Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sexual Hysteria in Carmilla

UPDATE: More material, academic papers, analysis & critique @ my current blog Elastic Collisions -

I found Heller’s essay to be so informative that it reshaped many ideas I had regarding Carmilla. In this essay, the author discusses how, at one time in the Victorian period, that hysteria and mania was “synonymous with female sexuality” (The Vampire in the House p78). I find this very interesting as, until now, I mostly have put the concerns of Laura and Carmilla as those of fears over immigration and foreigners upon the established. Considering that the suffrage movement had not even included women at this point, it makes sense. I found it very eye opening when reading through Carmilla with Heller’s essay in mind. Heller connects the sexual energy in Carmilla too girls becoming hysterical and infecting one another. This hysteria and sexuality are linked together with the Victorian fear over menstruation. As stated in The Vampire in the House on pages 81-82; “Many Victorian medical tests imply that menstruation was symbolic not so much of feminine lack-the loss or wounding of blood letting-but the violent sexual appetite its onset could precipitate.” Here, Heller fully connects her argument. If there is a female in the act of menstruation then there is also a chance for a contagious form of hysteria to go unrelenting which would then lead too the women needing to being released or contained from their sexual desires. This creates a horrible cycle of misunderstanding and further misinformed ideas toward women. The elements of hysteria are most felt and explored during the dream sequences.
                Considering the oppression of women at the time and the popularity of the medium(i.e. literature) and it’s involvement with social change, I now have a newfound respect for Le Fanu. There is a large amount of self awareness in the novel and Heller brings an interesting idea too the table that the author could almost be attempting to insight mass sexual hysteria. In a way, I agree with this. Le Fanu is inciting hysteria, but its through the hysteria of exploration and knowledge. The very embodiment of Carmilla is counterculture; alluring, sexual in a taboo manner and of course supernatural. This is fearful for a large amount of people, especially in an era when married women had literally no rights. When considering the essay of Heller, it helps transform, at least for me, the novel of Carmilla from a titillating romp too a amibgous message of social equality veiled with an entertaining story.

1 comment:

  1. I think you bring up a great point concerning Le Fanu inciting hysteria of exploration and knowledge. Carmilla and what she represents goes against basically everything that society was based upon, but Le Fanu makes the reader think about these things subliminally. The “taboo” nature of everything Carmilla embodies is fascinating when contrasted with what a woman of the 19th century was expected to be. As we saw from Wuthering Heights, women of this time had no power and were thought of as delicate, helpless beings. Although Carmilla gives the appearance of being helpless or invalid, she is actually stronger than the men with power in Styria. I think it is interesting that the hysteria has such an effect over the women, although I suppose it makes sense as women were supposedly “weaker” during the 19th century. Le Fanu was ahead of his time in a lot of respects -- obviously he did not come up with the archetypical vampire story himself, but his contributions to it are certainly necessary.