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Kendyl Keesey Professor Kileen 19th Century Irish Writing 14 December, 2012 Sexuality and Society in Le Fenus Carmilla

19th century Ireland was a country still very much dominated by patriarchy. At the time, it was customary for the oldest son to inherit all parental property upon his parents deaths, while younger sons were expected to marry women with land and accept a large dowry from the families of their wives, so as to maintain social and economic standing. Marriages were generally arranged by male family members for economic and social reasons, rather than by those to be wed for emotional reasons. Women in Ireland had no ability to own property independent of their husbands until the Married Womens Property Acts were passed in 1882 (ORiordan). These acts took small steps to overcome patriarchal oppression, but were infrequently followed to the letter and failed to adequately emancipate women from their socioeconomic shackles. As far as sexual emancipation, Victorian era sexual codes were governed by religious and social moralism. These sexual codes deemed same-sex physical relationships as well as those outside of wedlock to be highly deviant and socially unacceptable (Marsh). Social and religious conventions prevented the rights of women from flourishing in Ireland through the 19th century. Politically, 19th century Ireland was engaged in a conflict with England over ownership of Irish land. This conflict was both political and religious nature; the English practiced predominantly Anglicanism and the Irish Catholicism. The conflict

Keesey 2 between the two politically affiliated religions created tensions among the population. The presence of unfavorable social conditions for women, along with a tense political climate, created an environment that served as a breeding ground for numerous social fears, many of which are reflected in Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanus Carmilla. Carmilla chronicles the strange chain of events that takes place in the family estate of a young woman, Laura, upon the arrival of a strange visitor, Carmilla. Having been abandoned at the strange estate, Carmilla immediately begins to disrupt the daily lives of the residents of thereof. Carmilla brings with her a strange set of values and customs. Through her sexual and emotional relationship with Laura, Carmilla threatens to subvert the patriarchy and the religious integrity of the estate of which she is a visitor, realizing the fears of Victorian Ireland. Carmilla uses her sexuality in order to challenge 19th century patriarchal values within the estate, a challenge representative of larger social apprehensions. According to William Veeder, beneath the dualisms of vampire-human and lesbianheterosexual [in Carmilla] are levels which reveal civilizations discontents (Veeder 198). These discontents, Le Fanu would argue, related to the roles men and women played respectively within Irish culture. Women in Victorian era Ireland were viewed largely as currency; they were bargaining tools men employed in order to solidify their own relationships and alliances with other men. Without these bargaining chips, social structure would be rendered far less reliable. Through her sexual behavior at the estate, Carmilla disturbs patriarchal social functioning by

Keesey 3 interrupting Lauras marriage to the general and inspiring socially unacceptable emotions. The estate depicted in Le Fanus story is representative of a larger social sphere; thus, the happenings therein can be interpreted as allegorical in nature. Lauras father, who remains tellingly nameless through the duration of Carmillas plot, is afforded no identity of his own. This lack of identity implies that his character represents all fathers with daughters, or that his identity is interchangeable. It would be unremarkable for Lauras father to lack a first and last name throughout the story if Laura were the only one addressing him; it would be unusual for a young girl at this time to address her father by his first and last name. However, it is highly unusual that his name is never used in direct address by any of the other characters, even in letters. This would indicate that Le Fanu omitted Lauras fathers name purposefully. In the same way that Lauras father remains nameless, so does the entire estate. The reader is provided with no surname for the house, which implies that the events that take place therein can be read allegorically due to their interchangeability. Because he does not provide identities for all of his characters, Le Fanu suggests that the social phenomena occurring in Lauras family can be interpreted as representative of larger social concerns. Carmillas threat to the patriarchy of the estate through sexuality and emotionality begins before her character enters properly into the story. Lauras father, on the day of Carmillas arrival, mentions that he feels a sense of foreboding and future misfortune, which proves to be his loss of power over Laura upon Carmillas arrival (Signorotti 612). Because this tale may be read metaphorically,

