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Kell

Classic Vampires Comparative Reading Circle

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Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many comparative reading circles.

 

Over the months of July and August we will be reading, discussing and comparing the following two titles (although the thread will remain open indefinitely, so that others who read the novels later can add their thoughts).

 

Please feel free to make posts at any point, even if you are only part way through one or the other of the books in question - it will be interesting to see how your perceptions change as you read.

 

NOTE: When making posts relating to plot points, please use the spoiler tags and state which chapter of which novel you are up to (so that others who haven't reached that point can avoid that section, and those who have reached or passed it know it's safe to take a look.

 

Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu

Carmilla is a Gothic novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. First published in 1872, it tells the story of a young woman's susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire named Carmilla. "Carmilla" predates Bram Stoker's Dracula by over twenty years, had a strong influence on Stoker's famous novel and has been adapted many times for cinema.

 

When an accident occurs on a road near their castle, Laura and her father take in the stranded survivor. Carmilla and Laura both appear young, beautiful, and innocent. But one is an ageless vampire; the other, an unsuspecting victim. True to vampire rituals involving blood, fear of dying, and obsessive eroticism, Carmilla herself falls victim to the "rapture of cruelty that is love."

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, featuring as its primary antagonist the vampire Count Dracula.

 

Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of diary entries and letters. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and repressed sexuality, immigration, colonialism (possibly postcolonialism) and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical and film interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

 

When Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count Dracula with the purchase of a London house, he makes a series of horrific discoveries about his client. Soon afterwards, various bizarre incidents unfold in England: an apparently unmanned ship is wrecked off the coast of Whitby; a young woman discovers strange puncture marks on her neck; and the inmate of a lunatic asylum raves about the 'Master' and his imminent arrival. In Dracula, Bram Stoker created one of the great masterpieces of the horror genre, brilliantly evoking a nightmare world of vampires and vampire hunters and also illuminating the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire.

SOME POINTS TO PONDER:

(You do not have to answer all, or indeed, any, of these questions, they are meant only as points for you to perhaps mull over as you read, and provoke more discussion. Please feel free to ask and answer any questions that come up as you read.)

 

* How do the portrayals of vampires in the two novels hold up to one another? In your opinion, is one character more strongly/weakly written, and in what ways?

 

* How do the styles of prose compare? Are there major similarities/differences in the way the stories are told?

 

* Did you enjoy one novel more than the other? Which was it and why? Was there a particular part of either one that really stood out for you? Were there any parts you struggled with and why?

 

* What do you think each novel says about society at the time they were written?

 

* Did you find either of the novels particularly graphic in any way? How do those scenes compare to graphic scenes in more modern novels that you have read?

 

Happy reading!

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For those who are interested, you can get your mitts on both these titles for free, as they are out of copyright and in the public domain:

 

Free Audio Books from Librivox:



Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu

Dracula by Bram Stoker

 

Free E-Books from Project Gutenberg:

Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu

Dracula by Bram Stoker

 

So, you don't even have to go out and buy copies if you'd like to try them - how's THAT for a good deal?!

I hope we'll all enjoy discussing these two novels. :(

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Well, as I listened to Carmilla a little while ago, I'm just starting to read Dracula now (I think I was about 12 when I read a seemingly abridged version, so I wanted to read it again).

 

I've just read the first four chapters (all from Jonathan Harker's point of view) and I like the style of writing very much. I also love that it states Harker's journal was written in shorthand - it gives an insight into how the character's mind works.

 

There are a few similarities and differences between the two stories that I know of and thought I'd add them here:

 

Similarities:

- Title is a single word and name of the vampire

- Setting is a remote, Gothic castle in a country filled with superstition

- Carmilla is written in the form of a letter written after the fact by the main character; Dracula is written in the form of letters and journal entries from the point of view of several characters

- Both vampires are charismatic nobles who both attract and repel

Differences:

- Carmilla is written from a single person

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Thanks for the links Kell, they are fab! Would it bad of me to listen to 'Dracula' and 'Carmilla' on my Zen? x

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It wouldn't be bad at all, Gyre - I listened to Carmilla on my iPod and thoroughly enjoyed it! I highly recommend listening to audio books as a way to get in some extra reading when you can't physically have a book in your hands.

 

Incidentally, I'm now at a point in Dracula where more "voices" are creeping in to tell their story, so I'm now hearing from Mina, Lucy, Jack Seward, Arthur Holmwood and Quincy Morris. After having the first section being told entirely from one character's point of view (Jonathan Harker), it's interesting to hear from these other characters through their letters and diary entries, each with their own style and vocabulary.

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Well I finally started Dracula on Saturday and I am thoroughly enjoying it. It is SO gripping. I think I'm on chapter 8. I can't wait to pick it up again hopefully tonight.

