Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Second Set of Questions for Le Fanu's Carmilla

(at right: Grimshaw's The Lovers (circa 1870)

1. In Helen Stoddart’s essay, “ ‘The Precautions of Nervous People Are Infectious’: Sheridan Le Fanu’s Symptomatic Gothic,” she writes that “Laura is a passive and helpless victim—the incredible essence of Victorian driven-snow purity who emerges as one overwhelmingly baffled…the fight for Laura’s sexual and imperial rights as a child-bearer and soul-maker will have to be fought for her and not by her” (Stoddart, 32). Why does Le Fanu make his heroine so weak and ineffectual (as opposed to a later woman, Mina, in Dracula, who is quite capable of holding her own)?

2. Why might Carmilla be a story of women terrorizing (or seducing) other women? Men have virtually no role in this story, except as protectors trying desperately (and often, incompetently) to secure their women from harm. Why do you feel a woman is the threatening force in the story, and why doesn’t she attack and kill other men as well?

3. Reflecting on the nature of her illness, Laura writes, “Had I been capable of comprehending my condition, I would have invoked aid and advice on my knees. The narcotic of an unsuspected influence was acting upon me, and my perceptions were benumbed” (283). Note the use of the word “narcotic” here and “benumbed,” both of which conjure up drugs and intoxication. Of course, these words equally apply to the infatuation of being in love (or lust). Can we make a case for her being infatuated (in love?) with Carmilla? Is it simply the result of witchcraft…or did she, at the time, truly want to “die” with her? NOTE: the word “die” which Carmilla uses repeatedly to describe their union was an Elizabethan term for “orgasm.”

4. Why might the vampire be a uniquely Freudian creation? The preponderance of vampires in ancient civilization and folklore suggests that it did exist—that is, it is a cultural memory from our “animistic past” that reflects something real that has been suppressed. What might this be? What is uniquely “uncanny” about the vampire itself, and how might Le Fanu conjure this sense of our shared past in his story?


  1. Patsy Roberts

    2. I feel that this is a story of women terorizing women to show that evil exists in all forms and shapes and is not confined to just men being evil personified as they were depicted in other gothic literature. I feel that having the woman (Carmilla) as the threatening force in this story is an attempt to show that women can be just as evil if not more than men and that they prey more on other women who they see as either non-threatening to themselves and others or that they see as threatening to themselves or even that they see as competition. Carmilla deoes not attack mem in this story becasuse the suthor is wanting to show that women only prey on those that are weaker than themselves and men are seen during this time as being superior to women.

    4. The vampire might be a FREUDIAN concept in that it may be seen as a person's attempt to come to terms w3ith their own sexuality. I feel that this is because it could be seen as the dual sides to each person that we all have and saying someone is a vampire may be a way to say that they suck the life out of people around them. It could be a reflection of our "animistic" past in that supposedly all creatures have a cultural memory that has been suppressed or hidden (for example: werewolves, bigfoot, sasquatch, etc) By saying that things have been suppressed is man's way of saying that unless it casn be proven scientifically then it never existed in the first place. The vampire is uniquely "uncanny" in that she is a female preying on other women and LeFanu could conjure this sense of our shared past by placing the story in an area that is rife with this vampire legend and is set in such a way that it could have happened.

    I am not used to having others read my writings so please bear with me on this response.

  2. Pfffft! You did awesome! :)
    I would definitely agree with what you said about women being able to be evil and sometimes even more so than men. Perhaps, it is just that we internalize more and are passive/agressive by society's enmeshed teachings but I would definitely agree that mor often than not--if I have experienced cruel behavior it has usually come from women, rather than men! So yup, I whole heartedly agree with that aspect.

    It's a slippery slope though, if we remain there with that thought process, because that is how religion has also kept women subservient throughout the ages as well--in the notion that women are inherently more 'sinful' than men (that whole apple and snake thing don't ya know!) and that because of that men should subjigate and bring us into line! Fooooorrrrrsooth! ;)

    The uncanny is all over in this story isn't it? :)

  3. Thank you Patricia. Coming from you that means a lot to me.

    Patsy Roberts