Carmilla is a story that is preoccupied with money and the benefits of wealth. The fairly well-off Laura and her father believe they are immune to the troubles that plague the lower-class, and the aristocratic Carmilla is particularly harsh in her views of the poor. While on the surface the language of the book seems to indicate a largely negative view of those that are less wealthy, Carmilla’s villainy combined with her hatred of the poor ultimately paints a picture of the poor being victims of an aristocracy that, literally and metaphorically, feeds off their misfortune. Despite this, the poor never find any true power within the text, and are never truly taken seriously by any of the characters.
Laura, while she may not be rich, is firmly within the middle class. She lives with her father in a “schloss” (or castle) that is richly decorated and furnished with items like rich “Utrecht velvet.” As a result, while both Laura and her father pity the situation of the lower class, they also see their wealth as a good thing to be enjoyed. Laura frequently describes the objects in her house and she is preoccupied with the luxury in which she lives. Although she claims that she and her father are not magnificently wealthy (in their small town, a little wealth goes a “great way”), she expresses a great interest in material objects and would not consider herself a member of the lower-class. Because of her wealth, she is unafraid of being attacked “as those poor people were,” and although she feels sympathetic towards the girl whose funeral she witnesses, she does not think that she herself is at risk due to her higher class. Laura’s father similarly writes off the news of the disease circulating in the villages as being no more than the result of the poor “infecting” one another with their superstitions. Both Laura and her father, while they may pity the poor, see them as distant and unconnected.
Carmilla takes this to an extreme; she comes from an aristocratic background and, unlike Laura, is outright unkind and unsympathetic to the poor. Upon witnessing the passing funeral with Laura, she comments that she doesn’t “trouble” herself over “peasants.” At the same time, she primarily chooses girls of the lower-class as her victims. This image of the vampire aristocrat feeding off the poor is symbolic, and suggests that the aristocracy has a vampiric relationship with the poor, as they prey upon the poor financially.
However, Carmilla breaks the pattern when she takes an interest in the General’s niece, Bertha, and then again with Laura, since both girls are higher class than Carmilla’s typical victims. Bertha met Carmilla (who went by the name Millarca) at a “regal” masquerade, the very definition of wealth. The General, in telling his story, explains that he was the only “nobody” at the event, and so he was surprised when “Millarca” instantly took a liking to his niece, singling out perhaps the poorest girl there. Even so, while Bertha was certainly not rich, she was not poor. Then, when Carmilla targets Laura, she finds more than simply a girl on whom to feed, as she gets to stay in one of the “handsomest” rooms of the schloss. The implication here is that, when she targets poor girls, Carmilla kills them quickly because they don’t have much to offer. Laura, by contrast, offers more interest and comfort for Carmilla because of her own modest wealth. Furthermore, Laura’s somewhat wealthy family has connections and resources that the poor do not. Laura’s father is able to team up with the General and the vampire hunter Baron Vordenburg (himself once extremely wealthy before his family’s estates were taken from him) in order to defeat Carmilla. Only the wealthy (or the formerly wealthy) have the knowledge and capability to defeat the aristocracy, and so the fate of the poor remains in the hands of those who profit from their misfortune.
When the story is read as a tale of class warfare, Carmilla, as the clear villain of the novel, is a warning against what happens when the wealthy are given too much power and influence. The aristocratic vampire sucking the blood of the underprivileged represents the “parasitic” nature of the relationship between the aristocracy and the lower class, as they “suck dry” those below them. They are able to use their influence and wealth to put on false appearances, as Carmilla does with both Bertha and Laura. Yet while the novel shows these tactics working on the poor, who have neither the connections, resources, nor credibility to respond to Carmilla—when she attacks the middle class she is ultimately overpowered. It is this middle class that defeats the aristocrat, which is particularly interesting when considering that the novel was written in the wake of the Industrial Revolution, a period that saw not only the rise of new technologies but also the emergence of a stronger middle class. The middle class, whose wealth was based on expertise and skill, is represented by Laura’s father, the General, and the Baron in the book, and Carmilla suggests that it is this developing middle class that will ultimately defeat the aristocracy, not the poor.
Class and Class Warfare ThemeTracker
Class and Class Warfare Quotes in Carmilla
In Styria, we, though by no means magnificent people, inhabit a castle, or schloss. A small income, in that part of the world, goes a great way. Eight or nine hundred a year does wonders. Scantily enough ours would have answered among wealthy people at home. My father is English, and I bear an English name, although I never saw England. But here, in this lonely and primitive place, where everything is so marvelously cheap, I really don't see how ever so much more money would at all materially add to our comforts, or even luxuries.
“You pierce my ears,” said Carmilla, almost angrily, and stopping her ears with her tiny fingers. “Besides, how can you tell that your religion and mine are the same; your forms wound me, and I hate funerals. What a fuss! Why you must die—everyone—must die; and all are happier when they do… I don’t trouble my head about peasants.”
“We are in God’s hands: nothing can happen without his permission, and all will end well for those who love him. He is our faithful creator; He has made us all, and will take care of us.”
“Creator? Nature!” said the young lady in answer to my gentle father. “And this disease that invades the country is natural.”