Carmilla: Vampires and Subtext

Ashtyn Britt
abritt@lc.edu

 

A few years ago, a web series produced by U by Kotex and created by Jordan Hall, Steph Ouaknine, and Jay Bennett had premiered for free on YouTube. This show was called Carmilla, and focused on a young woman named Laura Hollis who would document herself on her computer as she investigated her college roommate’s mysterious disappearance.

In the meantime, she also received a new weird roommate named Carmilla Karnstein. Carmilla stays out all night, sleeps all day, is weirdly strong, dresses in gothic rocker clothing, and drinks weird red protein shakes.

As more supernatural events occur with Laura and her friends, she starts to figure out her new roommate is in fact a vampire and her old roommate didn’t only disappear, but was in fact kidnapped. Things get even more confusing for Laura when she and Carmilla develop romantic feelings for one another while Laura also holds Carmilla as her prime suspect for the disappearance of the girls.

Oddly enough, this shockingly delightful series was loosely based on a book written in 1871 of the same name, written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Like the webseries, the novella focuses mostly on Laura and how Carmilla slowly seduces and preys upon her, as would later inspire many other vampire stories of the same nature later on-including one of the most famous vampire stories in existence. While a quick read and somewhat predictable plot, the gothic writing and intense tone really made this a beautiful experience to become a part of Laura and Carmilla’s world.

The history of the story itself is pretty interesting too, such as Carmilla was published a quarter of a century before Dracula had been. Yet, Dracula is obviously far more popular. The going theory is that this is most likely because Carmilla had some then-questionable themes in the story. Specifically, the fact it was almost too in-your-face obvious that the main vampire was a lesbian vampire preying on the women she desired.

To say there’s some homoerotic subtext in this book would be a vast understatement. The only reason Carmilla was published is because Le Fanu argued that since Carmilla wasn’t a human, her homosexual-tendencies didn’t count. While today this is of course known to be utterly absurd, at the time it was the only way he could gift this story to the world.

I can’t recommend it enough, especially for anyone else who is a fan of the webseries that can still be watched on YouTube today. Carmilla is fairly easy to find a copy of, being found in libraries, available for less than five dollars on amazon, and probably even some PDFs floating around the internet.

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