Originally published in 1872 in a magazine called The Dark Blue, this story predates the story of Dracula by twenty-six years. Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish gothic writer who published many other ghost stories and mystery novels, one being Uncle Silas, which I am currently reading on my Kindle.
The story opens in Styria, a lonely and primitive area, in a family’s castle, or schloss, told from the perspective of the teenage daughter, Laura. The property is remote; the nearest village is about seven leagues away, and the nearest neighbor is twenty miles away. After hearing of the unexpected and sudden death of General Spielsdorf’s niece, Laura and her father are out for a stroll on the property one moonlit evening. Suddenly an out-of-control carriage crashes nearby. As they rush to the aid of its occupants, they discover a mother and daughter with their staff. The daughter appears weak and disoriented. It is arranged that the daughter, Carmilla, will recover with the family in their schloss and her mother will return for her in three months.
Once Carmilla is set up in the family’s schloss, her strange habits become apparent. She sleeps until late in the day. She prefers to keep her bedroom door locked from the inside, but there are times during the night that she is seen walking on the estate grounds, even though Carmilla has to take breaks during walks with Laura. She appears in Laura’s room at night. Carmilla is a beauty and has the ability to calm and attract anyone to her. Is it her voice? Or her mannerisms? Or is it something else?
One day, Laura and her father are traveling together and come across The General. He appears harried and recounts a haunting story of his recent travels. He tells Laura and her father that he and his lovely niece had taken in the daughter of a woman who promised to be back in three months. Shortly after taking in the girl, The General’s niece begins to look pale and sickly. She had two puncture marks at the base of her neck, all symptoms similar to Laura’s declining condition. His niece was dead within days. The General warns of a creature he discovers is to blame, a vampire named Mircalla, The Countess Karnstein. The group travel to the ruined estate near their property, which happens to be the Karnstein’s ancient castle. While there, they see Carmilla, but not as the lovely and fragile being she was at the schloss. She has morphed into a vile creature that The General recognizes as Mircalla herself!
There is something about old ghost stories that attracts me. I enjoy the writing and the imaginative descriptions. The stories are original and pure. Stories like this one, as well as Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Dracula, inspire so many other kinds of scary stories after them. Perhaps it is my love of reading history or my childhood filled with classic horror movies that is the basis of my attraction to these stories. I found Carmilla to be an easy story to read, one that can be read in a day, and free of gore. It is short, keeping it concise and lacking any dullness. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it for anyone, especially those that like the classics.