“Writers seldom duplicate their influential precursor(s); rather, they often work within a certain framework established by other writers or generic conventions, but vary aspects of it in significant ways” (Friedman 155). Sheridan Le Fanu’s, Carmilla, Bram Stoker’s, Dracula and Elizabeth Kostova’s, The Historian, clearly engage in this intertextual exchange, as evidenced by their use of narrative structure and striking character parallels.
Published in 1872, Le Fanu relates the story of Carmilla from a first person point of view, through four distinct perspectives. The first narrator, an unnamed assistant to Doctor Hesselius, prefaces the story as correspondence of scholarly interest between the Doctor and an “intelligent lady” (Le Fanu 87).
Subsequently, Le Fanu presents the second narrator, Laura. Relating her tale, Laura describes the vampire, Carmilla, as beautiful and with an alluring voice, capable of entrancing her. Repeatedly, Laura remarks that she is both attracted and repelled by the pretty Carmilla. Notwithstanding, Carmilla lavishes a lover’s affection upon Laura, at one point whispering, “You are mine . . . ” (105). Confused by Carmilla’s remark, Laura wonders if the two women are related. Unbeknownst to Laura, they are! As the story progresses, Laura experiences an unusual dream in which she encounters a “sooty-black animal” resembling a “monstrous cat” (115). Shortly thereafter, Laura complains of interminable dreams, exhaustion and melancholy that she attributes to “imagination” and “nerves” (119).
As Laura’s illness intensifies, Le Fanu introduces his third narrator, General Spielsdorf. The General relates a story concerning his niece, Bertha, whose affliction and experience bears a striking similarity to Laura’s. Frustrated with Bertha’s doctor and her continued deterioration, the General calls in a second physician from Gratz. The two doctors confer, disagreeing vehemently; whereby, the older physician remarks that his “skill and science . . . can be of no use”; Bertha is the victim of vampirism (140). Although skeptical, the General lies in wait for the vampire, Carmilla. He’s horrified to discover “a large black object, very ill-defined, crawl as it seemed to me, over the foot of the bed, and swiftly spread itself up to the poor girl’s throat, where it swelled, in a moment, into a great, palpitating mass” (Le Fanu 141). Despite the General’s efforts to rescue Bertha, she dies and Carmilla escapes. Concluding the General’s story, Le Fanu reverts the narration to Laura.
Through Laura, Le Fanu introduces Baron Vordenburg, a man highly knowledgeable of vampirism, having read a great many “works upon the subject” (146). From his studies, the Baron “extracted a system of principles that appear to govern . . . the condition of the vampire” (146). It is the Baron who provides the pivotal information needed to locate Carmilla’s gravesite. Following formal proceedings, Carmilla is found in her tomb, with her eyes open, faintly...