We got a big-ass snowfall here the other day so I guess that means it’s Christmas season on top of the general SAD of winter. I don’t want to work, I just want to curl up in blankets and read books and play video games.
Anyway, here’s the rest of Carmilla.
Laura last saw the General ten months ago but now finds him in terrible shape, withered and gloomy, but more sharp than with grief alone. They’ve barely started driving when he goes on a rant about how “Heaven should tolerate so monstrous an indulgence of the lusts and malignity of hell.” Laura and dad, shocked by his blasphemy, ask for more info, but the General refuses, saying they would never believe him. Dad says he respects him too much not to trust his judgment and the General says he’s been made victim of a “preternatural conspiracy.” Laura notes a look on her dad’s face that tells her he wonders if the General is sane.
The general looks out the window and asks if they’re going to Karstein, where he himself had been meaning to check. Dad jokes that he’s here to take on the title and estates, and the General gets weird again, and talks about exhuming some bodies to check out and “relieve our earth of certain monsters”. He gets weepy talking about his niece—nay! his daughter. He’s on a mission to avenge her death. Dad asks for him to tell his story, and they turn onto the road toward the Karnstein ruins.
This bit isn’t horny at all. :(
The General talks about going with his niece to a masquerade arranged by his friend Count Carlsfield for his guest, Grand Duke Charles. Carslfield’s place is six leagues to the other side of Karstein. He gives a beautiful description of the party, remarking that he was the only person there who wasn’t rich and famous. His niece mills about without a mask on and the General sees another girl with a chaperone eyeballing her.
The girl goes to dance and sits to take a break when the other girl and chaperone approach. The girls speak together and the General is distracted by the chaperone, who lists all the parties where she’s encountered him before, scenarios that were true but long forgotten. The General is desperately curious to know who this lady chaperone is, but she dodges answers, taking pleasure in dodging him.
Meanwhile, her ward was talking to the General’s niece with the same level of social grace and charm. The girl has an “odd name”, Millarca.
“She introduced herself by saying that her mother was a very old acquaintance of mine. She spoke of the agreeable audacity which a mask rendered practicable; she talked like a friend; she admired her dress, and insinuated very prettily her admiration of her beauty. She amused her with laughing criticisms upon the people who crowded the ballroom, and laughed at my poor child’s fun. She was very witty and lively when she pleased, and after a time they had grown very good friends, and the young stranger lowered her mask, displaying a remarkably beautiful face. I had never seen it before, neither had my dear child. But though it was new to us, the features were so engaging, as well as lovely, that it was impossible not to feel the attraction powerfully. My poor girl did so. I never saw anyone more taken with another at first sight, unless, indeed, it was the stranger herself, who seemed quite to have lost her heart to her.
The General and the chaperone engage in a social repartee where he begs her to remove her mask as a hint to who she is, and she refuses. He laments that he doesn’t even know if he’s addressing her correctly, and asks if it’s “Madame la Comtesse”, which I believe is like “Countess.”
“‘As to that,’ she began; but she was interrupted, almost as she opened her lips, by a gentleman, dressed in black, who looked particularly elegant and distinguished, with this drawback, that his face was the most deadly pale I ever saw, except in death. He was in no masquerade—in the plain evening dress of a gentleman; and he said, without a smile, but with a courtly and unusually low bow:—
“‘Will Madame la Comtesse permit me to say a very few words which may interest her?’
This is fun. Is she a Madame la Comtesse, or did her man hear their conversation and just use what he was given?
She leaves and asks the General to save her spot, and he spends this interim “cudgeling my brains” over who she is. I can only assume then that “cudgeling brains” is a Victorian idiom not far from “racking my brain” modernly, as this phrase was also used in Dracula.
The lady returns with her man, who tells her he’ll be back when the carriage has arrived. So I guess she’s on her way out.
The General hopes she’ll be out for a few hours only, but she replies that it might be weeks. Instead, she asks him if he knows her and he confesses he does not. The lady says she’ll come by in a few weeks for a visit to rekindle a friendship she remembers fondly, but she needs to be away on urgent news and her daughter is still recovering from an incident where she fell with a horse. They’ve been traveling slowly together to look after her, and now she must be off in a hurry! Oh no!
“She went on to make her petition, and it was in the tone of a person from whom such a request amounted to conferring, rather than seeking a favor.
