The draining Gothic novel.

I finished reading Carmilla this morning.  It models the type of Victorian repression and refusal to acknowledge British anxieties not so much about sexuality, but about the instability of the history of British patriarchy.  In the novel’s neat, and somewhat lengthy conclusion outlining the history and behaviours of vampires and revenants, narrator/victim Laura tells us:

The vampire is prone to be fascinated with an engrossing vehemance, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons.  In pursuit of these it will exercise inexhaustible patience and stratagem, for access to a particular object may be obstructed in a hundred ways.  It will never desist until it has satiated its passion, and drained the very life of its coveted victim,  But it will in these cases husband and protract it murderous enjoyment with the refinement of an epicure, and heighten it to gradual approaches of an artful courtship. (146)

And here Laura’s narrative breaks off, to be taken up by Baron Vordenburg’s description of how he found and murdered the vampiress Carmilla.  Yet no one comments, here, or anywhere in the novel, that the husbanding, courting, and penetrating parasite is, of course, a woman, nor that, of all the objects Carmilla could have chosen to seduce, she selects only young women.  Nor does anyone pay any real attention to the fact that Laura’s father (who seems to suspect, at times, what’s happening to his daughter) allows this seducation to happen, through both his absenses and his indulgent attitude towards both Carmilla and Laura.  Nor that Laura, following Carmilla’s death, remains herself disturbingly haunted by visions of the vampiress coming to her room at night.

Sheridan’s text is clearly anxious about both female sexuality and homoerotic desire (that Laura is disturbed by her queer desires suggests the text wants to condemn them), but it refuses to discuss these anxieties in any straightforward manner, burying them under paratext, and diverting the writing away from the moments when these anxieties erupt, with chapter divisions, descriptions, and breaks in the narrative.  And while I can’t figure out exactly how it differs from other writing, I find it an exhasting style.

Shall have to think more on this one.

26 October 2009 ~ Hamilton

Works Cited.

Le Fanu, Sheridan.  Carmilla. Three Vampire Tales. Ed. Anne Williams. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003. 86-148.


2 thoughts on “The draining Gothic novel.

  1. From what I remember of reading this text and it is now two years since, what I found most disturbing in that novel was the way in which desire and family work through that text. Maybe I’m missing it but I had this strong sense of incest running through the book. As I said its been far too long, so I might be completely off and/or thinking of another gothic novel.

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