Keesey 4 Lauras fathers fear of Carmillas arrival may represent the male response to the threat of feminine sexuality and emotionality. This threat to patriarchy and masculine domination by Carmilla continues throughout the story. Carmilla arrives into an environment that has an established patriarchal system. Lauras family, although not extraordinarily wealthy, subscribes to the marriage customs and lifestyle of the upper class. As such, Lauras father assumes responsibility for his daughters marriage prospects, leaving her with no autonomy to govern her own life. He uses Lauras marriage potential as a way to solidify a friendship with the general; his plans reflect the perceived value of women at the time to bind men together and create social order (Signorotti 609). Lauras lack of knowledge of her fathers plans for her marriage evidences her lack of autonomy. Carmillas presence immediately challenges this arrangement in which Lauras father affords her no freedom; she does so using her sexuality. The sexual nature of the relationship between the two girls emerges immediately upon their meeting, when Laura describes Carmilla as pretty, even beautiful (Le Fanu 383). The intimacy of their relationship grows over time, as Carmilla makes her affection known. In addition to their outwardly homoerotic interactions, Carmilla also practices her deviant sexuality in the shadows of the estate at night. On multiple occasions, Carmilla sneaks into Lauras locked bedroom at night, which Laura describes in great detail on one night in particular, it was as if warm lips kissed me, and longer and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat, but there the caress fixed itself (Le Fanu 417). This highly sexualized ritual serves

Keesey 5 to undermine the patriarchy in place at the estate because of the condition that Laura suffers as a result. Due to Carmillas sexual exploits at night, Lauras appearance begins to deteriorate. I say that [my condition was] extremely alarming. Had I been capable of comprehending my condition, I would have invoked aid and advice on my knees, explains Laura in regards to her physical state (418). Lauras peaked appearance renders her significantly less attractive, and this loss of beauty concerns her father because it has potential to destroy his carefully constructed plans for Lauras marriage. When Lauras father hears of the Generals imminent arrival, he appears to be briefly angry. Lauras father looked as if he wished [the general] at the bottom of the Red Sea (431). Laura, unaware of the reasons for her fathers perturbation, asks whether or not her deteriorating physical state alarmed the visiting doctor. Her fathers physical expression softens, and he expresses that hed wished Laura perfectly well to receive [the general] (431). This interaction indicates that Lauras physical appearance was highly valuable to her father, and that the loss of her health was a large obstacle in marrying her to the general. Her image as a 19th century woman is threatened by a lack of beauty that makes her less valuable to her father as social currency. Carmillas sexuality creates a weakened appearance in Laura, undermining the patriarchal marriage plans Lauras father had in store. Allegorically, this can be interpreted similarly; female sexuality in the 19th century threatened the patriarchy

Keesey 6 in that it lessened the physical worth and condition of potential wives and rendered them unattractive to men. In addition to patriarchal marriage plans, Carmillas sexuality disrupts Lauras adherence to emotional boundaries of the Victorian era, which were used to restrict women to their traditional roles as wives and mothers. Victorian values in Ireland dictated that women maintain an emotionally stunted exterior. Women in 19th century Ireland were expected to acquire the virtues of gentility, sobriety, passivity, and humility, which were deemed especially natural and fitting to women, but reveal no other strong emotions at the sake of being thought hysterical (Luddy 3). This emotional faade, prescribed by mens expectations and popular literature of the day, was an expected part of private and public life for women of the upper classes. Possessing the appearance of feeling eternally chipper, eager to please, and selfless aided girls fathers in finding them suitable husbands. These emotional expectations led to repressed female youth who, succumbing to the pressures of the upper class, did not develop in an emotionally healthy way. Laura in Carmilla exemplifies this Victorian ideal of femininity; she represses her negative emotions in favor of a smooth and beautiful faade. However, Carmilla disrupts this faade and embodies the male fear of emotional women. One example of the emotional repression typical of Victorian women occurs before Carmilla arrives at the estate. Laura discusses a scene of beauty, almost of sublimity, wherein she, her father, and their servants look out onto their property in the early evening. During their observation, Laura describes her emotional state: The news I had just heard made [the scene] melancholy; but nothing could disturb

Keesey 7 its character of profound serenity, and the enchanted glory and vagueness of the prospect(Le Fanu 370). As a result of the conflict between her actual emotional state and the expectation of happiness in the face of beauty, Laura suppresses her feelings and gazes upon the scene wordlessly. She understands that, despite her feelings, she is expected to admire the scene and appreciate beautiful things; as a result, she does not vocalize her negative emotions. In this way, Laura exhibits the emotional oppression characteristic of the Victorian era.

