Possible inspirations for JS Le Fanu to write her lesbian vampire novel ‘Carmilla’

The publication of ‘Carmilla’ resulted in a kind of liberation for women experiencing same-sex desires.

Twenty-six years before the appearance of dracula (1897), from bram stokeranother Irish writer named Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu wrote what many consider the first vampire novel: Carmilla. But what is the historical background of this story of gothic eroticism? Was the writer inspired by real and documented cases of vampirism?

Carmilla: mainstay of vampire and lesbian literature

Carmilla revolves around a vampthe eponymous Carmilla, who is attracted to her victim: the young protagonist Laura. The story deals with themes of seduction and lesbianismwhich were quite unprecedented in the Victorian age.

Precisely in the Victorian era, relationships between women were not well seen or there was a lack of knowledge about them. The publication of Carmilla in 1872 resulted in a kind of liberation for women who experienced desires for people of the same sex.

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Sheridan Le Fanu also opted for a female role that in those days was somewhat unthinkable: a woman who dared to explore her desires and surrender to them. The female characters of Carmilla they are strong, independent and do not require the masculine validity to thrive and feel good about themselves.

In addition, in this story obviously feminist, men are seen as defenseless, counterproductive and absent-minded beings. Throughout history, women are portrayed as equal to men, which was a vision ahead of its time.

Carmilla’s historical background

For draculawe know that Bram Stoker used the Romanian hero as a source of inspiration Vlad The Impaler, but what about the case Carmilla of Le Fanu? The biographers of the Irish author mention that it is very possible that he consulted the works written by the Benedictine monk Dom Antoine Augustin Calmetnotably his 1746 work Dissertations on the apparitions of angels, of demons and spirits, and on revenants and vampires of Hongrie, Bohême, Moravie and Silésie.

In Spanish: Dissertations on the apparitions of angels, demons and spirits and on the revenants or vampires of Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia.

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Dom Antoine Augustin Calmet was a great expert in the vampirism theme. In this way, he documented some of the most popular cases of his time, such as that of the Serbian vampire Arnaut Pavle (Арнаут Павле), from 1726, and that of a vampire in Hungary, from 1732.

These cases were possibly two of the first to bring the term to a wider European audience. In the eighteenth century, the belief in vampires was widespread, especially in the rural regions of nations such as Serbia or Hungary. The very word “vampire” is a Serbian word of Slavic origin, which passed into Hungarian, then Austrian and finally English.

Dom Augustin Calmet
Dom Augustin Calmet

Arnaut Pavle’s story

As we said, Pavle’s story was one of the most documented in his time. After his death, it was said about this character that he returned from the grave in the form of a revenant to harass acquaintances and strangers.

Less than a year after his accidental death, numerous villagers reported stalking and illness, all attributed to Arnaut Pavle. In January 1726, the Austrians reported that 17 people had perished because of Pavle’s fault.

There are documents that speak of a 20-year-old girl who said that a vampire visited her at night with the intention of hanging her. The incident was repeated in the following nights, and the girl he died three days later. This bears strong resemblances to the story of Le Fanu and the teenager Carmilla visited, ready to seduce her.

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Arnaut Pavle
Getty Images

To dispel all doubt, the authorities ordered the exhumation of the body of Arnaut Pavle, and they saw that:

“His veins were full of fluid blood, and fresh blood had flowed from his eyes, nose, mouth and ears; that her shirt, cover, and coffin were completely bloodied; that the old nails in her hands and feet, along with the skin, had fallen out, and that new ones had grown. Her body was red, her hair, nails and beard had grown back.”

It was quickly decided drive a stake on Pavle’s chest. The body emitted a bloodcurdling scream and bled profusely. They then beheaded and burned to death. reduce it to ashes.

It is likely that Le Fanu has read the story of Arnaut Pavle and that it has served as the inspiration for his novel, acclaimed as one of the essential readings of the vampire literature.

Before Carmilla there was Thalaba

Prior to Carmilla a was written vampire court poem dating from 1801. Its author is Robert Southey and is titled Thalaba, the Destroyer. In it, the protagonist confronts his late wife, Oneizawho returns from the dead in the form of a vampire.

In fact, this poem has a long list of annotations that allows us to know in detail the historical aspects of vampires. Southey clearly cites the Dissertations on the apparitions of angels, demons and spirits…, of 1746, which precedes by many years the writing of Carmilla. This epic poem went unnoticed in its time and was forgotten over the years.

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Possible inspirations for JS Le Fanu to write her lesbian vampire novel ‘Carmilla’