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Carmilla was the first Vampire, 26 years older than Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Tijana Radeska

Written by the Irish writer of Gothic tales and mystery novels, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla is a Gothic novella first published in 1871.It was a series of stories narrated by a woman who becomes obsessed with a vampire named Carmilla.

The story appeared in the English literary magazine The Dark Blue between 1871-72 and later was reprinted in Le Fanu’s short story collection In a Glass Darkly, published in 1872.

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu

The protagonist in the story is Laura – the daughter of a wealthy widower who used to serve in the Austrian Empire.Together they live in a big castle in the forest in Styria, in the southeast of Austria. When she was six years old, Laura claimed to be punctured in her chest by a beautiful visitor in the evening, but no wounds were found.

The story continues 12 years later when a friend of Laura’s father, General Spielsdorf, is supposed to visit them in Styria with his niece Bertha Rheinfeldt, but Bertha dies suddenly under mysterious circumstances. The General is eager to investigate the case with his friend.

Illustration from The Dark Blue by D. H. Friston, 1872

Illustration from The Dark Blue by D. H. Friston, 1872

In the meantime, there is a carriage accident in front of Laura’s castle from which a young girl is brought inside for medical care. The name of the girl is Carmilla.

The girls recognized each other as soon as they met, from a dream they both had when they were young. Carmilla could not continue the trip, but her mother had an urgent job to do and told Laura and her father that she would be back in three months.

Even though Carmilla and Laura have a nice friendship, Carmilla is a strange character. She never joins the family for prayers, she sometimes flirts with Laura, never talks about herself or her family, sleeps throughout the day, and sleepwalks outside at night.Once, there is a shipment of heirloom paintings to the castle, a collection among which Laura recognizes a portrait from 1698, of one of her ancestors: the Countess Karnstein, better known as Mircalla.

It is strange that Carmilla looks exactly as Mircalla after which she claims that she might be descended from the Karnsteins even though the family died out centuries before.

Laura in bed, illustration by D.H. Friston, 1872

Laura in bed, illustration by D.H. Friston, 1872

Laura starts to have nightmares about a big cat in her room who bites her on the chest. In others, she hears a voice saying “Your mother warns you to beware of the assassin”.

Her health worsens and her worrying father calls a doctor who finds a small blue spot on her chest. Suspicious, the doctor advises Laura’s father to never leave her alone. So, her father takes Laura to the ruined village of Karnstein, in a carriage, giving the directions to one of the governesses so that she can bring Carmilla once she wakes up.

On their way to the village, they met General Spielsdorf who tells them the story of Bertha’s death. Apparently, while at a costume ball, Bertha met a young woman Mircalla and her mother.Since the two girls befriended so easily, Mircalla’s mother asked if Mircalla can stay in the house of the General since she had to leave the next day. Mircalla stayed and Bertha’s health declined, just as Laura’s did.

Funeral, illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for Carmilla in The Dark Blue (January 1872)

Funeral, illustration by Michael Fitzgerald for Carmilla in The Dark Blue (January 1872)

After an investigation, the General concluded that Bertha was being visited by a vampire.Even though he tried to save her, Bertha died, and he saw Mircalla taking the shape of a beast and escaping. After the arrival in Karnstein,  the General asks a woodman where he can find the tomb of Mircalla Karnstein.

The woodman says the tomb was relocated long ago by the hero who vanquished the vampires that haunted the region.Later they realize that Carmilla is an anagram of Mircalla. And not to spoil the whole story for those who haven’t read it, we can say that the story doesn’t have a happy ending for Laura.

Le Fanu c. 1870

Le Fanu c. 1870

Even though the story of Carmilla is less popular than the story of Dracula, the second is based on many “vampire principles” of the original story.

More from our Horror files: Maila Nurmi-The dark goddess, was the first TV horror star known as Vampira

However, someone should investigate Ireland closely, since it is the source of all the greatest, darkest, Gothic stories.