 

Will be very interesting to compare with Carmilla.

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All the blood transfusion stuff made me quite queasy, I had to skim read those bits as I have a bit of a blood phobia.

 

I am also quite curious as to what "making a toilet" is. Characters keep going off to make their toilets. Toilet is a euphamism for the loo isn't it. This must be using the original meaning which I assume means to freshen up. (Like eau de toilette)

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I am also quite curious as to what "making a toilet" is. Characters keep going off to make their toilets. Toilet is a euphamism for the loo isn't it. This must be using the original meaning which I assume means to freshen up. (Like eau de toilette)

Yes, I believe that whenever characters in classic novels are "at their toilet", it's generally having a wash and scrub up, not actually "doing their business" as it were). You often read, "The maid helped her at her toilet." Which doesn't mean the maid wipes her mistress's bottom for her, only that she fetches and carries all the hot water and towels, brushes her hair and fixes it (if she's going out). With men it might include a shave.

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Yes, I believe that whenever characters in classic novels are "at their toilet", it's generally having a wash and scrub up, not actually "doing their business" as it were). You often read, "The maid helped her at her toilet." Which doesn't mean the maid wipes her mistress's bottom for her, only that she fetches and carries all the hot water and towels, brushes her hair and fixes it (if she's going out). With men it might include a shave.

 

LOL. I have to admit it did make me laugh when I came across it.

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I've been thinking back a couple of months to when I listened to the audio book of Carmilla and was thinking that manipulation, power, superstition and sexual tension are major themes in both the books.

 

If you've not read them yet, don't look at the spoilers!

 

Carmilla:

 

 

Manipulation

- The contrivance of the "accident" that causes Carmilla to be brought into the castle as a guest.

- Being introduced to people at a party under the guise of being the daughter of an "old friend" whose identity is never fully understood, and being invited into their home.

 

Power

- Carmilla (or Countess Mircalla) was aristocracy and therefore in a position of power over those around her.

- There are moments where Carmilla shows unnatural physical strength for one of the "weaker sex", overpowering others when threatened.

 

Superstition

- Local stories of vampires and illnesses spreading faster than the illnesses themselves serve to confuse the "common people" and make them more vulnerable to Carmilla.

 

Sexual Tension

- Throughout the novel, Laura states that she was both attracted and repelled by Carmilla at various points, often at one and the same time - possibly more to do with repressed sexuality than an "air of evil", and the notion (at that time) that same-sex relationships were wrong, dirty and degrading. Fear of burgeoning sexuality in a young woman v. fear of death/blood/the unkown.

 

 

Dracula:

 

Manipulation

- Jonathan Harker being enticed to Dracula's castle and imprisoned there to give Dracula time to enact his plans of travelling to London.

 

Power

- Dracula is a COunt and therefore in a position of power over the "peasants" living in the surrounding area.

- He is also physically strong, easily overpowering others, as well as being an imposing figure, filled with self-confidence.

 

Superstition

- Dracula uses the superstition of others in order to increase the fear in others and make them more biddable.

 

Sexual Tension

- The "corruption" of sweet, innocent Lucy (Innocent? When she's been dangling three potential husbands for some time? I've never quite bought that she was completely pure and innocent to begin with!). After her initial death, she is called the Devil's 'lady of the night' by Van Helsing - displaying wantonness and tempting Arthur with sexual promises.

- The attempted corruption of Mina - again, a mix of blood and sex, although this time with a married woman (and therefore, presumably, one who knows what goes where, so not quite so innocent by this time).

 

 

Overall, I found Dracula the darker of the two novels, with more of the "fear factor" honed to a sharp point. I think this was possibly partially due to the fact that this story was from more than one point of view, and the majority of those "voices" were masculine, and so were given a harder edge. Whereas in Carmilla, the narrator is female and the delivery feels softer.

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I started reading Carmilla yesterday, having read Dracula a couple of months ago.

 

I struggled with the writing style at the beginning (during the Prologue) but now that I'm used to it, it's flowing along nicely. I haven't got too far at all yet, but I love the descriptions of the 'schloss' and the surrounding countryside; it conjures up beautiful images!

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I thought I'd have a bash at answering the questions I set in the first post (since I posted them, i think it only fair that I post my answers - LOL!):

 

How do the portrayals of vampires in the two novels hold up to one another? In your opinion, is one character more strongly/weakly written, and in what ways?

Overall, I think I prefer Dracula over Carmilla for both style and content. Stoker's story held more tension and terror, for me, and the multiple points of view added to the revelatory style of the story. The character of Dracula himself also seemed a much stronger character. Carmilla had such moments of langour that she often seemed very weak in comparison to the imposing figure of the Count. It's possible that having an actual historical figure as a basis for the character gave Dracula more of a grounding in reality and made him more of a fully-rounded character than Carmilla, who felt more flat; more a caricature than a fully-fleshed-out presence.

