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"Carmilla" Summary

By J. Sheridan Le Fanu

horror | 108 pages | Published in NaN

A classic Victorian vampire novella, which influenced Bram Stoker's later treatment of the vampire mythos in Dracula.


Estimated read time: 4 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young woman becomes entangled in a mysterious and unsettling relationship with a female vampire.


"Carmilla" is a Gothic novella written by J. Sheridan Le Fanu and first published in 1872. It is one of the earliest works of vampire fiction, predating Bram Stoker's "Dracula" by 26 years. The story is set in the lush landscapes of Styria, Austria, and delves into themes of forbidden love, the supernatural, and the blurred lines between life and death. With its eerie atmosphere and mysterious protagonist, "Carmilla" has fascinated readers for generations.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

The novella is narrated by Laura, a young woman living with her father in an ancient castle. Their peaceful existence is disrupted when a carriage accident introduces them to a mysterious young woman named Carmilla. Despite her initial unease, Laura is drawn to the enigmatic and beautiful Carmilla. As the two girls grow closer, a series of disturbing events unfold, and Laura begins to suspect that Carmilla may be more than she appears.


The story takes place in the remote and picturesque region of Styria, which contributes to the atmospheric and eerie tone of the novella. The ancient castle where Laura and her father reside provides a haunting backdrop for the unfolding events, adding to the sense of mystery and foreboding.

Main Events

Chapters 1-3Laura and her father encounter a carriage accident and meet the mysterious Carmilla. Laura is both intrigued and unsettled by her new friend.
Chapters 4-6Laura's health begins to decline, and strange occurrences plague the castle. She becomes increasingly obsessed with Carmilla.
Chapters 7-9Laura's suspicions about Carmilla grow, and she uncovers the truth about Carmilla's identity and her sinister intentions.
Chapters 10-12The climax of the story unfolds as Laura and her father confront the terrifying reality of Carmilla's vampiric nature.

Main Characters


  • The protagonist and narrator of the story.
  • A young woman living with her father in a secluded castle.
  • Initially drawn to Carmilla but becomes increasingly wary of her.


  • A beguiling and mysterious young woman who enters Laura's life after a carriage accident.
  • Her true nature and intentions are shrouded in secrecy.
  • There is an air of danger and allure about her.

General Spielsdorf

  • A nobleman who becomes entangled in the mystery surrounding Carmilla.
  • He provides crucial information about the history of the region and its dark secrets.

Themes and Insights

Forbidden Love

The theme of forbidden love permeates the novella, as Laura becomes infatuated with the alluring but dangerous Carmilla. Their relationship blurs the lines between attraction and peril, highlighting the intoxicating nature of forbidden romance.

The Supernatural

"Carmilla" delves into the realm of the supernatural, exploring the existence of vampires and the eerie occurrences that accompany their presence. The novella taps into the fascination with the unknown and the fear of forces beyond human comprehension.

Life and Death

The theme of life and death is intricately woven into the narrative, particularly through the character of Carmilla, whose existence blurs the boundaries between the living and the undead. The exploration of mortality and immortality adds depth to the story's eerie atmosphere.

Reader's Takeaway

"Carmilla" offers readers a captivating and atmospheric journey into the heart of Gothic literature. Through its exploration of forbidden love, the supernatural, and the enigmatic nature of life and death, the novella invites readers to immerse themselves in a world of mystery and intrigue.


With its haunting setting, enigmatic characters, and exploration of timeless themes, "Carmilla" continues to enthrall readers with its unique blend of romance and horror. Le Fanu's masterful storytelling and evocative prose have solidified "Carmilla" as a classic of Gothic fiction, leaving an indelible mark on the genre and inspiring countless adaptations and reinterpretations.

Carmilla FAQ

  1. What is the plot of Carmilla?

    Carmilla is a Gothic novella that tells the story of a young woman named Laura who becomes friends with a mysterious and alluring stranger named Carmilla. As their friendship deepens, Laura starts to experience strange and frightening occurrences, leading to the discovery of Carmilla's true nature as a vampire.

  2. Who is the author of Carmilla?

    Carmilla was written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, an Irish writer known for his contributions to the Gothic fiction genre.

  3. When was Carmilla first published?

    Carmilla was first published as a serial in 1871-1872 in the literary magazine The Dark Blue. It was later revised and included in Le Fanu's 1872 collection of short stories, In a Glass Darkly.

  4. What are the major themes in Carmilla?

    Some of the major themes in Carmilla include the supernatural, forbidden desires, female sexuality, and the concept of the 'other.' The novella also explores the themes of identity, love, and mortality.

  5. Is Carmilla considered a classic of Gothic literature?

    Yes, Carmilla is considered a classic of Gothic literature and is often cited as one of the earliest works of vampire fiction, predating Bram Stoker's Dracula by over two decades.