The history behind “Carmilla,” the story of a 19th century lesbian vampire

It’s no secret we love the web series Carmilla, so we wanted to take a look into the legacy or lore that the original source material by Joseph Sheridan La Fanu has inspired (including Bram Stroker‘s massively popular Dracula.)

Lesbian vampires have been a trope in movies, television and books since La Fanu introduced his mysterious antagonist in the 1870s. Female homosexuality was generally considered something to be dismissed and reviled in the 19th century, but yet, it also fascinated many. (The same could be said today, as some of the same folks saying that two women shouldn’t get married probably have a whole folder full of downloaded lesbian porn.)

Let’s take a look into some of Carmilla‘s history. 

Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan La FanuImage0001_-_cropped-491x347via lafanustudies

Let’s start at the beginning, when La Fanu introduced the world to Carmilla Karnstein via his gothic novella. In the original Carmilla, Laura and her widower father live a rather dull life in Styria until the title character comes into their lives. Laura, who is desperate for a friend, is instantly drawn to Carmilla, who is as mysterious as she is beautiful. You see, young women keep mysteriously dying in the area and no one can figure out why. Carmilla is actually a centuries old vampire, who puts Laura under her thrall until Laura’s father and his friend stake Carmilla’s corpse, freeing Laura.

This story would inspire so many to follow. Female sexuality was so unexplored when the novella was written, but further adaptations and homages to follow would certainly address what La Fanu was getting at.

Et mourir de plaisir (Le sang et la rose) (1960)

Gotta love the ’60s. In Roger Vadim‘s film, Carmilla is obsessively in love with her best friend, Georgia. However, Georgia is engaged to be married to Carmilla’s cousin. Carmilla also has a thing for him. Anyhoo, after an explosion disturbs the grave of Carmilla’s ancestor, she is essential possessed and goes on a bloody, vampiric rampage.

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Hammer Films loved Carmilla so much that they created an entire trilogy of films influenced by the story. Made right at the height of the women’s movement, these lesbian vampire sisters are doing it for themselves. Queerness abounds in these films, but like most lesbian vampires, these undead ladies and their gentlemen minions must meet an untimely end. The fangs in this film are fierce, though. Also, a running theme in all of these vampire attacks? Bite marks on the breast. Uh huh.