How do the styles of prose compare? Are there major similarities/differences in the way the stories are told?

There are definitely similarities in the format - Carmilla, although told from a single point of view, is related in the style of a letter written many years after the fact; Dracula, from several points of view, is composed of journal and diary entries, letters and newspaper articles, having the reader put the puzzle together, piece by piece, along with the characters. Ultimately, I found the latter more rewarding as the multi-points of view serve to confuse the reader and add suspense, whereas the former, with a single narrator, gives a biased view from someone who has the whole story in their possession before relating it to the reader. Both focus on sexuality and "deviant practices", and their perception in the society of the time in which they are set.

Did you enjoy one novel more than the other? Which was it and why? Was there a particular part of either one that really stood out for you? Were there any parts you struggled with and why?

I think it's already evident that although I did enjoy Carmilla, I got far more out of Dracula. The final journey in that story, with all the characters hurtling towards a single goal is some of the tightest writing and most tension-filled plotting I've ever read, yet it doesn't lose any of the beautiful, flowing description. I occasionally struggled with some of Lucy's scenes, as I think she's painted by the other characters as being far too good to be true, when to me, she is quite clearly not as innocent and pure as the others evidently think her, but this was balanced by Mina being such a strong female figure and active participant in the proceedings, right down to the final showdown.

What do you think each novel says about society at the time they were written?

"Polite society" was very repressed when it came to sex during the periods of both novels, and the forced taking of blood being reflected in deviant sexuality must have been very shocking at the time, as the two become irrevocably entwined throughout the narratives. Even now, the mixture of sex and blood is very erotic, ad makes vampires very sensual and attractive creatures. Vampires also reflect the greatest hopes and fears of mankind - the hope that there is life after death, but the fear of what exactly lies beyond and of the reanimation of dead flesh. It's a heady combination that continually fascinates us, and so we return time and again to those themes.

Did you find either of the novels particularly graphic in any way? How do those scenes compare to graphic scenes in more modern novels that you have read?

I found the descriptive style of Stoker far more interesting than that of LeFanu - Stoker felt bolder and freer in his choice of words, whereas LeFanu felt to me to be quite restrained in comparison. Although the situation of same-sex relationships in Carmilla may have been more shocking than the heterosexual ones in Dracula, the brutality of the attacks seemed far more violent and intrusive in the latter, and I thought they were more graphic. By today's standards, though, I have read far more graphically detailed accounts of both sexual and murderous scenes, but seldom to the success of those in Dracula, which were incredibly erotic in parts, if subtly described.

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I've finished Carmilla, and I have to say that I really enjoyed it. Not as much as Dracula, but still very much; they're both beautifully written. Thanks for introducing me to Carmilla Kell!

 

I'll have a go at answering these questions. I tried not to read your responses first, Kell, so I wouldn't be too influenced by them. (Don't expect my answers to be as eloquent as Kell's though!)

 

How do the portrayals of vampires in the two novels hold up to one another? In your opinion, is one character more strongly/weakly written, and in what ways?

From what I recall of Dracula, I think the Count was more repulsive to Jonathan Harker than Carmilla was to Laura. I think Harker was wary from the beginning whereas Laura was too innocent or naive to notice anything. This made the character of Carmilla far less scary and threatening.

 

I noticed some similarities in the

methods used to dispose of vampires, but also a couple of subtle differences, for example, in Dracula I believe the corpse reduced to ashes by itself, whereas in Carmilla the head had to be burnt and the ashes disposed of. Also, when the coffin was opened in Carmilla, the body was laying in several inches of blood.

 

 

How do the styles of prose compare? Are there major similarities/differences in the way the stories are told?

I think Kell has already pointed out that both stories are told in the first person. Dracula is told through letters and diaries by multiple characters and Carmilla is told by Laura, around 8 years after the events took place. And of course both vampires have nobility behind them: Dracula is a Count and Carmilla is a Countess.

 

Both stories are beautifully written and set in Gothic castles in remote countries. I particularly loved the descriptions throughout Carmilla - how I would love to visit/live in a place like that described in the book (without the vampires, of course). I'd love to see a faithful movie adaption of Carmilla.

 

Did you enjoy one novel more than the other? Which was it and why? Was there a particular part of either one that really stood out for you? Were there any parts you struggled with and why?

I enjoyed Dracula more. Being a much longer book, the characters and story were able to be developed more fully. I had a couple of unanswered questions at the end of Carmilla, such as

Who exactly were all the people who accompanied Carmilla at the beginning? Were they members of the Karnstein family? Were they vampires too? Where did they go hurrying off to all the time?

I was also puzzled by a couple of reactions to events that took place in the chapel.

