Reading Assignment: Sexuality in Carmilla Le Fanu’s story of Carmilla has been adapted as a web series, in which the setting is modern day society at a college campus. Laura remains the narrator of the thirty-six-episode season, where she records all events from her dorm room as part of her journalism class. The web series stays loyal to having Carmilla remain the female vampire in the story, while also implying other female romantic relationships.
In the short story Le Fanu’s choice of a female vampire alters the way in which the audience reads the relationship between Carmilla and Laura, particularly because there is a romantic and sensual relationship that develops between these characters. The relationship between two women during Le Fanu’s time implies the confined gender roles that had been situated within his society, and the threat that female sexuality imposed.
Whereas the adaptation normalizes the sexual and romantic relationship between women because modern society is more accepting of homosexuality. The theme of female desire in the short story emphasizes the fears of violating social norms of conformity as a woman, whereas the web series uses female desire to emphasize the power women have in modern society. In the short story female desire is linked to the opinions of vampirism, in which vampirism is viewed as evil and must be destroyed by the male characters.
Carmilla and Laura develop a friendly female relationship when Carmilla is invited back to Laura’s home after the carriage accident. This friendship develops into a romantic relationship as Carmilla make’s physical gestures: Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that er dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever. (Le Fanu) Laura’s reaction to these physical touches is complex because she is both fearful and charmed by them.
The fear that she feels from them can be interpreted as a fear of what society will think if she had a romantic relationship with another woman, because there was an ingrained idea of what was right and wrong during Le Fanu’s time. The female desire that Laura begins to feel for Carmilla appears to show how Laura has lost her sense in reason as to what is proper in society. In their relationship there is a sense of patriarchy, because Carmilla posses certain masculine characteristics that promote the idea of female independence and sexuality.
Therefore Le Fanu’s association of the fear of the vampire and the idea of female desire and sexuality as threatening to society in which men will destroy, which is demonstrated by the male character’s objective to destroy Carmilla at the end of the story. The web series portrays female desire as a social norm by having multiple female relationships throughout the episodes. In the beginning it appears that Laura and Danny her teaching assistant have a flirtatious relationship, where Danny clearly has feelings for Laura and is overprotected when Carmilla becomes her roommate.
Danny reflects many masculine characteristics because she is dominant and protective over Laura, and in episode twenty-four Laura explains that although she likes Danny she could not be in a relationship where Danny has a dominant position over her. The relationship between Carmilla and Laura gradually escalates through the episodes, and in episode seventeen Carmilla makes romantic advances towards Laura who assumes that it is just part of her seduction act to prey upon her.
Although a real romantic relationship develops between Laura and Carmilla when Carmilla reveals her past lover Ell, and how her mother took her away from Carmilla. Laura and Carmilla’s relationship does not appear to have any power struggle, as both girls are accepting of each other as individuals. Compared to the short story, the fact that Carmilla is a vampire does not play a factor in Laura’s feelings towards her, which suggests that the adaptation does not see homosexuality as opposing social norms.
At the end of the season all of the main characters survive including Carmilla, which suggests that female desire, is embraced during this time. This version of the story Carmilla normalizes female desire to represent the accepting nature of modern society, but also promotes the type of romantic relationship that resembles an equal partnership instead of the patriarchal one displayed in Le Fanu’s short story. There is a clear shift in how the theme of female desire is transposed from the short story to the adaptation.
Female desire in Le Fanu’s short story is understood as demonstrating the confined gender roles at the time. In the short story Carmilla represented vampirism and female desire through the way she seduced her female victims, both ideas were portrayed as threatening to society. The adaptation’s version of Carmilla demonstrates how the theme of female desire represents more accepting social values and attitudes in modern society. The web series promotes and embraces independent women and female desire, whereas the short story seeks to suppress it through the death of Carmilla.