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On 28 August we celebrated the 200th birthday of Sheridan Le Fanu, author of “Uncle Silas” (1864) and “In a Glass Darkly” (1872), among other works. He is best known for his novella “Carmilla” featuring a memorable female vampire. Despite their sensationalist nature, Le Fanu’s stories are deeper than one might think; he masterfully used the supernatural to comment on Victorian society and its systems of repression and control. His works are also noteworthy for their aesthetics. In “Carmilla”, he cultivated a typically dark romantic image of the vampire; more than just an undead creature feeding on the living, Carmilla symbolizes destructive passions, these wild, forbidden desires that live within us.
“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 wild 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. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.’
And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek.
Her agitations and her language were unintelligible to me.
From these foolish embraces, which were not of very frequent occurrence, I must allow, I used to wish to extricate myself; but my energies seemed to fail me. Her murmured words sounded like a lullaby in my ear, and soothed my resistance into a trance, from which I only seemed to recover myself when she withdrew her arms.
In these mysterious moods I did not like her. I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust. I had no distinct thoughts about her while such scenes lasted, but I was conscious of a love growing into adoration, and also of abhorrence. This I know is paradox, but I can make no other attempt to explain the feeling.”
Sheridan Le Fanu, “Carmilla” (1872)