Laura noticed the similarities between her story and that of the General's daughter but didn't seem to piece it together. Why was she relieved when Carmilla turned up? Surely she must have known by then what she was! And why didn't her father react when the General tried to attack Carmilla with the axe? I know he was standing 'some little distance' away but I would have thought he was near enough to hear the disturbance. And then the general doesn't mention anything about it until the Baron turns up! It was as though it never happened.

 

 

I struggled a little with the style of writing in Carmilla sometimes but I thought it was beautiful all the same :D And as for any parts that stood out: probably the ending of Dracula stood out for me. It was wonderful and I cried!

 

What do you think each novel says about society at the time they were written?

At the time that these books were written, clearly there was a lot of superstition and paranoia where vampires were concerned!

 

Did you find either of the novels particularly graphic in any way? How do those scenes compare to graphic scenes in more modern novels that you have read?

I suppose both books are tame by today's standards but I found Dracula, in particular, to be pretty scary. This wasn't necessarily because of the graphic nature of any particular scene, but more because of the brilliant way in which tension was built up throughout the book. There was a slight build-up of tension in Carmilla, but not as much; again, I think this is in large part due to the shorter nature of the book.

 

I was a little surprised at the graphic nature of Laura and Carmilla's relationship - I didn't expect the writing to be so risque coming from that time period! I think in this respect Carmilla was more graphic than Dracula.

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I have now finished both of these and I thought they were fangtastic. :D Oh come on, someone had to say it.

 

Dracula is by far the more sophisticated novel, being longer with more fully developed characters etc. My favourite parts were I think

 

the first four chapters in Dracula's castle, very creepy and gripping; the landing of the ship in the dock and the captains manuscript describing the crew going missing one by one.

 

The first half of the book up to

 

the slaying of vampire Lucy

was all excellent. I loved the Lucy Westenra bit of the story but had to skim read

 

the bit with all the blood transfusions. It made me queasy.

 

 

From that point on the story lost momentum for me and didn't really pick up again until the grand finale. I think if the third quarter of the book had been trimmed a little and given more pace it would have been almost perfect. Although I also found the first half was creepier than the second half, especially the count. He was creepier for me when he was a more subtle monster than when he was presented in full grotesque glory (the way things are more scary out of the corner of your eye than in direct line of vision) For example

 

I found the image of him climbing down the castle walls lizard-like far creepier than the image of him with Mina sucking his blood.

 

 

I also enjoyed the noble hearts of the characters and the good old fashioned battle of good against evil.

 

Carmilla was also thoroughly enjoyable. I found it a much lighter easier read in some ways. (I read it when Dracula was flagging a bit). It was less creepy but still quite creepy. The sexuality was more overt and shocking in Carmilla. At the beginning with

 

people climbing into childrens beds etc it almost had a hint of child abuse about it and was obviously written in a time when that kind of thing was never mentioned

 

As others have mentioned Carmilla also left me with the same unanswered questions. I found Carmilla a very interesting character enjoyable to read.

 

I enjoyed the strong female characters in both of these books.

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I enjoyed the strong female characters in both of these books.

In both cases, which of the female characters was strongest?

 

In Carmilla, it was always Carmilla herself, rather than Laura, who came across as the stronger character for me - Laura always seemed to come across as being very easily lead whereas Carmilla was manipulative and commanding, and in control of every situation.

 

In Dracula, Mina truly was a tour de force! Lucy was quite coquettish and flirty, but Mina was such a steady, sure character; always sure of what was right or wrong and willing to accept the consequences of her actions at every step of the way, as well as playing a major role in the final scenes as well as any of the men did.

 

Between Carmilla and Mina though, I'd put my money on Mina any day of the week - such quiet, inner strength! She had so many admirable qualities, yet never came across as being "too good to be true".

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In both cases, which of the female characters was strongest?

 

In Carmilla, it was always Carmilla herself, rather than Laura, who came across as the stronger character for me - Laura always seemed to come across as being very easily lead whereas Carmilla was manipulative and commanding, and in control of every situation.

 

Good point. I liked Laura but yes, she did come across as weak in places especially in the area that Kylie pointed out above in a spoiler hidden comment where her reaction doesn't really make sense. I think Carmilla is a more flawed novel than Dracula. As has been pointed out already it leaves many unanswered questions. Dracula is a much tighter work.

 

Between Carmilla and Mina though, I'd put my money on Mina any day of the week - such quiet, inner strength! She had so many admirable qualities, yet never came across as being "too good to be true".
I have to disagree here. I did find Mina, and many of the characters in Dracula, 'too good to be true'. I had to suspend belief a little in order to take on their good and noble hearts. However it did not spoil the book for me and I actually enjoyed those qualities in the characters, even though I know I will never meet people like that in real life :lol:. The characters still worked.

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