Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Carmilla Part 2

I am usually not a fan of literary criticism but I actually really enjoyed Heller's "The Vampire in the House."
Carmilla is very similar to a lot of the works we've read about vampires thus far. We have all the same themes, the most prevalent being obsession and homoeroticism. But Le Fanu switched it up this time a bit by making the vampire female. Along with "The Vampire in the House" I feel like this introduced a whole new set of topics to think about.
While reading "The Vampire in the House" I kept thinking that everything comes back to the Victorian-era male's view on what a female should be. This idea of a "hysteric woman" is not something I am unfamiliar with but this is the first time I've seen it connected with a vampire.
It just seems like these Victorian male intellectuals were so stressed out by the fact that women might know something about sex that they had to label any woman who showed signs of not being completely clueless as an invalid or vampire. "A hysterical girl," Wendell Holmes says, "is a vampire who sucks the blood of healthy people around her." He even gives us an example as to why this is true by saying, "I may add that pretty surely where there is one hysterical girl there will be soon or late two sick women." It just seems so blatantly obvious that since these men couldn't fathom why women might be the least bit unhappy (umm maybe it was because they had almost no rights and were expected to live as their fathers and husbands directed no matter what), they created this idea of a hysteric woman. Heller explains this in the text by saying, "Moreover, as all this male nervousness about voracious women suggests, both the female hysteric and the female vampire embody a relation to desire that nineteenth-century culture finds highly problematic."
Further, in the introduction to "Carmilla", Dr. Hesselius's friend talks about this "mysterious subject." Vampirism is not the only "mysterious subject" he is talking about. The underlying subject in "Carmilla" is that of femininity. "This image of femininity recalls Weir Mitchell's reference to hysteria as 'mysteria,' an emblematic illness for women who have traditionally been the great enigma."
The main theme of "Carmilla" however, may very well be that of lesbianism and its epistemology. Men seem to be very worried that women will know discover sexuality too soon and that they will discover it in the wrong context. It is obvious that Carmilla has some sort of sexual attraction to Laura. Laura recalls that Carmilla would gaze into her eyes, blushing, and breathing fast, "It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.”
Laura gets that this is not something that two platonic friends do and say to eachother, "What if a boyish lover had found his way into the house, and sought to prosecute his suit in masquerade, with the assistance of a clever old adventuress," she muses. Laura even finds herself feeling the same way about Carmilla, but along with these thoughts come the notion that something is wrong, "I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust. I had no distinct thoughts about her while such scenes lasted, but I was conscious of a love growing into adoration, and also of abhorrence."


  1. I agree with your assessment of The Vampire in the House article, especially your discourse on the ideal Victorian women. I found it interesting in the criticism that Heller talks about the fact that the ideal women is seen mostly in a young, female form. They are untested by the harsh life during the Victorian era and thus do not have the same weathering that older women do. They can be characterized as more pure than their elder counterparts. I also found it interesting that Heller possess this as the reason Laura's mother does not appear in the story. He even goes further to say that this is a predominant reason why older female figures are, at large, absent from Victorian literature.

  2. I also agree with essay regarding The Vampire in the House. What I liked about your essay is when you talk about the main theme of "Carmilla" and you talk about the sexual connections between Laura and Carmilla. Even though Laura feels the same way about Carmilla as she does her, she knew that something was wrong. That something was wrong with Carmilla and that she's not like the other visitors that visits the castle when passing.

  3. I definitely understand what you’re saying. In those times it seemed to be a male tendency to say that a woman was “hysteric” if they were not acting the way they were supposed to. If a woman in those times was upset or not acting normal most men would say it was their “nerves,” when in many cases it was as simple as the women expressing their unhappiness at how things were. I do not think that women have completely abolished this male inclination either. I am in no way a feminist or am saying that this is about all men, but how many times has a women been upset and the man said “are you PMSing?” Now usually such a question comes from a husband or a boyfriend but I believe many women have encountered some kind of stereotype like this. This is the same as calling a woman “hysteric.” Most likely our reasons for being upset are not a “malady of our gender.”