JOSEPH SHERIDAN LE FANU (1814 – 1873)
Born in Dublin to a wealthy clergyman, Le Fanu’s family later moved to the Limerick countryside, where his childhood became imbued with ancient superstition and folklore. Le Fanu graduated in law from Trinity College in 1837, and the following year his first written work, The Ghost and the Bone-setter, was published. He quickly became established as the leading exponent of the Victorian ghost story, and amongst his better-known works are Green Tea, The Familiar and Carmilla, a Vampire tale with erotic lesbian undertones that caused a sensation in its day. It is still widely regarded as the most finely crafted and genuinely frightening story in the Vampire genre. Le Fanu’s novels were less successful, with the exception of the chilling psychological thriller Uncle Silas. The death of his wife in 1858 depressed Le Fanu greatly and, pouring his pessimism into his horror stories, he became a virtual recluse, earning himself the nickname ‘The Invisible Prince’. He died in 1873, as elusive as his ghosts.
Carmilla is said to have influenced many exponents of the Gothic tale, including Bram Stoker in his masterpiece, Dracula, and is my own favourite Vampire story. Le Fanu’s tale concerns the strange and very beautiful relationship between the narrator, Laura, and the Vampire Countess Carmilla Karnstein, who mysteriously arrives one evening at Laura’s family castle in the forests of Styria. Slowly Laura falls under Carmilla’s spell, and while she is both attracted and repulsed by her, she seems unable to find the energy to resist the Countess. These are several extracts from the story:
She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, ‘Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die – die, sweetly die – into mine.’
Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheeks in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, ‘You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.’