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J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and the Austro-Hungarian Ausgleich (1867)

  • Matthew Gibson

Abstract

There is little surviving documentary evidence that J.S. Le Fanu showed any enthusiasm for the Eastern Question. While articles from the era of his tenancy as owner and editor of Dublin University Magazine (1861–69), show that he may have harboured an interest in Irish politics, particularly from July 1867 onwards,1 no references to Hungary, the Austrian Empire or the Ottomans survive which might provide us with an insight into his views on events in Eastern Europe and beyond. The Austro-Hungarian setting for his vampire story Carmilla can, therefore, easily be dismissed as no more than a convenient one for a supernatural tale exploring lesbian sexuality (made necessary by the increasing redundancy of Catholic Italy and Spain as sites for the marvellous and superstitious), or else as a projection of his enduring interest with his own Irish situation. Certainly few scholars have paid attention to the geography or contemporary politics of the region in which the story is set (Styria), not even the group of Slovenian scholars like Dolar and Copjec who themselves hail from close to the unfortunate Laura’s castle.2

Keywords

Black Woman Austrian Emperor Slavonic Language Mother Figure Polish Word 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    McCormack, W. J., Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 221. McCormack lists the small number of political articles in the Dublin University Magazine written between 1867 and 1869, some of which may have been written by Le Fanu, although none with any certainty. In his letters to his cousin the Marquis of Dufferin, Le Fanu details his complaint about the Tory Brewster (21 January 1868) who became Chancellor, and used Le Fanu’s journalism to promote himself before dropping his friend, and was now accusing Le Fanu of having militated against him in the Dublin Evening Mail. At the end of the year (7 December 1868), Le Fanu is complaining to his illustrious cousin about the possibility of there being a Catholic Chancellor in Ireland, because he felt that it would prove divisive at that particular time. He never broaches foreign politics in the 12 letters to Lord Dufferin, now collected at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Copjec, Joan, ‘Vampires, Breast-Feeding, and Anxiety’, October, 58 (1991), pp. 25–43, at p. 36. Dolar, Mladen, ‘“I shall be with you on your Wedding Night”: Lacan and the Uncanny’, October, 58 (1991), 5–23.Google Scholar
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    Calmet, Augustin, The Phantom World: Or, the Philosophy of Spirits, Apparitions etc, ed. and trans. Rev. Henry Christmas, 2 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1850), II 6.Google Scholar
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    As in J. M. Rymer’s Vamey, the Vampyre; Or, the Feast of Blood (London: E. Lloyd, 1845–47), which is set in England, or Planche’s The Vampire, or the Bride of the Isles. A Romantic Melodrama in two Acts, Preceded by an Introductory Vision (London,1820) which is set in the Orkneys.Google Scholar
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    One such is J. G. Kohl’s Austria, Vienna, Prague, Hungary, Bohemia, and the Danube; Galicia, Styria, Moravia, Bukovina and the Military Frontier (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843). This book centres, like most others, on Styria’s many mines and the peasant customs rather than describing the deserted castles and dark gloomy forests which find their way into Le Fanu’s work.Google Scholar
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© Matthew Gibson 2006

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  • Matthew Gibson

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