Carmilla as a character is evocative of female sexuality, but her vampire bite has a broader meaning, as it brings about a loss of innocence, and the transformation from girl to woman. Laura begins the novel leading a largely sheltered life, protected from the harsh realities of the world. She lives in comfort and privilege, and she’s accustomed to getting whatever she wants. The only time Laura can remember being truly afraid is her first encounter with Carmilla as a young girl, but afterwards she continues to live a sheltered life with her father and governesses away from any inhabited town, and she does not have much contract with the world beyond her manor. This innocence is presented as both beautiful and dangerous, as Laura’s naivety is what attracts Carmilla, and Laura’s lack of knowledge of the world allows Carmilla to so easily exploit Laura’s inexperience.
Laura’s experiences with Carmilla permanently transform her from an innocent girl into an adult woman in ways both physical and emotional, and both positive and negative. Her complicated relationship with Carmilla comes to its culmination after she is bitten and falls ill—at this point, Laura begins to refer to herself as a “changed girl” who starts to contemplate death in a manner that she doesn’t entirely dislike. These darker thoughts that were previously unknown to her indicate a more mature way of thinking, a change that she doesn’t quite understand but also doesn’t reject. Additionally, the vampire bite and resulting flow of blood is suggestive of menstruation, the traditional mark of becoming a woman. Like the vampire bite, menstruation has both beneficial and dangerous effects, particularly for the time period: it allows a woman to bear children, but also awakens her sexuality, which was considered dangerous during the Victorian era.
When she witnesses Carmilla lying dead in her grave, Laura understands the frightening things that she has been protected from her entire life. This is terrifying and also essential, since knowing Carmilla’s nature saves Laura’s life. Part of Carmilla’s effect on Laura has been to allow Laura to think about complex and dark aspects of life, and this complexity of thought persists throughout her life. As an adult, Laura continues to see Carmilla in “ambiguous alterations,” sometimes as the “playful” and “beautiful” girl she considered a friend, and other times as the “writhing fiend” she turned out to be. She now understands the intertwining of love and hate, and she recognizes that love does not always lead to happiness.
By contrast, Carmilla herself—although she is hundreds of years old, and brings about this loss of innocence in her victims—is stuck in perpetual childhood. She uses her innocent appearance to deceive her victims, as she appears frail and weak, with the energy of a “child of three years old.” Because of this, her mental state is likewise stuck in an eternal adolescence. She never comes to know complexity or regret, as her actions are always driven by selfishness. Her only understanding and experience of sexuality is the vampire bite, a result of this selfish “love” that only seeks to destroy. As she tells Laura, she perceives all girls as “caterpillars” who have not fully grown, when in reality she is the one who is always stuck as such a caterpillar, with no chance of ever growing up. While Laura’s maturation may be complicated, it is Carmilla’s failure to grow, this inability to connect with other people, that is truly monstrous.
Laura’s growth over the course of the story is also embedded in the very structure of the book itself. Her experiences with Carmilla are presented as a recollection, in which the adult Laura looks back on this life-changing event from her youth. This narrative framing, which creates a distinctive gap between the more knowledgeable adult Laura and the naïve younger Laura, emphasizes just how much she has grown, for good and for bad, from the events she narrates.
Loss of Innocence ThemeTracker
Loss of Innocence Quotes in Carmilla
The first occurrence in my existence, which produced a terrible impression upon my mind, which, in fact, never has been effaced, was one of the very earliest incidents of my life which I can recollect….I saw a solemn, but very pretty face looking at me from the side of the bed. It was that of a young lady who was kneeling, with her hands under the coverlet. I looked at her with a kind of pleased wonder, and ceased whimpering. She caressed me with her hands, and lay down beside me on the bed, and drew me towards her….I was now for the first time frightened.
“Before then I had no idea of her danger. I have lost her, and now learn all, too late. She died in the peace of innocence, and in the glorious hope of a blessed futurity. The fiend who betrayed our infatuated hospitality has done it all. I thought I was receiving into my house gaiety, a charming companion for my lost Bertha. Heavens! what a fool have I been!”
I saw the very face which had visited me in my childhood at night, which remained so fixed in my memory, and on which I had for so many years often ruminated with horror, when no one suspected of what I was thinking.
It would be vain my attempting to tell you the horror with which, even now, I recall the occurrence of that night. It was no such transitory terror as a dream leaves behind it. It seemed to deepen by time, and communicated itself to the room and the very furniture that had encompassed the apparition.
For some nights I slept profoundly; but still every morning I felt the same lassitude, and a languor weighed upon me all day. I felt myself a changed girl. A strange melancholy was stealing over me, a melancholy that I would not have interrupted. Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome, possession of me…Whatever it might be, my soul acquiesced to it.
….and of having spoken to people whom I could not see; and especially of one clear voice, of a female’s, very deep, that spoke as if at a distance, slowly, and producing always the same sensation of indescribable solemnity and fear…Sometimes it was as if warm lips kissed me, and longer and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat, but there the caress fixed itself.
“Because,” he answered testily, “you believe in nothing but what consists with your own prejudices and illusions. I remember when I was like you, but I have learned better.”
If human testimony, taken with every care and solemnity, judicially, before commissions innumerable, each consisting of many members, all chosen for integrity and intelligence…it is difficult to deny, or even to doubt the existence of such a phenomenon as the Vampire. For my part I have heard no theory by which to explain what I myself have witnessed and experienced, other than that supplied by the ancient and well-attested belief of the country.
Here then, were all the admitted signs and proofs of vampirism. The body, therefore, in accordance with the ancient practice, was raised, and a sharp stake driven through the heart of the vampire, who uttered a piercing shriek at the moment, in all respects such as might escape from a living person in the last agony. Then the head was struck off, and a torrent of blood flowed from the severed neck….and that territory has never since been plagued by the visits of a vampire.
I write all this you suppose with composure. But far from it; I cannot think of it without agitation. Nothing but your earnest desire so repeatedly expressed, could have induced me to sit down to a task that has unstrung my nerves for months to come, and reinduced a shadow of the unspeakable horror which years after my deliverance continued to make my days and nights dreadful, and solitude insupportably terrific.
The following Spring my father took me a tour through Italy. We remained away for more than a year. It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations—sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door.