This was only in manner, and, as it seemed, quite unconsciously. Than the terms in which it was expressed, nothing could be more deprecatory. It was simply that I would consent to take charge of her daughter during her absence.
“This was, all things considered, a strange, not to say, an audacious request. She in some sort disarmed me, by stating and admitting everything that could be urged against it, and throwing herself entirely upon my chivalry. At the same moment, by a fatality that seems to have predetermined all that happened, my poor child came to my side, and, in an undertone, besought me to invite her new friend, Millarca, to pay us a visit. She had just been sounding her, and thought, if her mamma would allow her, she would like it extremely.
I love this. They’re perfect con artists. It’s blowing my mind that they’re depicted explicitly as con artists, in that way that con artists and abusers slowly violate the normal state of things. These two are con artists and Dracula is the abuser.
The General is also kinda suspicious it seems until his little girl implores him to do it. I wonder if daddy dearest had the same hesitation? I don’t think he did. In the end, he reluctantly caves. The lady leaves with the additional clause that he should not ask about her until she comes back. She claims to have removed her mask at some point and thought he had seen her, and that he would have to beg for his secrecy. She kisses her daughter and leaves with her pale man in black.
“‘In the next room,’ said Millarca, ‘there is a window that looks upon the hall door. I should like to see the last of mamma, and to kiss my hand to her.’
This is another one that I looked up for Dracula, when he kisses his hand (blows a kiss) at Jonathan.
They go up to the window and watch her leave. The General is uneasy, but is soon charmed by Millarca.
Millarca became very intimate with us
He means friendly, but the word choice is fun anyway. Imagine seducing a girl and also her uncle.
Apparently the Grand Duke liked to party until noon the next day so parties were a whole night affair and, somewhere along the line, they lose Millarca in the crowd. They look for her until the sun comes up, abandon their search, and go home, the General kicking himself of becoming the babysitter of a girl whose last name he doesn’t even know. In the afternoon the next day, she shows up at the house, requesting “General Baron Spielsdorf and the young lady his daughter,” claiming that she went looking for them and fell asleep in a servant’s room. All was well!
The General notes the girl’s langour and fatigue that kept her in bed all day, but sometimes she would simply not be in her room, even as she locked herself in. They would see her walking in the woods from their windows, eastward according to the General, “like a person in a trance.” He assumes she’s sleepwalking, but how did she get out without unlocking her door or unbarring the window?
At that time his niece began to decline in health, starting with weird dreams, the flow of an icy stream against her chest, needles piercing her below the throat. Hearing her own symptoms chills Laura, and of course she makes the connection.
The carriage rolls over the grass and arrives at the ruined village. They all walk the rest of the way to the castle in a thoughtful silence.
The General looks out over the lands and talks about how the Karnsteins got up to some nasty shit, but doesn’t get into detail. He hears a woodman chopping trees and wants to talk to him about where to find Mircalla’s grave. Dad tells him that they have a portrait of her at home, but the General is on a mission. Dad tells him she must have been dead for over a hundred years, but the General is not so sure. His only motivation for the rest of his life is revenge; to decapitate the monster that killed his niece.
They take a break so Laura can get some rest and the General can finish his story, but first he calls for the woodman, who can’t tell much about the area but he knows someone who can. The woodman’s family had been caretakers of the land for generations, and the prose says he speaks in “patois” but Le Fanu spares us the phonetic spelling.
“How came the village to be deserted?” asked the General.
“It was troubled by revenants, sir; several were tracked to their graves, there detected by the usual tests, and extinguished in the usual way, by decapitation, by the stake, and by burning; but not until many of the villagers were killed.
Graves were dug up to decapitate the vampires within. A Moravian nobleman caught wind of the village’s plight and “being skilled—as many people are in his country—in such affairs, he offered to deliver the village from its tormentor.” The man watched over the graveyard at night from a tower. A vampire got up out of his grave, folded the linens he was dressed in and left them there before going to town for a feast. The man went and got those linens while the vampire was out and brought them back to the tower. When the vampire returned, the man invited him to come get his clothes, and when he climbed the tower, broke his head open with a sword. The man cut off the head of the vampire and presented it to the townsfolk to impale and burn the body. The woodsman mentions that the man also removed the tomb of Mircalla, Countess Karnstein, and so he did, and now no one is sure where that tomb used to be.
