Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Female Hysteria and the Vampire in Victorian Lit.

Tamar Heller's essay "The Vampire in the House" explores the idea of connecting female hysteria in the Victorian era with vampirism. After reading the essay I came away with two essential points to Heller's argument. First, female hysteria and vampirism symbolize an underlying tone of desire in Victorian literature. Female hysteria is the embodiment of this desire, according to Heller. "Moreover, as all this male nervousness about voracious women suggests, both the female hysteric and the female vampire embody a relation to desire…” It is evident that desire plays a key role in Carmilla as well. Laura desires a companion to engage with that is her own age and shares the same pitfalls. Carmilla desires blood, plain and simple.

Another main point that I took from Heller's essay was the connection that hysteria and sexuality had in Victorian times. Women's hysteria was also linked to sexual arousal in that the womb was thought to be "untamed and nervous" before childbirth. “Moreover, a tradition of ascribing hysteria to sexual frustration persisted into the nineteenth century and underlies the theory of Freud”.

These points were interesting, but they simply set up the framework for what I found most profound, and applicable to "Carmilla" in Heller's essay. He comments that "daughters physically, emotionally, and intellectually embody the nineteenth century ideal of femininity." This is especially interesting when examining Carmilla from this perspective. Carmilla, as is later revealed in the novel, is Countess of Karnstein. She can be thought of as the complete opposite of the nineteenth century ideal of femininity because she is not young. Laura, on the other hand, is. I believe this is important when thinking of Carmilla as a lesbian vampire. She prayes on those who embodies everything a women should be in that era. Furthermore, her desires to feed on this archetype make her a women of hysteria, according to Heller.


  1. I really like your post and your analysis of the Heller’s essay. I think the idea about how Carmilla and Laura relate to the “nineteenth century ideal of femininity” is essential to the story, especially since Laura and Carmilla are contrasting figures if examined in this way. I think that the idea of the daughter is interesting to examine, especially when it comes to innocence. Laura’s father is compelled to protect his daughter, as not only is he protecting the idea of what is “feminine” and innocent, he is protecting her from outside forces. Of course, that also means he must protect her from hysteria -- although honestly, Laura’s father doesn’t do a very good job of protecting his daughter.

    At one point in her existence, Carmilla was also innocent. She was also a daughter herself, although obviously her father didn’t do a great job of protecting her either. This isn’t really examined in the story, as Carmilla is obviously hiding her history and ancestry. As a vampire, she is an example of what 19th century society would result if one gave into their hysteria.

  2. I think your analysis of Heller's essay is interesting. I'm working on my master thesis and the topic is the question of gender and race in vampire novels Dracula and Carmilla. I'd like to read this essay but I can't find it, so I was wondering if you could help me. Thanks.