The lesbian vampire who inspired Dracula speaks Asturian and Llionés

Carmilla, the vampire woman, entered the universe of Xairu López (León, 1982) when he was 5 or 6 years old. She had heard of the great count of Transylvania, but she had not imagined that there could be more like him. She then discovered the ‘Monsters’ collection: a series of cards that told nightmare stories. Among them was the illustration of Carmilla; a pretty woman with straight hair, olive skin, a fierce countenance, and fangs and claws. A trickle of blood dripped from one corner and down her chin. That was the first of many times in which López-fan of the phantasmagorical-would cross paths with what is perhaps one of the most notorious influences in the great Gothic novel of the late 19th century; the ‘Dracula’ by Bram Stoker.

“Anyone who reads Sheridan Le Fanu’s short novel today will think a lot about Dracula, but it’s the other way around!” López points out in statements to The New Chronicle to point out that the Irishman published his novella 25 years before Stoker. “The way in which the work is designed, the characters, the plot… the parallels are enormous”, he assures.

She, the vampire, was born from the imagination of one of the most famous horror storytellers of 19th century Europe, Joseph Thomas Sheridan LeFanu (Dublin, 1814-1873), considered the father of the Irish ghost story in the Victorian novel. Of aristocratic, Huguenot descent, he studied Law at Trinity College in Dublin, although he ended up opting for the practice of journalism. He went through the staff of many of the newspapers of the time, including the ‘Dublin University Magazine’ and the ‘Dublin Evening Mail’, and published hundreds of short stories. Henry James, the American literary critic who wanted to be British, once wrote: “We had Mr. Le Fanu’s usual novel by our bedside, ideal after-midnight reading in a country house.”

Carmilla is perhaps his most well-rounded work and, like any precursor work of a genre, its trail has impregnated a good part of universal pop culture on a small and large scale, waiting for the most seasoned readers to go on its trail. From the youth cards of the 80s to the adventures of ‘The Little Vampire’, a very famous German children’s saga written by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg that narrates the friendship between the boy Anton and the fanged Rüdiger von Schlotterstein. “There is a scene in which Anton is bored as an oyster at home and takes a copy of Carmilla from the shelf at home to read it. I was very excited to find a reference that I already knew!” Xairu López enthuses that, finally, he read the novel during his adolescence. No one told him then that he would end up being the first translator of his into Lyonese.

Classics to legitimize a language

Xairu Lopéz earns his living as a computer programmer, but his great passions are literature and the second language of his land: Llionés. In his free time he works with the Faceira Cultural Association, dedicated to the study, dissemination, protection and projection of the cultural, historical and linguistic heritage of the province of León. “It’s my militancy”, this Leonese assures that he discovered a new world when, in his twenties, he noticed some graffiti that, although they were understandable, “it was clear that they were not written in Spanish”. “It was like entering a new world, it fascinated me from the first minute,” explains López, who today has a C2 in that language.

López says that what they want is to recover a minority language on the verge of extinction. “It is heritage and it would be a shame if it disappeared,” he says, pointing out that in Asturias they have years ahead of them with the claim and care of the bable. “Actually, it is the same language under many names: Llionés, Asturianu, Asturleonés, Bable… It is a language that descends from Asturias, through León and up to Zamora, although today it is barely a remnant here”, continues the computer programmer. “The question is that it is divided, mainly, into three blocks; the eastern, the central and the western. This book is translated into the western variant, which is the one spoken in León and throughout western Asturias”. For him, the difference that there may be between one and the other is that marked by regionalisms or the slang of a land. “The same difference that there is between the Castilian of a Spaniard and that of an Argentine”, he exemplifies.

“Here, in León, very few people speak it, most of them are elderly and they are ashamed of it, they feel like a cateto because their speakers have been ostracized. He was frowned upon, he was crude, and the stigma still persists ”, he maintains.

To fight against this discredit, and give greater authority to the language, from Faceira they have decided to embark on the translation of universal classics. The first, Carmilla. “I chose it, beyond my obvious personal taste, because it is a short novel -which makes the work easier- and it is also a very attractive work, although today it is unknown. Without her, Dracula could not have existed.. Not as we know it, ”she recalls.

Between Transylvania and Styria

Regarding the formal aspects of the novel that relate it to Stoker’s, it is important to take into account, in the eyes of López, that this is a work of a Gothic nature inspired by European medieval Gothic. A characteristic that Carmilla and Dracula share. The first written as a diary and the second as an epistolary novel. Likewise, the descriptions that are made of the vampire as a beautiful and languid woman with a fickle and sometimes frivolous character are projected on the second female character in Dracula: Lucy Westenra.

Nor can we forget the central figure in a good vampire novel: the investigator who will solve the mystery. In Dracula he is the well-known Abraham Van Helsing, who will find his precursor in Baron Vonderburg. “You can connect the characters and situations from one novel to the other,” he explains to underline; “We all know that Stoker’s work is ultimately set in Translivania, but in early drafts he set it in Styria!” he asserts vehemently. Styria is, of course, the Austrian region where Carmilla’s plot takes place.

The charm of Carmilla, for Xairu López, is in its innovation. “We are talking about an exercise in literary feminism in 1872, that is incredible. The female characters are exquisitely drawn, while the male ones are just mere decorations for the plot, they don’t learn anything”, she points out.

It is also worth noting the veiled lesbian component that permeates the novel, “we cannot forget the context in which it was written,” he points out. The vampire embodies -and mocks- all the repressions of the Anglo-Saxon bourgeois society of the time, as well as the latent fear that the West felt regarding female freedom.

Eroticism, the desire for the forbidden and a cursed attraction weave together the fiery tragedy between the protagonist, Laura, and the sudden appearance of the mysterious Carmilla. All this passed through the archetype of the endearing friend with whom, for centuries, the passion between women has been hidden -and revealed-.

“The vampirism and lesbianism theme worked before and it works now. It’s striking, and I think the book can have its audience. Above all, because between Castilian and Leonese the degree of intercomprehensibility is very high. Anyone who speaks Spanish can read it. Sure”, concludes the translator.

Carmilla is the first translation of a classic of universal literature into Xairu López’s native language by Eolas editions, with illustrations by Ricardo Escobar. The first stone of a project so that the llionés begins to take fang.

The lesbian vampire who inspired Dracula speaks Asturian and Llionés