The woodman leaves to go fetch the ranger, who knows the area better, and the story goes on.
The General says his niece’s health declined quickly. He had a doctor but another was summoned from Graz to help. After that doctor arrived, the General happened upon them getting into a fight. The doctor from Graz feels there’s nothing he himself can do, but he has some advice. He sits to write something down and comes back to the General, saying she is close to death but still has hope. “If the fatal seizure were at once arrested, with great care and skill her strength might possibly return.” When the general asks what he means by “seizure”, the doctor hands over the letter he wrote. He tells the general to call the nearest clergyman and only open the letter with him, unless the priest fails him. He tells the general to find him if he wants to know more, and leaves.
The general indeed finds no priest, so reads the letter.
At another time, or in another case, it might have excited my ridicule. But into what quackeries will not people rush for a last chance, where all accustomed means have failed, and the life of a beloved object is at stake?
I find the general’s chagrin for the supernatural very powerful and amusing.
He does indeed believe the letter to be full of steaming hot bullshit. It says his ward is being visited by a vampire. The general is yet so desperate he follows the instructions within anyway.
“I concealed myself in the dark dressing room, that opened upon the poor patient’s room, in which a candle was burning, and watched there till she was fast asleep. I stood at the door, peeping through the small crevice, my sword laid on the table beside me, as my directions prescribed, until, a little after one, I saw 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.
What a strange image, fathers chilling in the closets of their children to kill their monster lovers.
The general goes for the black blob and recognizes Millarca. He attacks her with a sword but seems to do nothing. He never saw Millarca again, but his niece died in the morning.
The group doesn’t speak for a while. Dad went to read gravestones. The General dried his tears. Laura heard the voices of Carmilla and the Madame at a distance as they finally arrived in the other carriage. The tension and quiet in this scene is powerful. I’m having a hard time not copy-pasting all of it, but here’s a taste:
In this solitude, having just listened to so strange a story, connected, as it was, with the great and titled dead, whose monuments were moldering among the dust and ivy round us, and every incident of which bore so awfully upon my own mysterious case—in this haunted spot, darkened by the towering foliage that rose on every side, dense and high above its noiseless walls—a horror began to steal over me, and my heart sank as I thought that my friends were, after all, not about to enter and disturb this triste and ominous scene.
Carmilla arrives and enters the chapel nearby where daddy dearest is. Laura stands to greet her when the General grabs the woodsman’s hatchet and goes for her. Carmilla recognizes him immediately, and a “brutalized change” comes over her. The general attacks and Carmilla dodges, “and unscathed, caught him in her tiny grasp by the wrist.” The general struggles against her and she disappears. The Madame arrives and asks where Carmilla went, but everyone is too shocked to say anything. She runs around the property, calling Carmilla’s name. The general confirms that Carmilla is Mircalla, and begs Laura to flee.
Before Laura can go anywhere, some weird-looking dude comes in via the door Carmilla used.
He was tall, narrow-chested, stooping, with high shoulders, and dressed in black. His face was brown and dried in with deep furrows; he wore an oddly-shaped hat with a broad leaf. His hair, long and grizzled, hung on his shoulders. He wore a pair of gold spectacles, and walked slowly, with an odd shambling gait, with his face sometimes turned up to the sky, and sometimes bowed down towards the ground, seemed to wear a perpetual smile; his long thin arms were swinging, and his lank hands, in old black gloves ever so much too wide for them, waving and gesticulating in utter abstraction.
What a great description. This guy rules. But FYI, never hyphenate an adjective that ends in -ly. “Oddly-shaped hat” should be “oddly shaped hat.” #editorbrain.
Apparently this Bloodborne boss man is the baron of the area and the General is thrilled to see him. Introductions all around to Laura’s dad. The baron draws a map of the chapel and reads from a notebook, but Laura doesn’t explain to us what he says or what this is about. The men, chatting, look around and eventually find Mircalla’s tomb, a marble slab in the wall, with the help of the returning woodman. The General is pleased and swears that there will be an inquisition tomorrow, then the men all sneak around a corner out of earshot to talk about Laura.
