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Carmilla’s Progeny: Charlaine Harris’s Pam as an Evolved Archetype of the Lesbian Vampire

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A paper that I recently wrote for the Spectral and Sublime Gothic Course that I’m in. It deals with the character of Pam from The Southern Vampire Mysteries. I’m interested in expanding it for a possible conference paper for an upcoming Pop Culture Conference.

     In J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, the character Carmilla exists in a liminal space as a lesbian in an era that did not conceive of sexual intercourse beyond the act of penile penetration and as a powerful vampire living off other females in order to survive while pretending to be a delicate lady. Expanding on this liminal model of female vampirism, Charlaine Harris creates Pam from the Southern Vampire Mysteries in such a way that she both parallels and surpasses her limited predecessor. Throughout Harris’s series, Pam expresses her lesbian desires and lusts for several women and, moreover, maintains her femininity even though she too is a powerful vampire.  However, unlike Carmilla who must veil her desires for women and hide her vampiric appetite with odd behavior and secretive feedings, Pam becomes a fully released, lesbian vampire existing in an age after the sexual revolution that can pursue her desires openly. Additionally, Pam exists as a vampire in a world where vampires have made the public aware of their existence and sought to appear innocent through their imbibing synthetic blood. Hence, in the Southern Vampire Mysteries, Pam occupies a space as a liberated version of the Carmilla figure that both solidifies the female vampire model in modern culture but begins to evolve new characteristic nuances that update this archetype for contemporary audience sensibility.

As Carmilla uses her appearance as a young woman to infiltrate the dwellings of her female victims, befriend them, and feed on them, Pam’s femininity works in a similar way to cloak the level of threat she poses to those around her. When Pam is not working at the vampire bar Fangtasia where she wears a mandated black costume, she “dress[es], as always, in sort of middle-class anonymous clothes. . . [like] a pair of winter white knit pants and a blue sweater. . . [with] Her blond hair. . . shining, straight and loose, down her back” (Harris Club 37-8). As Sookie the protagonist of the novels put it, Pam “look[s] like Alice in Wonderland with fangs” (38), which is further emphasized by the fact that Pam is only nineteen years old when turned in the Victorian era (All 90). Additionally, the continuous references to the pastels she wears and the fact that she “look[s] like a vampire cast in an episode of Leave It to Beaver” recur as a theme throughout the series (From Dead 112). By sustaining Alice / suburban housewife image, Pam purports herself as an innocuous that many character in the book underestimate and take for granted as they view her. Furthermore, she upholds the feminine vampire appearance that Carmilla represents as she is able to infiltrate Louisianan society from the rural to higher society circles without arousing a large degree of suspicion.

However, with the invention of synthetic blood and no longer having to feed on humans, Pam’s conscious choice of being an ultra-feminine vampire exposes her agency and exemplifies the strength of her decision making. As opposed to the conception of the modern female vampire wearing blacks and reds and showing cleavage in diaphanous gowns, Pam exemplifies a style filled with pastels, middle-class modern, and vintage chic that emphasize her womanliness.  Furthermore, she wears items like “her pale blue suit. . .a vintage gem. . .[and] hose with seams up the back” to emphasize her individuality and to set herself apart from most everyone that surrounds her (Dead in the Family 69). Even when facing a war with were-witches in which she battles for her life and her maker’s, she upholds this femininity and maintains her Alice image by wearing a “pale pink sweater and darker pink slacks,” regardless of the benefits that wearing complete black would give (Dead to the World 224). By retaining this image of her femininity as opposed to the modern vision of the female vampire, Pam configures herself to be an agentive figure that Carmilla cannot be; whereas Carmilla must maintain a feminine appearance in order to feed, Pam stays hyper-feminized in a world where it is not necessarily beneficial for her in any substantial way.

Although Pam blends in with humanity relatively well, the disdain that she shows for many of the humans that she interacts with reflects Carmilla’s scorn when she sees the funeral of the girl that she feed on and killed. Despite Pam’s amiability toward Sookie and her brother Jason, she quickly shows that “If it came to a choice between upholding vamp interests and being [Sookie’s] buddy” that she would definitely take sides against even these her human friends (Dead to the World 39). Moreover, this fact is furthered by her willingness to kill Sookie and Jason to protect her maker Eric when he loses his memory as a result of a witches’ spell, and she only stops when she realizes that “Eric should stay. . .[with Sookie], where he is [because] Moving will expose him to more danger,” which again puts vampire business above the safety of the humans  (47). Still, while this idea of murdering her human friends shows that she does not hold human life in high esteem, those individuals that she is not acquainted with get her disdain more directly. Early on in the series, she punishes a “lovelorn young man. . .[who] crawl[s] across the floor and kiss[es her] boot” by kicking him away from her, thus causing him bodily harm (Dead Until 106). Thus, Pam upholds a relation to humanity that moves beyond Victorian class consciousness or Carmilla-esque model but changes to one of species elitism that concerns the superiority of vampires over humans.

