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When Carmilla Ruled the Night – Boogieman in Lavender

Jeff Baker, Boogieman in Lavender

            But dreams come through stone walls, light up dark rooms, or darken light ones, and their persons make their exits and their entrances as they please, and laugh at locksmiths.

                                                  ———from Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu

She prowls the night, looking for blood—and women.

She sleeps in late, usually rising at one in the afternoon, but it is at night that she seeks what she truly desires. She is Carmilla, seemingly a victim of a carriage accident recovering in a neighboring castle. The residents of the castle see nothing too unusual, even as Carmilla manages to beg off attending the family’s evening prayers and reacts with discomfort when someone starts singing a hymn.

Meanwhile, Laura, our young narrator, forms a firm, loving, platonic friendship with young Carmilla. But Laura also begins receiving nocturnal visitations from a strange creature who sometimes appears as a large cat, sometimes as an enticing female. Lara believes she has been dreaming, including the sensation of something stinging her neck, like a bite of an unseen creature. Other women in town suddenly start dying mysteriously.

Suspicions are raised and a band of vampire hunters is formed, intending to track the evil to its lair.

Does this sound familiar? A little like Dracula? Maybe a lot like Dracula? Superficially, it probably does.

But Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s novella “Carmilla” first appeared in serial form in 1871-72; that’s twenty-five years before Bram Stoker’s immortal Count appeared in his 1897 novel. Its plotline and lesbian subtext (this is not in any way erotic as we would call it today) were revolutionary for the time. The style is old-fashioned as one would expect from a nearly 150-year-old work, but still an entertaining read, and is easily found online or in bookstores.

Best remembered today for his “first-rate” ghost stories (the description is M. R. James’) Dublin-born Irish writer Joseph Sheridan LeFanu was a writer whose life was as interesting as his work. He came from a family of writers, including playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan most famous for his play “School for Scandal.” As for Joseph, he may well have believed in the supernatural things he wrote about. Many people believe that he died of fright.

As for Carmilla, she has not been forgotten. Her influence pervades stories of Lesbian vampires or female vampires in general. She is there in the shadows along with her more famous contemporary Dracula.

In a future column, we will find some interesting things about Dracula and his creator, Bram Stoker. Until then, good night and pleasant dreams.

Jeff Baker writes about reading and writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror and other sundry matters on or around the thirteenth of every month, He and his husband Darryl live in Wichita, Kansas where their sleep is untroubled by the undead. Reach Jeff on Facebook at or read his fiction (and other stuff) at

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