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by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Carmilla pre-dates Bram Stoker's Dracula by 26 years, but has some similar themes. It is the story of a young woman, Laura, who comes under the influence of a female vampire, who first comes to her when she is a child, comforting her in her bed.
The narrative has the same sort of melancholy moodiness and intimacy that has become familiar to Dracula movie watchers, but I think better expressed in the prose of this story. The developing relationship between Carmilla and Laura crosses lines of intimacy at times and was probably ahead of its time, expressing a form of love that confuses Laura at times. Her friend Carmilla often drifts off into a sort of dreamy quality, sometimes worrying those who care for her because some sort of epidemic seems to be spreading, where young women weaken slowly and eventually die.
Blood often features in Laura's dreams about Carmilla and somehow she and her family don't question that their guest never comes down from her room until late in the afternoon.
I found it a very atmospheric read, though some points were a little difficult to suspend disbelief. Carmilla often deviates from normal behaviour for young women of her time, yet no one questions or demands anything of her.
As classic vampire fiction goes, I'm amazed that I never heard of the story before now. It's not the most action packed story I've ever read, but I think essential reading for fans of the genre.