Another example of this emotionally stunted outward appearance occurs when Laura discusses her mysterious illness. She understands that her physical state should be causing her great distress, but refuses to speak up as to how her physical condition makes her feel. Lauras physical state distresses her emotionally, but she hides her upset behind a mask of socially expected contentment. She explains that, horrible as my sufferings were, I kept them, with a morbid reserve, very nearly to myself (418). Laura feels a need to keep her concerns to herself for fear of betraying emotions inappropriate to a girl of her social class. To spend time bemoaning her physical ailments would be contrary to the unselfish and nurturing role she must play as an upper class 19th century woman, so she hides her genuine emotions.

Carmilla, unlike Laura, does not subscribe to the Victorian ideals of demure, emotionally stunted femininity; on the contrary, she vocalizes her emotions from the moment of her arrival. When Carmilla arrives at the estate and learns that her mamma had left hertill her return in about three months, she [weeps] (378).

Keesey 8 Carmilla feels no need, despite her obviously substantial means and social standing, to conceal her emotional states. She challenges the idea of feminine submissiveness by voicing her opinions, expressing how she feels, and acting upon her sexuality. She frequently expresses her taboo love to Laura, saying, if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life(389). In expressing her love for Laura, Carmilla challenges the Victorian patriarchy and its expectation of females adherence to strict emotional guidelines. She uses her sexuality to reinforce her emotional declarations, placing soft kisses gently glow upon [Lauras] cheek (390). Laura responds to this emotional challenge affirmatively, breaking through the emotional barriers shed been placed under by masculine expectations and expressing her taboo emotions in turn.

Carmillas actions within the story reflect the perceived threat to male dominance by female emotion and sexuality; her use of these change Lauras attitudes and make her less controllable in the eyes of society. Laura tentatively returns Carmillas affections, rendering her tainted by Victorian standards. As a result of her physical and emotional intimacy with Carmilla, Laura becomes less submissive to the men in her life who hope to trade her for social status and economic security. In defying social conventions dictating female emotional states, Carmilla reflects a societal fear of the Victorian era. Emotionally and sexually candid women were less likely to submit to the desires of men and were considered a threat to the governing patriarchy, one that Carmilla embodied in Le Fanus work.

Keesey 9 Carmillas sexuality threatens the religious integrity of the estate in addition to the patriarchy, reflecting political and religious conflicts and concerns of the day. In the 19th century, Irish politics involved conflicts over both land and creed, leading to particularly bitter relations between the Irish and English. This conflict created social tensions that are found in Carmilla. Within Carmilla, Le Fanu sheds light on the political and religious tension using Carmillas sexuality as a device. According to Sally Harris, a professor at the University of Tennessee, old Catholic families threatened the English landowners as Carmilla threatens Laura and her family(Harris). The sexual and anti-religious actions of Carmilla expose the fears of the English population living in Ireland at the time. While the Lauras familys Anglican beliefs in Carmilla are sound and peacefully practiced, they are also foreign to the area they inhabit. The family lives in Styria, a country that does not practice Anglicanism. While the story makes no mention of Ireland, the parallels between Lauras familys circumstances and the English occupation of Ireland are overwhelming (Harris). Lauras family Inhabits a foreign land, assumes a role of considerable power and wealth, and asserts their religious beliefs. They bring with them a separate culture and religion and refused to assimilate, distancing themselves from the nearest source of native culture. Englands invasion of Ireland proceeded similarly, creating deeply prejudiced segments of the population aligned with English Anglicanism or Irish Catholicism. Carmillas character in Le Fanus tale is vehemently anti-religion, bursting into the lives of Laura and her family as a symbol of Irish Catholicism and expressing ideas contrary to their own. In this way, she challenges both the Anglican religion and the

Keesey 10 politics behind it.

Before the arrival of Carmilla, Laura discusses religion reverently often. After her childhood encounter with Carmilla, a member of the clergy visits to pray. She recounts this event, saying, for I often repeated [the prayers] to myself, and my nurse used for years to make me say them(Le Fanu 365). Upon arriving at the estate, however, Carmilla challenges Lauras fathers religious beliefs. She argues, All things in the heaven, in the earth, and under the earth, act and live as Nature ordains (398). Carmilla challenges religion not only verbally, but with her sexuality as well.

