Shit is about to get spicy.
A “picture cleaner” comes from “Gratz” (now Graz) to the excitement of the house. Seems like the family had a bunch of old portraits sent to be cleaned and dude unpacks them all. Laura is seeing them for the first time, essentially, as before they were sent away “the smoke and dust of time had obliterated them.” Most of them come from her mother’s Hungarian family, so they were old as balls, I guess. I’ve mentioned before that my family is from the Irish diaspora and totally alienated from our history, so that kind of legacy is difficult for me to fathom.
There’s one painting of particular interest to Laura and her father, dated 1698 and the image named “Marcia Karnstein.” Laura remembers it as being square and blackened so much that she couldn’t see anything. When the cleaner produces it with glee, everyone in the room looks on a portrait of Carmilla.
“Carmilla, dear, here is an absolute miracle. Here you are, living, smiling, ready to speak, in this picture. Isn’t it beautiful, Papa? And see, even the little mole on her throat.”
I love the detail of the mole on her throat.
Daddy dearest brushes off the resemblance, which Laura thinks is weird, but he agrees to let Laura hang the portrait in her room. Carmilla says nothing, not listening, just staring at Laura. Laura reads the true name of the subject as “Mircalla, Countess Karnstein” (1698). She believes that her mother was related to the Karnsteins, and Carmilla starts paying attention, says that her family is on that lineage too. Carmilla asks if the line still exists and Laura thinks not; the family was destroyed in civil wars but the ruins of their castles are nearby.
Carmilla suggests they go for a walk in the moonlight which reminds Laura of the night Carmilla appeared. The girls have an extremely gay conversation that I have to paste here in full or else I’m sure you’d assume I’m lying.
“And you asked for the picture you think like me, to hang in your room,” she murmured with a sigh, as she drew her arm closer about my waist, and let her pretty head sink upon my shoulder. “How romantic you are, Carmilla,” I said. “Whenever you tell me your story, it will be made up chiefly of some one great romance.”
She kissed me silently.
“I am sure, Carmilla, you have been in love; that there is, at this moment, an affair of the heart going on.”
“I have been in love with no one, and never shall,” she whispered, “unless it should be with you.”
How beautiful she looked in the moonlight!
Shy and strange was the look with which she quickly hid her face in my neck and hair, with tumultuous sighs, that seemed almost to sob, and pressed in mine a hand that trembled.
Her soft cheek was glowing against mine. “Darling, darling,” she murmured, “I live in you; and you would die for me, I love you so.”
Dracula had me putting on my gay goggles and making everything inappropriate but Carmilla doesn’t need my help at all. It’s just handing this out to me on a silver platter.
So there’s this trope you may or may not have heard of called the predatory lesbian. It’s a complicated and often homophobic stereotype that usually shows lesbians in a chauvinistic role with other women, pressuring their victims into situations that make them uncomfortable. It’s basically a lesbian boogeyman. I’ve never met women like this as most of the lesbians I know are just awkward (myself included) but I have seen it in fiction enough that it’s kind of tiresome. Regardless, I wonder if Carmilla is an early progenitor of this trope? As Lord Byron and gothic contemporaries were obsessed with Greece, however, it may go further back to earlier obsessions with Sappho. Anyway, that’s a whole other blog series.
This time, like other times, Laura is creeped out by Carmilla’s advances and, when she flinches away, finds Carmilla cold and passive. Carmilla wonders if she’s been dreaming, and Laura brings her back to the house to warm up. Carmilla stops before she goes inside, saying that it might be the last time she sees the moonlight with Laura. Laura worries that this means she might be sick, but Carmilla dismisses her worries. Laura notes that she must be feeling better indeed, chatty and in good spirits and “the remainder of that evening passed without any recurrence of what I called her infatuations. I mean her crazy talk and looks, which embarrassed, and even frightened me.” In the night, however…
Carmilla and Laura sit down with the governesses to play some cards and daddy dearest comes for tea. He asks Carmilla if she’s heard from her mother or knows where to send a letter. Carmilla does not, but does confess that she’s been thinking of leaving—she knows where to find her mother, even though she can’t tell them. Dad refuses to let her go unless in the care of her mother, since the illnesses in the area are dangerous, but he’s also worried about Carmilla possibly catching it.
