Thesignificance of dreams in “Carmilla”
Dreamsare repeatedly used in classical novel Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. The author uses dreams to explore unnatural and taboo topics.This paper intends to examine the novella Carmilla by Joseph SheridanLe Fanu and illustrate how dreams are used to introduce the unnaturalinto the natural realm mainly in vampirism and homosexuality (Ashley61). The author carefully uses dreams to navigate story telling whileconforming to social expectations and observing taboos in an era ofcensorship and religion fanaticism where discussions of the evil,sexuality and dark forces were repressed.
Inthe case of Carmilla, Laura’s first encounter with young Carmillais through a dream. The moment that the two young girls met atLuara’s residence, they recognized each other, apparently from “adream” they had both shared. While Carmilla is not who she is inreality, Laura is innocent and unaware of Carmilla’s true natureand intentions in the very beginning. This way, the author usesdreams here to link the world of vampires. In the real world,vampires get to interact with ordinary human beings without beingdetected but they get to come out in their true nature through dreamswhere they prey or ordinary people.
Theauthor offers the audience an illustration of vampirism and thevampires’ world through the dreams of several characters. InLaura’s narration of her dream she recollects that
Certainvague and strange sensations visited me in my sleep. The prevailingone was of that pleasant, peculiar cold thrill which we feel inbathing, when we move against the current of a river. This was soonaccompanied by dreams that seemed interminable, and were so vaguethat I could never recollect their scenery and persons, or anyoneconnected portion of their action. But they left an awful impression,and a sense of exhaustion, as if I had passed through a long periodof great mental exertion and danger (Le Fanu, part 8)
Insuch well described views of a dream and the period preceding adream, the audience is immediately immersed into a world of fictionwhere the unnatural can be well perceived without the authordeviating from the norm.
Asfor Laura, there were always remnants of her dreams in her memory.She would recall some of the people in her dreams such as Carmilla,the places she had visited, and even other people whom she had spokento. She recalls other activities such as speaking to a woman who shecould not see but spoke to her from a distance and with a very deepvoice that evoked fear. While she sensed loving warm lip kisses inher dream, in her awaken state, she would face claims of love fromCarmilla who confessed to love her in a selfish and jealous manner.In this instance, it is clear that the author is using dreams toexplore inner darker emotions that portray Carmilla not as an evilblood sucking person but as a desolate and poorly understood productof nature whose world lies between the dead and the living which theliving can barely understand. Through this dream, vampires are evilblood sucking beings and at the same time misunderstood creatures inneed of love.
Additionally,dreams are used to address a very controversial topic of same sexrelationships. This pertains to how Laura and Carmilla relate asfemales. Though their relationship outside the dreams was intimateand characterized by holding hands and kissing on the cheeks, in thedreams it takes a different direction. Laura narrates that her femalecompanion in the dream would kiss and her on the lips and hold herhand with a fond pressure and even whisper in her ear "Youare mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one forever".(Carmilla, Chapter 4). Thefact that Carmill seeks such love from a fellow woman trudges on thetaboo topic of same relationships. In the Victorian society, suchrelationships were not acceptable at all. The author could onlyapproach such a topic from the dream of a character as opposed aspresenting it as her own.
Fromthe brief analysis above, it is clear that dreams accomplish a vitalrole in Carmilla. The author uses dreams to try to explain the darkworld of vampires and link it with the normal world. Again, dreamshave been used to address sensitive topics such as homosexualityspecifically in Laura and Carmilla’s relationship in respect tosocial norms and taboos. (Word count 750).
Braddon’scritique of Victorian medicine?
InElizabeth Braddon’s GoodLady Ducayne,the concept of vampirism is used to challenge Victorian medicine. Theauthor’s motivation to address this issue pertains to herinsecurities in health and her experience with death after losingclose friends and family in preceding years before writing the piece(Tomaiuolo 63). As a person who had lost loved ones to poor health inthe face of Victorian medicine, she uses vampirism to express herdissatisfaction with Victorian medicine. She does this in variousways.
Thefirst approach she takes is to juxtapose the longevity of vampires tohuman beings. While the vampires lived long and healthy, human beingswere vulnerable to old age and ill health to which Victorian medicinehad no remedy. In fact through Miss Manders, the author makes aninsinuation that it is doctors who kill patients when she asks “No,there’s not much left in her. She is wise in keeping herselfsecluded. I only wonder that wicked old quack, her Italian doctor,didn’t finish her off years ago.” Furthermore, lady Ducanye’sold age and ill health are widely compared to Bella’s youthfulnessand health in the story. Although Lady Ducayne has all the money toafford the best medical care and the services of maids, she cannotchange her fate or health beyond what the Victorian doctors couldachieve.
Ina similar manner, Lady Ducayne captures the vanity of Victorianmedicine in prolonging life. She seems to have accepted that shecannot be younger again but she still wants to live, bedridden andserved by her companions. She implores her doctor, Parravicini, toprolong her life and promises him riches. In a very interestingmanner, she captures the vanity of her wishes by observing that thedoctor himself is old and incapable of slowing aging or prolonginglife. Parravicini on the other hand makes it known that to LadyDucayne that her time on earth is up and is not up to doctorParravicini change that.
Infact, the doctor is aware of the limitation of medicine. The authorsnotes that the doctor has been practicing medicine for several yearsand
hadseen too much of the grim realities of life to retain any prejudicesabout rank. Cancer, phthisis, gangrene, leave a man with littlerespect for the humanity. The kernel is always the same—fearfullyand wonderfully made—a subject for pity and terror (Braddon 14).
Thiskernel that the author refers to does not recognize wealth or socialstatus. Lady Ducayne’s wealth notwithstanding was a very palefigure compared to Bella who was brought up in a family of paupers.The situation facing lady Ducayne was not unique to her because ofher wealth or social status but rather part of nature.
Inanother instance, the author compares blood transfusion to vampires’blood sucking habits. Ideally, vampires were known to suck people’sblood to death and thus comparing doctor’s practice then to theacts of vampire implied that doctors also killed or caused poorhealth. Ecclenza accuses Dr. Parravicini of causing ill health to oneof Lady Ducayne’s employees through experimental surgery or bloodtransfusion. The marks that are on the young lady’s body arecompared to the marks left behind by vampires as they suck blood fromhumans. Blood transfusion is as also perceived as tampering with thebody which also leaves behind parasites that the attack the body fromwithin leaving them dead or disfigured.
Itis thus clear that the author criticizes Victorian medicine from herpersonal experience through Lady Ducayne. She had lost her husbandand close friends in several years preceding the writing of the storyand thus used her personal life as an inspiration to the story.However, though the author expresses her doubts over theeffectiveness of Victorian medicine, it is only proper to acknowledgethat even modern medicine in the 21stcentury has not been able to solve this mystery of death. Thus deathis not just a failure of the Victorian medicine but part and parcelof the natural order of things. (Word count 681).
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