I have been taking long walks as often as possible, because I am addicted to the audiobook of Carmilla: A Vampyre Tale by J Sheridan Le Fanu, originally published 26 years before Dracula.
And it’s not just because the protagonist is named Laura, okay?
18-year-old Laura is whipped into a frenzy by a friendship with Carmilla, a gorgeous girl she takes in after she suffers an illness traveling. Carmilla has a sleepwalking problem apparently, and slowly Laura is afflicted with a languid and luxurious melancholy. She wakes up tired every morning, and notices a recently restored painting from more than 200 years ago looks exactly like her strange houseguest …
I walk loops around the park with Carmilla in my ears. I wander deep into the woods. We had an unusual August week of low temperatures and light humidity, which is an almost unfathomable bit of good luck.
I step and I listen.
The writing feels as fresh and modern, since it is so confessional. I wish this were as famous as Bram Stoker’s story, because this would mean more creepy stories of overzealous friendships between girls would be in the world.
I can also see the notions that Bram Stoker borrowed from this work. Laura is of Anglo descent and loves the idea of England, but has never been there. Instead, she grew up lonely in a castle in what I think is Austria. All around her, peasants suffer from a plague that kills within three days. Folk medicine suggests that this is really a monstrous killer wolf on the loose, and the cure is to pin a lace charm to a pillow or nightgown.
These marooned upright Englishfolk are preyed upon by dark European spirits. This is such a familiar trope to me (the decadence of Old World Europe as a cover for vampires first came to me through Anne Rice), even though I am more likely descended from the peasants making poultices than I am from Mina Harker.
I tell vampire stories, too. Monsters are a metaphor for other things when I write them. Sometimes I emerge from the woods with some new ideas.