“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.” (Clayton, 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, striking character parallels and authors choice of language.
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.” Introducing the story in this manner lays the initial framework for believability. The doctor’s academic interest signifies scientific validity; whereby, the woman’s intelligence implies rationality.
Subsequently, Le Fanu presents the second narrator, the aforementioned young woman, Laura, who provides the bulk of the account to follow. Born in Styria, Laura is described as being of English descent, but having “never saw England” (87). Residing with her father and two governesses, she is socially isolated and motherless, with negligible paternal involvement. Laura epitomizes vampire literature’s prototypical victim. Moreover, foreshadowing her successors, Laura begins her strange tale with the words, “I am now going to tell you something so strange that it will require all your faith in my veracity to believe my story. It is not only true, nevertheless, but truth of which I have been an eye-witness” (91). Laura’s appeal to believability, based upon personal testimony, augments the rational and scientific proposition of the first narrator.
Relating her tale, Laura describes 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, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever” (105). Confused by Carmilla’s remark, Laura wonders if the two women are related. Unbeknownst to Laura, indeed 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...