Carmilla frequently questions the distinction between love and lust, and condemns the failure to tell the difference between the two. Love is a powerful emotion throughout, but it is lust that often proves most dangerous and all-consuming, and therefore destructive. Through the relationship between Laura and Carmilla, the two emotions become increasingly tangled and difficult to distinguish, suggesting that it is not only lust that can be dangerous, but also the inability to differentiate between physical attraction and pure, honest love. Carmilla, in particular, uses the confusing nature of love and lust for her own advantage. After meeting Laura, Carmilla tells her that she loves her, and that she has been in love with no one “unless it should be with you.” She adopts the language of the typical seducer, male or female, who uses promises of love to trick a person into physical intimacy. At the same time, through this desire, Carmilla seems to fall into a certain kind of love. As General Spielsdorf explains, when recalling his niece’s fatal encounter with Carmilla, the vampire can on occasion become fascinated with its victims in a manner that “resembles the passion of love” and will then enact a form of courtship.
While Carmilla is driven primarily by lust and this warped and twisted version of love, Laura experiences the opposite kind of confusion. She does not understand Carmilla’s interest in her, and tries to rationalize it by wondering if Carmilla is actually a male suitor in disguise. She considers that young people like herself and Camilla “like, and even love, on impulse,” again trying to rationalize the intense emotions Carmilla expresses. Despite this, Laura does come to love Carmilla, a love that is pure, but also contains aspects of lust. This is seen in her reaction to the vampire bite, which serves as a kind of consummation, as she begins to feel “certain vague and strange sensations” that she finds “rather agreeable.” There are clear sexual undertones, and it seems that Laura enjoys these feelings of lust as her feelings for her “beautiful” friend become increasingly confused.
While the novel presents love and lust as intermingled, confusing, and dangerous, there is one relationship that is presented as entirely pure and loving: the relationship between Laura and her father. Thus, in the novel the ultimate expression of true love remains within the socially acceptable sphere of father and daughter, a love that is not sexual and isn’t shared between two women. Laura’s father is portrayed in contrast to Carmilla, as he is driven by a genuine, selfless love for his daughter. He searches for a way to cure her of her illness, and strives to protect her from the truth so as not to worry her. Similarly, the General is driven by his own love and grief over the death of his niece Bertha. Although he is motivated by a “passion” to take revenge on the vampire that killed his family, it is the love he feels for his niece that inspires these strong emotions. The novel therefore shows his passion as a “righteous passion,” as opposed to the physical lust that motivates Carmilla.
Through Carmilla, the novel portrays the evils of feminine lust, which can hide behind the false appearance of love or can even produce a kind of warped, obsessive love. In general, Carmilla seems to suggest there is an inherent problem with the expression of any kind of female love or sexuality. This is consistent with the beliefs of the Victorian era, where it was generally thought that female desire and anything that inspired it was sinful. Because romantic love is shown as leading to sexual activity, then it too must be dangerous, and Le Fanu projects this danger into the figure of the female blood-sucking vampire. The novel tries to suggest that the solution to this dangerous love is the entirely non-sexual, platonic love between father and daughter. It is this love that overpowers and defeats Carmilla, but even so, the fact that Laura never entirely recovers from her encounter with Carmilla suggests that the novel isn’t all that confident that anything can entirely defeat romantic love, and female romantic love in particular.
Love and Lust ThemeTracker
Love and Lust 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.
“If you were less pretty I think I should be very afraid of you, but being as you are, and you and I both so young, I feel only that I have made your acquaintance twelve years ago, and have already a right to your intimacy; at all events it does seem as if we were destined, from our earliest childhood, to be friends. I wonder whether you feel as strangely drawn towards me as I do to you…”
In these mysterious moods I did not like her. I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust. I had no distinct thought about her while such scenes lasted, but I was conscious of a love growing into adoration, and also of abhorrence. This I know is paradox, but I can make no other attempt to explain the feeling.
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 her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her…” You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever.”
“And you asked for the picture you think like me, to hang in your room,” she murmured with a sigh, and let her pretty head sink upon my shoulder. “How romantic you are, Carmilla,” I said. “Whenever you tell me your story, it will be made up chiefly of some one great romance.”
“The time is very near when you shall know everything. You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature.”
“At another time I should have told her to wait a little, until, at least, we knew who they were. But I had not a moment to think in. The two ladies assailed me together, and I must confess the refined and beautiful face of the young lady, about which there was something extremely engaging, as well as the elegance and fire of high birth, determined me; and, quite over-powered, I submitted, and undertook, too easily, the care of the young lady, whom her mother called Millarca.”
Its horrible lust for living blood supplies the vigor of its waking existence. The vampire is prone to become fascinated with an engrossing vehemence, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons. In pursuit of these it will exercise inexhaustible patience and stratagem, for access to a particular object may be obstructed in a hundred different ways. It will never desist until it has satiated its passion, and drained the very life of its coveted victims…. In these cases it seems to yearn for something like sympathy and consent.
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.