Carmilla (1897)

Sheridan Le Fanu

Carmilla is said to be the first vampire novel. It pre-dates Bran Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years and Stoker is said to have taken influence from it. Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish journalist and uses the minimalist spare style you’d expect from his vocation. From what little I know of him Le Fanu was a workmanlike author intent on writing ghost stories for money. The novel is interesting in its use of using the young female character Lauraas the protaganist and the allusion to lesbian sexuality between her and the vampire Carmilla. It is also interesting that it’s style has not dated as badly as other novels of the time.

This is said to be the beginning of a different perception of the vampire myth. The start of the vampire being a representative fear of the aristocracy. Until Carmilla vampires had been represented as poor shambling zombie-like monsters.

Published in 1897 this is a surprisingly readable book. Leagues ahead of Frankenstein from earlier in the 19th century and arguably more interesting to read than Dracula. It’s not even the proto-type vampire novel you perhaps expect. Instead it an almost very matter of fact ghost story. It doesn’t establish the vampire rules, I think that comes with Dracula, and probably benefits from being read by the modern reader who automatically attributes these rules into a story which doesn’t state them but into which they easily fit.

Dead Until Dark (2001)

Charlaine Harris

I was obliged to read this as part of an undergraduate gothic studies subject and, well, while, I didn’t expect to dislike it I was a little arrogant and thought it would be pretty light (in the lite sense) and fluffy. This is, after all, the novel that was turned into the TV show True Blood. The TV show which imploded under its own premise of vampires being integrated into the real world and acting as an analogy for various civil rights movements. A series which then heaped upon the implosion crater the added insult of werewolves and fairies and shapeshifters.

But, TV series aside, this first book in the series is quite good. It takes a lot of pointers in tone and characterisation from Stephen King which works well with the refreshing perspective of a female narrative perspective. The premise is brilliant. The setting in the south is suitably eerie and steeped in gothic history.

This book could essentially be the screenplay for the first season of the HBO adaptation which was almost universally applauded. I’m tempted to read on further and find out if Charlaine jumped the shark into the world of fairies or if that was HBO’s mistakes. Judging by Game of Thrones though I feel like HBO has been reasonably faithful and that Harris’ later novels possibly suffer in quality and dilute the premise. Here though it is an almost perfect modern vampire novel.