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Intertextual Exchange in Carmilla, Dracula and the Historian

Powerful Essays
“Writers seldom duplicate their influential precursor(s); rather, they often work within a certain framework established by other writers or generic conventions, but vary aspects of it in significant ways.” (Clayton, 155). Sheridan Le Fanu’s, Carmilla, Bram Stoker’s, Dracula and Elizabeth Kostova’s, The Historian, clearly engage in this intertextual exchange, as evidenced by their use of narrative structure, striking character parallels and authors choice of language.

Published in 1872, Le Fanu relates the story of Carmilla from a first person point of view, through four distinct perspectives. The first narrator, an unnamed assistant to Doctor Hesselius, prefaces the story as correspondence of scholarly interest between the Doctor and an “intelligent lady.” Introducing the story in this manner lays the initial framework for believability. The doctor’s academic interest signifies scientific validity; whereby, the woman’s intelligence implies rationality.

Subsequently, Le Fanu presents the second narrator, the aforementioned young woman, Laura, who provides the bulk of the account to follow. Born in Styria, Laura is described as being of English descent, but having “never saw England” (87). Residing with her father and two governesses, she is socially isolated and motherless, with negligible paternal involvement. Laura epitomizes vampire literature’s prototypical victim. Moreover, foreshadowing her successors, Laura begins her strange tale with the words, “I am now going to tell you something so strange that it will require all your faith in my veracity to believe my story. It is not only true, nevertheless, but truth of which I have been an eye-witness” (91). Laura’s appeal to believability, based upon personal testimony, augmen...

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...es her unconventional treatment. Second, Van Helsing is reminiscent of the occult expert, Doctor Hesselius. Both men engage in study of the supernatural as a hobby outside their medical profession. Finally, Van Helsing is a resonance of Baron Vordenburg. Like the Baron, Van Helsing places great value in his books and papers for knowledge of the supernatural; moreover, he is responsible for confirming Lucy’s undead state and educating the other men in how to stake her; and, it is Baron’s governing principles of the vampire which foreshadow Van Helsing’s characteristics of the enemy, Dracula (344).

Works Cited

Clayton, Jay, and Eric Rothstein, eds. Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. Print.

Williams, Ann, ed. Three Vampire Tales: Complete Texts with Introduction. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2003. Print.
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