carmilla, though I didn’t realize it was a book until a fellow book lover was reading it daily through the Serial Reader app (isn’t Goodreads an amazing way to find great reads???). Carmilla the YouTube Series was a pretty big deal when it first came out in the lesbian community, or at least, the lesbian Tumblr community I was plugged into at the time. I really enjoyed watching the series and definitely followed it up until the movie came out. I was a bit disappointed that it had such an exclusive opening and only after the exclusive opening could anyone else rent it. It was what it was, but I just ended up moving on to other things. Vampires have never exactly been a concept that particularly interested me and I haven’t ever quite gotten into a YouTube series the way I have of TV series. My interest wanned and I never finished the series, but now that I have read the book, I definitely plan on finishing it! If you’ve watched it, what did you think?
What are your thoughts???
Note: Most of this review posted first in June 2018 on Goodreads. The reflection and freak-out are new content not found on any other site.