Defining Ambiguous: Lesbianism and the Vampire in “Christabel” and Carmilla

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Reynolds, Holly E
European History; History of Gender; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies; Literature in English, British Isles; Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Women's History; Women's Studies
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thesis / dissertation description
Within vampire fiction, there exists a common narrative of a wide-eyed, innocent victim being pursued and then corrupted by a mysterious figure. At first glance, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Christabel" (1816) and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's novella Carmilla (1872) seem to adhere to this narrative. Both works feature young women, Christabel in "Christabel" and Laura in Carmilla, being pursued by vampires: specifically, female vampires. However, it can be argued that the young women in Coleridge's and Le Fanu's works are not victims; rather, they are liberated agents acting independently in their sexual lives. An analysis of Christabel's and Laura's agency demonstrates that with their vampire companions, the women construct not predator-prey dynamics, but multifaceted lesbian relationships. While some may say labeling the relationships in Coleridge's and Le Fanu's tales as lesbian is anachronistic, a modern queer perspective will uncover fresh interpretations of these texts.