ACIS Logo Pre-Raphaelite Aesthetics in Carmilla: A Study of Illustrations

Although the year 1919 in Ireland stands as “a year of treaties, transitions, and tearing away,” it is crucial to recall the influence that prior literature, history, and culture had upon the events of that banner year. Many critics have read Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1871-2) as a text about Ireland; Le Fanu was firmly ensconced in the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy in Dublin and experienced the anxieties of a changing Victorian Ireland. However, Carmilla also crosses Irish borders and engages with history, science and culture in Britain and a larger Europe, tearing away from its Irish roots. In the context of its serialization in The Dark Blue, a journal notorious for its support and publication of the artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, as well as editor John Christian Freund’s inclusion of three illustrations — two of those by Sherlock Holmes illustrator D. H. Friston — Carmilla can be read in conversation with the Pre-Raphaelites aesthetic. Using illustrations of literary texts as a unifier, the group aimed to create a closer affiliation between art and literature. This paper will attempt to connect Carmilla to the Pre-Raphaelites through these illustrations, Pre-Raphaelite timbre, the text’s medieval themes, and the Victorian anxieties emblemized in the story. In Kathleen Costello-Sullivan’s critical edition of the text, Lisabeth Buchelt explores the visual and literary aesthetics of Carmilla, as they relate to the picturesque. I will also argue for the critical benefits of reading Carmilla for its aesthetic value and its artistic associations in England.