Laura goes to hang out with Carmilla while she gets ready for bed, and Laura asks if Carmilla will ever confide in her. Carmilla wishes she could, saying some creepy gay shit.
The time is very near when you shall know everything. You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me and still come with me. and hating me through death and after.
Laura tells her to knock off the creepy gay shit and Carmilla asks her if she’s ever been to a ball. Laura says no, but has Carmilla? She says yes, but it was so long ago she can barely remember. Laura’s like, “You’re not that old.”
“I remember everything about it—with an effort. I see it all, as divers see what is going on above them, through a medium, dense, rippling, but transparent. There occurred that night what has confused the picture, and made its colours faint. I was all but assassinated in my bed, wounded here,” she touched her breast, “and never was the same since.”
“Were you near dying?”
“Yes, very—a cruel love—strange love, that would have taken my life. Love will have its sacrifices. No sacrifice without blood. Let us go to sleep now; I feel so lazy. How can I get up just now and lock my door?”
So it seems like Carmilla quite literally equates love and death. Interesting.
Laura leaves, wondering if Carmilla ever did her prayers, as Laura never saw her on her knees and she always woke too late to get in on the morning ones. Carmilla once mentioned being baptised, but otherwise Laura would have wondered if she was even Christian. “If I had known the world better, this particular neglect or antipathy would not have so much surprised me.” I mention this stuff, of course, for the typical vampire folklore trappings, but I also find it very cute on Laura’s part, and a nice little bit of brain food about the Victorian era—religiousness was probably not as entrenched as some might believe.
Laura has adopted the habit of locking Carmilla’s door for her, and also checking in the crannies of her room for burglars. Laura doesn’t say if she does this for her own room, only that she sleeps with the light on, though she does mention later that she locks her door.
She describes an extremely night-terror-esque dream:
I was equally conscious of being in my room, and lying in bed, precisely as I actually was. I saw, or fancied I saw, the room and its furniture just as I had seen it last, except that it was very dark, and I saw something moving round the foot of the bed, which at first I could not accurately distinguish. But I soon saw that it was a sooty-black animal that resembled a monstrous cat. It appeared to me about four or five feet long for it measured fully the length of the hearthrug as it passed over it; and it continued to-ing and fro-ing with the lithe, sinister restlessness of a beast in a cage. I could not cry out, although as you may suppose, I was terrified. Its pace was growing faster, and the room rapidly darker and darker, and at length so dark that I could no longer see anything of it but its eyes. I felt it spring lightly on the bed. The two broad eyes approached my face, and suddenly I felt a stinging pain as if two large needles darted, an inch or two apart, deep into my breast. I waked with a scream. The room was lighted by the candle that burnt there all through the night, and I saw a female figure standing at the foot of the bed, a little at the right side. It was in a dark loose dress, and its hair was down and covered its shoulders. A block of stone could not have been more still. There was not the slightest stir of respiration. As I stared at it, the figure appeared to have changed its place, and was now nearer the door; then, close to it, the door opened, and it passed out.
Laura checks the door to see if Carmilla had creeped in to play a trick on her, but discovers that it is still locked, so she goes back to sleep.
GOD this writing is so pretty.
The dream has terrified Laura, who can no longer stand to be alone, but also can’t stand to even tell her father what has scared her. She doesn’t want to be laughed at, and his health isn’t great, so she’s somewhat protective. Instead she confides in the governesses, one who laughs and the other who regards what Laura says gravely. The Mademoiselle takes this as a good time to talk about how there’s a ghost in the pathway outside Carmilla’s room, scaring the servants. Laura asks them not to tell Carmilla, as she’s even more of a coward than Laura.