Even though Pam does uphold vampires over humans, she additionally moves beyond Carmilla’s not “troubl[ing her] head about peasants” and develops human friendships and relationships beyond that of predator and prey (Le Fanu 92). Throughout the course of the series, Pam begins to develop friendships with those that she perceives are not voyeurs of the vampires, such as Sookie and Jason. Pam illustrates this friendliness by opening herself to her tenuously identified friends and shows them her “sense of humor, not something vampires were not noted for,” through her wit and sarcasm (Harris Living 43). Further still, she opens up later in the novels to Sookie revealing the story of her turning and coming to the epiphany that she “actually liked it, being a vampire” as a result (All 89). Pam even comes to the conclusion that Sookie is her “favorite breather” and accepts her as more of equal instead of a useless human (Dead in the Family 193). Thus, even as Pam practices vampire elitism over humans, she arrives at a depth of acceptance for humans somewhat beyond this ideology that opens her person up to a select few individuals and, thereby, changes the perception of the female vampire to a more friendly version rather than the befriend and kill model of Carmilla.

The final aspect of the Carmilla figure that Pam embodies involves her predilection for lesbianism, which permeates her character throughout the Southern Vampire Mysteries. Early in the series, Pam begins to give the audience hints as to her sexuality when she tells Sookie what happened to her after the maenad’s attack: “‘Your shirt was so ragged we had to tear it off,’ Pam said smiling openly. ‘We took turns holding you on our laps. You were much admired. Bill was furious” (Living 44). While she makes light of the fact that she helped save Sookie’s life, Pam also starts to present an overt homosexual nature by smiling at the thought of undressing Sookie. This small detail contrasts sharply to the ambiguity of the potential lesbianism presented in Carmilla. While Carmilla passing kisses and stating that “I have been in love with no one, and never shall  . . . unless it should be you” toward Laura maintains a certain degree of uncertainty, Pam presents her lesbianism willingly (Le Fanu 98). Throughout the course of the series, she “briefly dates Amelia Broadway,” Sookie’s temporary witch roommate, and, later, “takes a human female [Miriam] as a lover” (Koski 422); moreover, she does not date male figures or have any pursued attraction for them whatsoever. Hence, Pam represents another interpretation of Carmilla’s vampiric lesbianism but in a more straightforward way because she lives in a world where female homosexuality exists and is not considered taboo.

Conversely, where Carmilla’s lesbianism seems polygamous at times because of the multiple females she simultaneously feeds on, Pam exhibits a typical version of monogamy in her relationships that distinguishes her from and redefines the female vampire archetype for modern audiences. When Pam has her significant relationships in the series, she stays faithful to her individual partners until they are parted in some way. With Amelia moving back to New Orleans and Miriam dying of leukemia, Pam is freed from any of the conventional aspects of a dedicated relationship. Although this commitment to each individual begins to inform the character of Pam as a monogamist, the fact that she “wants to make another vampire” of Miriam exemplifies this fact even more powerfully (Harris Dead Reckoning 67).  Pam “makes plans to turn Miriam in secret” regardless of the punishment she may receive for creating a vampire without permission but is unable to do so because Miriam dies (Koski 422). Though Pam does sire a new fledgling, the desire itself is a powerful indicator of her monogamous tendencies because the act would have been an eternal commitment between herself and Miriam that she would never be able to undo. Thus, by Pam becoming this monogamous figure as opposed to the more philandering Carmilla, she critiques Le Fanu’s masculine fantasy of lesbianism while working to mainstream the lesbian / homosexual other in a more positive and acceptable way for a modern era.

With Pam’s representation as an agentive lesbian vampire, the Carmilla character she is based on evolves for a new age and is reconfigured into a newer version of this previous archetypal figure. Furthermore, with Pam’s genesis occurring in the Victorian period shortly before 1872 when Le Fanu publishes Carmilla, a succession of the female vampire from Carmilla to Pam is put into place in retrospectively because of their similar traits and tendencies. Through an examination of this retrospective, archetypal continuum, a progression of what it means to be a lesbian vampire is informed from the pre-Victorian through the current day. Further still, the addition of the female author Charlaine Harris writing the precarious lesbian Pam, albeit in the context of a heterosexual perspective, grants the new lesbian vampire an air of authenticity that Le Fanu’s Carmilla figure does not attain. As Carmilla could potentially be perceived as the sexist, lesbian fantasy of Irishman Le Fanu, Harris’s characterization of Pam neutralizes some of the potential misconceptions of the former model and allows the archetypal female vampire to be studied in new ways. Finally, the creation of Pam, a new face of lesbian vampirism, opens the door for future writers to continue this representative progression by reworking and reinterpreting the figure henceforth, giving Carmilla the immortal life of literary notoriety that she deserves.

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