“I have been in love with no one. And I shall never be in love with anyone, I think unless it shall be with you.”
-Carmilla, “Carmilla and Laura”
Pride Month has begun, and what better quintessential story to begin the month with than a retelling of “Carmilla”? “Carmilla” was a novella written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu 26 years before Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” and it set the tone for many vampire novels and legends to come. What’s more, “Carmilla” contains a destigmatized lesbian love story between the main character and narrator, Laura, and the vampiress Carmilla. Despite the fact that they are both women during an era where homosexuality was mostly considered illegal, their relationship is not condemned by any of the other characters until Carmilla’s vampirism comes to light. SD Simper, an author of various dark fantasy novels with lesbian relationships within them, decided to take this story into her own hands and make it even more romantic.
Laura is a lonely young woman who lives in a grand estate with her father and her two governesses. Her world is turned upside down when a carriage accident occurs outside her home. Within the carriage are a mother and her daughter, Carmilla, who appears to be the same age as Laura. Carmilla is too ill to travel further, and as her mother must depart quickly, she leaves Carmilla in Laura’s family’s care.
Carmilla is an eccentric, sickly woman who enchants Laura and her family with her stories and her charisma. It is not long before Laura finds herself falling in love with Carmilla, despite her religious upbringing and internal struggle with her orientation. But during their budding romance, Laura finds there’s more to Carmilla than what meets the eye. As women around them continue to drop dead seemingly overnight, Laura begins to wonder: what sort of monster is Carmilla, and does she actually love Laura, or are her intentions far more sinister?
The original “Carmilla” novella spoke to me when I was a young lesbian struggling with my identity, and will always have a special place in my heart because of it. Simper’s retelling, “Carmilla and Laura,” holds the same, if not more, magic than the original. I greatly appreciate her fleshing out even more of their relationship than was in the original tale, and the ending was not at all one I expected. For a novella only 145 pages long, it held the weight of a vampire novel thousands of pages long.