When Carmilla comes downstairs, even later than usual, she confesses to have been scared by some black shape in the night, but she was protected by the charm she bought from the hunchback a few chapters ago.
I had a dream of something black coming round my bed, and I awoke in a perfect horror, and I really thought, for some seconds, I saw a dark figure near the chimneypiece, but I felt under my pillow for my charm, and the moment my fingers touched it, the figure disappeared, and I felt quite certain, only that I had it by me, that something frightful would have made its appearance, and, perhaps, throttled me, as it did those poor people we heard of.
Laura shares her own scary nighttime encounter and confesses that she didn’t have her charm, so she will get it for the evening to come. She does so, and sleeps well for the next two nights, although she wakes with “a sense of lassitude and melancholy.”
Carmilla is heartened by the charm power. She tells a story about how she once thought dreams were caused by evil spirits, but a doctor once told her it was a passing fever, knocking on the door and passing by. She therefore suspects that the charm has been treated with some kind of medicine, which is a fun way to think. Laura, however, is skeptical, and feels her vigor slipping as days go by. She grows tired, depressed, and in a strange way, peaceful about it.
Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome, possession of me. If it was sad, the tone of mind which this induced was also sweet.
She doesn’t tell anyone.
Carmilla became more devoted to me than ever, and her strange paroxysms of languid adoration more frequent. She used to gloat on me with increasing ardor the more my strength and spirits waned. This always shocked me like a momentary glare of insanity.
When Laura sleeps she has strange dreams and sensations at night which are beautifully described but I’m going to be here all day if I paste them. She feels a sense of thrill that leaves her exhausted the next day.
After all these dreams there remained on waking a remembrance of having been in a place very nearly dark, and of having spoken to people whom I could not see; and especially of one clear voice, of a female’s, very deep, that spoke as if at a distance, slowly, and producing always the same sensation of indescribable solemnity and fear. Sometimes there came a sensation as if a hand was drawn softly along my cheek and neck. Sometimes it was as if warm lips kissed me, and longer and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat, but there the caress fixed itself. My heart beat faster, my breathing rose and fell rapidly and full drawn; a sobbing, that rose into a sense of strangulation, supervened, and turned into a dreadful convulsion, in which my senses left me and I became unconscious.
Now this is the stuff I will paste.
Three weeks later, there’s no way Laura can hide the toll this is taking on her body. She’s pale and tired, bags under her eyes. When her father asks her how she is, Laura insists that nothing is wrong.
I had no pain, I could complain of no bodily derangement. My complaint seemed to be one of the imagination, or the nerves, and, horrible as my sufferings were, I kept them, with a morbid reserve, very nearly to myself.
In other words, she can’t explain it, and therefore she brushes it off or else be considered insane, much like Jonathan’s early journals about the crazy shit Dracula gets up to. Laura is sure she doesn’t have the same ailment that killed those other girls, as they barely survived three days and she’s going on three weeks. Also, Carmilla talks about having similar terrors and dreams, thereby normalizing the experience and making the toll they’re taking on Laura seem invalid. These abusers sure know how to gaslight.
One night, instead of the voice I was accustomed to hear in the dark, I heard one, sweet and tender, and at the same time terrible, which said,
“Your mother warns you to beware of the assassin.” At the same time a light unexpectedly sprang up, and I saw Carmilla, standing, near the foot of my bed, in her white nightdress, bathed, from her chin to her feet, in one great stain of blood.
I wakened with a shriek, possessed with the one idea that Carmilla was being murdered.
Laura flees from her room and screams for help in the lobby. When the governesses come to help her, they went to Carmilla. No matter how much they pound on her door, she doesn’t answer, which escalates Laura’s terror. Of course, her door is locked. They ring a bell to summon the servants, asking them to bust the lock. They do and barge into Carmilla’s room to find her gone.