Everyone parts ways and Dad says that they’ll be picking up a priest with them on the way home. When they arrive back at the mansion, Laura is tired and depressed because Carmilla isn’t there. No one has explained to her what happened, and Laura doesn’t understand it. She rolls the day’s events around in her mind while the people of the house establish shifts to watch over Laura at night. Eventually she comes to realize that her “nightly sufferings” are over, and recognizes that she was being preyed upon by a vampire.
Laura isn’t there for the dramatic finale, but writes about what she read in official documents.
The grave of the Countess Mircalla was opened; and the General and my father recognized each his perfidious and beautiful guest, in the face now disclosed to view. The features, though a hundred and fifty years had passed since her funeral, were tinted with the warmth of life. Her eyes were open; no cadaverous smell exhaled from the coffin. The two medical men, one officially present, the other on the part of the promoter of the inquiry, attested the marvelous fact that there was a faint but appreciable respiration, and a corresponding action of the heart. The limbs were perfectly flexible, the flesh elastic; and the leaden coffin floated with blood, in which to a depth of seven inches, the body lay immersed.
They drive a stake through her heart, then cut off her head, burn her body and toss the remains in the river.
I want to talk a bit about how this whole ending happens without our protagonist, which is of course the tragedy of sexism of the era, but the next chapter of Reading the Vampire goes into this a lot, so we’ll talk about it in the next part.
This chapter, called “Conclusion,” seems to serve as the epilogue. Laura writes that this has all been hard, emotionally, for her to recall. She writes that the baron, John Christofer Herenberg, was apparently a vampire expert living in Graz.
I may mention, in passing, that the deadly pallor attributed to that sort of revenants, is a mere melodramatic fiction. They present, in the grave, and when they show themselves in human society, the appearance of healthy life.
Okay, I guess. Feels relevant to note on all the “rules” of the vampire as represented in these stories, since they’re always shifting. Laura gives us a little more on that:
How they escape from their graves and return to them for certain hours every day, without displacing the clay or leaving any trace of disturbance in the state of the coffin or the cerements, has always been admitted to be utterly inexplicable. The amphibious existence of the vampire is sustained by daily renewed slumber in the grave. Its horrible lust for living blood supplies the vigor of its waking existence. The vampire is prone to be fascinated with an engrossing vehemence, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons. In pursuit of these it will exercise inexhaustible patience and stratagem, for access to a particular object may be obstructed in a hundred ways. It will never desist until it has satiated its passion, and drained the very life of its coveted victim. But it will, in these cases, husband and protract its murderous enjoyment with the refinement of an epicure, and heighten it by the gradual approaches of an artful courtship. In these cases it seems to yearn for something like sympathy and consent. In ordinary ones it goes direct to its object, overpowers with violence, and strangles and exhausts often at a single feast.
Apparently some vampires have rules unique to them, or as Laura phrases it, “The vampire is, apparently, subject, in certain situations, to special conditions.” They use this to justify Carmilla’s many names that all resemble each other—Carmilla, Mircalla, Millarca.
The Baron stayed with Laura and her father for weeks after Carmilla’s expulsion and told a little more. When Dad asked about how he knew where the tomb was, and the story of the Moravian man who supposedly disposed of Mircalla in the past, the Baron gives us more detail. He says the man was actually a citizen of Upper Styria, and had been Countess Mircalla’s lover before she died prematurely. And how do such people become vampires? By committing suicide.
A person, more or less wicked, puts an end to himself. A suicide, under certain circumstances, becomes a vampire. That specter visits living people in their slumbers; they die, and almost invariably, in the grave, develop into vampires. This happened in the case of the beautiful Mircalla, who was haunted by one of those demons.
The Moravian suspected that Mircalla might come back as a vampire and wanted to save her from—not being a vampire, but from being defiled in her grave (I think). He invented a pretense to go to Karstein, save the people there from assault, and fake the rites to extinguish her as a vampire. He left Mircalla where she was and destroyed any evidence that showed where her tomb was to protect her, but many years later regretted it and drew maps revealing her location. This is how the baron knew where to find her, having collected those letters somewhere.
One last detail about Carmilla vampires is her strength, not only catching the General’s hand with her own but paralyzing it so that he might never be able to use his hand again.
After this, Laura and her dad go off to Italy for over a year, leaving the fear of it all behind them for a while.
It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations—sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door.
This is a long post so I’m going to save more ruminations for the next, where we go over the section of Reading the Vampire that talks about vampires, homosexuality, and Carmilla.