Carmilla refuses to pray at night; rather, she engages in more sexual activities with her evenings. While the family is asleep, Carmilla sneaks into Lauras room and bites Laura on the breast. Laura describes the event as follows: The two broad eyes approached my face, and suddenly I felt a stinging pain as if two large needles darted, an inch or two apart, deep into my breast (411). This sordid and sexually explicit interpretation of the communion ceremony, undertaken instead of evening prayer, solidifies Carmillas anti-theism. She rejects the Anglican creed she is presented with, instead opting to engage in sexual activities reminiscent of religious rituals.

Politically, Carmillas activities regarding religion take on additional significance. Carmilla partakes in a type of living communion, vaguely similar to the Catholic belief of transubstantiation during the sacrament of Holy Communion in

Keesey 11 which a dead host is transformed into living tissue for the consumption of the congregation. In the Anglican faith, traditional scholastic doctrine of transubstantiation has not been central to the thinking of Anglican theologians(Douglas 428). This living communion, then, would appear to align Carmilla with Catholicism and, therefore, Irish-ness, where Lauras family relates closely to the English and Anglican tradition. Carmillas defiance of the estates religious ideals, therefore, reflects the tensions of Le Fanus time and locale.

In defiling Laura, an image of English Victorian innocence, with her sexual and religious perversions, Carmilla realizes many the 19th century societal fears. As an undead symbol of English usurpation, Carmilla embodies the fears of the 19th century English population in Ireland, of which Le Fanu was a member. English fear of the wild and savage Irish population is reflected strongly in Carmillas sexual subversion of English religious customs. She and her abuse of sexuality reveal the fear that the Irish Catholic segment of the population will never cease to rebel against the oppression that the English created (Harris).

In conclusion, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanus Carmilla reflects the social conditions of the time in which it was written. The 19th century produced numerous fears in the dominant population of English males in Ireland; these fears were related to gender dominance, politics, and religion, and Carmillas sexuality is used as a tool by Le Fanu to illuminate each of them. The English, who were in control of the Irish population, feared the uprising of their female, Irish, and Catholic subjects. The prevailing patriarchy of the time perceived a threat in female sexuality, a threat

Keesey 12 that could destroy their ability to use women as a means to secure social and economic power. The patriarchy depended on submissiveness in emotion as well; thus, female sexuality threatened male dominance by awakening emotions that were expected to remain dormant in Victorian women. In the creation of sexual and emotional awareness in Laura, Carmilla reflects these fears. She interrupts the trading of Laura to the general and stirs her emotions, making her more difficult to control and disrupting the patriarchal plans of Lauras father. Additionally, Carmillas sexuality reflects the religiously charged political conflict in Ireland, emphasizing English fears with which Le Fanus English family would have been familiar. In a religious and political context, Carmillas sexuality enacts a perverse communion ceremony, serving as a gruesome and bloody reminder of the conflict between Irish Catholics and English Anglicans in Ireland. The English fear of Catholic rebellion and usurpation is clearly reflected in Le Fanus work. Carmilla, in allegorizing the social conflicts of the 19th century, gains depth of meaning.

Keesey 13 Works Cited: Douglas, Brian. "Transubstantiation: Rethinking by Anglicans?" New Blackfriars 93.1046 (2012): 426-45. Wiley Online Library. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. Harris, Sally. "The Haunting Past in J. S. Le Fanu's Short Stories." LeFanuStudies.com. Univesity of Tennessee, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. Le Fanu, Joseph S. "Carmilla." In a Glass Darkly. London, England: Richard Bentley and Son, 1886. 348-471. Print. Luddy, Maria. Women in Ireland, 1800-1918: A Documentary History. Cork: Cork UP, 1995. Google Books. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. Marsh, Jan. "Gender Ideology & Separate Spheres in the 19th Century." Vam.ac.uk. Victoria and Albert Museum, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. O'Riordan, Tomas. "Emancipation, Famine & Religion: Ireland under the Union, 1815 1870." Multitext Project in Irish History. University College Cork, Ireland, n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. Signorotti, Elizabeth. "Repossessing the Body: Transgressive Desire in "Carmilla" and Dracula." Criticism 38.4 (n.d.): 607-32. JSTOR. Web. 10 Dec. 2012. Veeder, William. "Carmilla: The Arts of Repression." Texas Studies in Literature and Language 22.2 (1980): 197-223. JSTOR. Web. 10 Dec. 2012.