Our party finds Carmilla’s perfectly made room reassuring, so they calm down and try to figure out what to do next. Mademoiselle suggests that they might have scared Carmilla with the racket and she took off to hide somewhere. They run around, calling her name, to no avail.
I was by this time convinced that she was not in the room, nor in the dressing room, the door of which was still locked on this side. She could not have passed it. I was utterly puzzled. Had Carmilla discovered one of those secret passages which the old housekeeper said were known to exist in the schloss, although the tradition of their exact situation had been lost?
This is becoming a locked-room mystery?!
The sun comes up and everyone searches the grounds from top to bottom, unable to find Carmilla. Daddy dearest starts talking about dragging the river. At about one in the afternoon, Laura goes upstairs and finds Carmilla in her own room. She says she just woke up on the sofa a moment ago and had no memory of what happened. The whole house piles in to find their emergency is over. Carmilla tells them the same story. Once the servants are gone and Mademoiselle has run off to get some “valerian and salvolatile,” the Madame, Laura, and Dad are alone with Carmilla. Dad, very sweetly, asks if she’s ever sleepwalked. Carmilla says yes, when she was very young. Dad suggests Carmilla did this, even unlocking the door and locking it behind her, and sleepwalked back to her room. Everyone is relieved to have this explained so conveniently. Gosh, what a relief!
Dad puts a servant outside of Carmilla’s door to look after her, since she won’t abide someone else in the room, and the next morning a doctor arrives to see Laura. Dad never told her he sent for someone. Laura talks to him in the library and, as she tells her story, he grows “graver and graver.” Madame is there and the doctor asks her to fetch Laura’s father, and Dad and the doctor go to talk on their own.
In a very cute paragraph Laura talks about snooping with the Madame, eager to hear and see all they can in spite of low voices and the protection of the recessed window where they have their tête-à-tête.
When they’re ready, Dad calls for Laura and dismisses Madame, and the doctor asks about “a sensation like that of two needles piercing the skin, somewhere about your neck,” and if it still hurts. Laura doesn’t correct that she got bit in the tit, and says no. She says the bite was just below her throat, under her dress, “an inch or two below the edge of my collar”, which is definitely your tit and not your throat sweetheart. They take a look at it with Victorian propriety, and find a mark, “a small blue spot, about the size of the tip of your little finger”. Laura asks if she should be worried, and the doctor says no, she’ll probably be fine. To ensure that she is fine, though, they call the Madame and tell her not to leave Laura alone for even a moment.
Dad suggests the doctor take a look at Carmilla as well, but as she doesn’t wake up until the afternoon maybe the doctor should go and come back for dinner. He agrees. The doctor leaves and the mail arrives. Madame and Laura make theories about what might be ailing her; Madame suspects seizures, Laura suspects she’s being given a chaperone to keep her from doing something stupid.
Dad arrives to tell everyone that General Spieldorf is on his way—the man whose daughter died at the beginning of the book. Laura is surprised that her father doesn’t seem terribly excited to see his friend, even a bit cranky. Laura asks what the doctor thinks is wrong with her, but Dad dodges the subject, saying he’ll tell her everything in a few days. For today, they want to ride for Karnstein—the ruins of Carmilla and Laura’s ancestors—where a priest lives. Dad, the governesses, Laura, and Carmilla all pile into a carriage for a road trip.
On the road, they encounter the General, who piles in the carriage to join them.
Dracula is so massive that I definitely had a sense sometimes of impatiently waiting for the story to move on. It had some beautiful stuff and some really fun moments, but I really believe it could have been half as long. Carmilla, comparatively, is slim and effective, sharp as a chef’s knife and moving ever forward. Even the luxurious descriptions are serving a purpose, laying out the setting and drawing a picture for you about what this terrain is like.
In other words, this book is really good. And unbelievably horny to boot.