Carmilla

by

Sheridan Le Fanu

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Carmilla: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Laura continues to wonder about the nature of the girl, whose name is Carmilla. She describes Carmilla as graceful but extremely slow, with beautiful features, dark eyes, and thick, long hair. However, while Laura is, for the most, part charmed by Carmilla, there are also things about Carmilla that trouble Laura. She is annoyed by her refusal to offer any details about her life, which Laura sees as a sign that Carmilla doesn’t trust her. All Laura knows about her is her name, the fact that she comes from a noble family, and that she lives somewhere to the west. No matter how hard Laura pushes, Carmilla coldly refuses to offer up any more information. She tells Laura that it hurts her to hurt Laura, and that she would never want to upset her, but still says nothing more about herself. 
Laura notices and focuses on Carmilla's extreme beauty, emphasizing her physical attraction to the girl without explicitly stating it. Carmilla and Laura become fast friends, but Laura remains concerned with the parts of Carmilla's behavior that worry her. As Laura has desired a friend for so long, it hurts her that Carmilla does not open up to her completely, a lack of trust suggesting that their friendship is not as strong as she would hope. Carmilla's insistence that she would never want to hurt or upset Laura is contrasted with her refusal to open up about her life.
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Carmilla occasionally embraces Laura and whispers in her ear, which makes Laura uncomfortable. It arouses within her a pleasurable excitement along with a sense of fear and disgust. She can sense her feelings growing paradoxically into both intense love and hatred.
These emotions are characteristic of Laura’s muddled feelings for Carmilla throughout the book. She is both attracted to and repulsed by the girl, although she doesn't understand where this repulsion comes from. These emotions show that Laura is maturing, as she previously did not experience such intricate and multifaceted feelings.
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Laura comments that she is now writing after years have passed, and that there are certain moments she remembers distinctly and others which she hardly remembers at all. She recalls how Carmilla would sometimes take her hand and gaze at her intensely before kissing her on the cheek. She had all the intensity of a lover, which greatly troubled Laura. She insists that Carmilla can’t love her, as they haven’t known each other long enough to hold such strong feelings.
Once again, the distance between Laura as a child and Laura as the adult narrator is emphasized. The grown-up Laura specifically chooses which events she will tell and which moments she deems important, as they are the ones she remembers best. This narrative distance reinforces the importance not just of her relationship with Carmilla, but also the significance of the feelings Carmilla inspired within her. These are the things that she remembers best.
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Laura tries to understand Carmilla’s behavior, wondering if she is insane or perhaps a male suitor in disguise, but she dismisses this idea. For the most part, Carmilla barely notices Laura—it is only in these brief moments of passion that she expresses such intense emotion. Laura also notes the strangeness of Carmilla’s habits. She would never appear until late in the day, and she could barely move without becoming exhausted.
Laura's attempts to explain Carmilla's strange behavior by wondering if she is a male suitor in disguise suggests her need to rationalize her own rising desires. She resists any notion of homosexual love or desire, trying to confine Carmilla's supposed love to the “safe” and socially acceptable sphere of heterosexual romantic love. She cannot understand Carmilla's intense emotions, nor where such strong homoerotic desire comes from.
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One day, Laura and Carmilla are sitting under the trees when they witness the funeral procession of a young peasant girl. The girl’s father walks behind the coffin, looking heartbroken over the death of his only child. A number of peasants also follow along, singing a funeral hymn. Laura pays her respects and joins in the hymn from afar but Carmilla begs her to stop, telling her that the sound of the hymns pierces her ears. She says that she hates funerals and doesn’t understand why people are upset over death, since everyone dies eventually. Further, Carmilla doesn’t trouble herself over the lives of peasants. She suddenly begins to experience a fit, emitting a cry of suffering that she claims is a result of the hymns. After a while the sound passes away, and she begins to return to normal.  
Carmilla’s extreme reaction to the funeral hymns shows the physical effect that religion has on her. Of course, this is because, as a supernatural being, she rejects the very thing that hurts and destroys her. Her view of death, that everyone eventually dies and therefore there is no reason to mourn the deceased, is a clear indication of her inability to care for anyone beyond how they can satisfy her own desires. She also expresses her strong disdain of the lower class.
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Laura and Carmilla return home, and Laura thinks about Carmilla’s strange behavior, as it is the first time she has ever seen Carmilla get deeply upset. She recalls that the only other time Carmilla was upset was when they were visited by a deformed hunchback carrying a wide variety of objects intended to ward off monsters. He stood under the window and asked if they would like to buy a charm to fight against the vampire that is roaming through the woods. Laura and Carmilla both purchased one, and the hunchback then commented on Carmilla’s sharp teeth, saying that he could blunt them to fit the rest of her face. This greatly angered Carmilla, who demanded that he be punished. However, after stepping back from the window, Carmilla seemed to forget the encounter and the hunchback entirely.
The charms that Laura and Carmilla purchase to keep away bad spirits seem like supernatural objects, though both girls at least superficially reject the possibility of the supernatural. The hunchback’s comments on Carmilla’s sharp teeth, and her resulting anger, is a further sign of her true nature, which Laura fails to see.
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Laura’s father returns that evening out of sorts, informing Laura and Carmilla that another young peasant girl has fallen ill, and that her illness resembles that of the other girls who recently died. However, he believes that the illness can be explained through natural causes, and that poor people are simply infecting each other with their superstitions. Carmilla expresses her fear, and Laura’s father tells her that they are in God’s hand and that as long as they trust in him, everything will work out for the best. This irritates Carmilla, who laughs at the idea of the creator and insists that everything, including the disease, is at the mercy of nature, and not God. 
Laura’s father once again expresses his strong belief in both God and science, seeing God as part of the natural world. Carmilla, on the other hand, professes a belief in nature but not in God, rejecting the idea that religion can be part of the natural world. Laura’s father, while he has good intentions, demonstrates his stubbornness and ignorance by placing blind faith in God over something that, in reality, goes beyond either science or religion. 
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 There is a silence, before Laura’s father changes the subject and informs them that he has sent for the doctor for his advice on the illness. Carmilla insists that doctors have never helped her, and that she once suffered from the same illness that is now infecting the peasant girls. Laura wants to know more, but Carmilla does not wish to discuss it in detail. She instead asks Laura if she is frightened, and Laura answers that she would be if she thought there was any chance they would be attacked like the peasants. She says she is afraid to die, and Carmilla responds that girls are caterpillars while they are alive, only to become butterflies after death and that death is therefore not something to be feared.
Laura again shows her own prejudice with regards to wealth and status; although she is not nearly as scornful towards the poor as Carmilla, she clearly sees herself as superior and protected due to her position in the middle class. She sees the illness as something that can affect only the poor, who (in her consideration) perhaps do not have the resources or the intelligence to fight against it.
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Later that day, the doctor arrives and speaks with Laura’s father in private. When they emerge, Laura’s father is laughing at the doctor’s suggestions. They walk away, and Laura wonders what they were discussing. Years later, she thinks she now understands.
Laura’s failure to understand what was happening as it was happening is one clear example of her father’s over-protectiveness, and it mirrors his adamant refusal to accept the truth about the illness. 
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