29 pages 58 minutes read

Joseph Sheridan le Fanu


Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 2012

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Summary and Study Guide


Carmilla is a Gothic novella in which a young woman named Laura details her relationship with a vampire in the form of a young woman named Carmilla. The first event that Laura details in the novella is an episode from her childhood: a six-year-old Laura is attempting to sleep when she is visited by a mysterious young lady (later revealed to be the vampire Carmilla, or at least a representation of Carmilla) who bites her on her breast. The narration then jumps forward thirteen years. Laura’s father receives a letter from his friend, General Spielsdorf, wherein the General reveals that his ward Bertha has died. The General implies that a monster of some sort has killed Bertha.

Later that day, a carriage carrying Carmilla and her mother crashes near Laura’s castle and the mother convinces Laura’s father to look after Carmilla for a few months while she attends to important business. Laura is excited to have Carmilla as a visitor, and the two of them are soon infatuated with each other. Soon after Carmilla’s arrival at the castle, local peasant girls are found dead, and a rumor starts that there is a vampire prowling the area. Laura and Carmilla spend most of their time together, and their intimacy grows. One night, Laura dreams that a large black cat pounces on her in her sleep and bites her breast. Laura then develops a strange, languorous illness that lasts months. Laura wakes one night from a terrible nightmare to find Carmilla at her bedside, but Carmilla escapes the room. Laura finds Carmilla’s room locked up, but Carmilla is not inside it. Laura’s father decides that Carmilla has sleepwalked and somehow found a way outside of her locked room. A doctor is sent for and is very concerned for Laura’s health. Laura’s father takes her on a trip to the village of Karnstein, in search of a priest. On the way, they meet the General, who tells them the story of Bertha’s death. Bertha’s story is exactly like Laura’s: she was infatuated with a young woman who was a guest and began to have disturbing dreams. The General is on a mission to revenge her death, and to that end he recruits Baron Vordenburg, an expert on vampires, to help him. The Baron discovers the location of Carmilla’s tomb and the vampire Carmilla is destroyed. The novella ends with Laura reminiscing about Carmilla, and saying that she sometimes fancies that she hears Carmilla’s footsteps at her door.