I had heard of Carmilla, one of the forerunners of Dracula, but I had not read it. So, when the chance to read a book for the "Gothic" square on Halloween Bingo came up, I jumped at Carmilla. And it does not come more Gothic than this...
"Over all this the schloss shows its many-windowed front; its towers, and its Gothic chapel. The forest opens in an irregular and very picturesque glade before its gate, and at the right a steep Gothic bridge carries the road over a stream that winds in deep shadow through the wood. I have said that this is a very lonely place. Judge whether I say truth. Looking from the hall door towards the road, the forest in which our castle stands extends fifteen miles to the right, and twelve to the left. The nearest inhabited village is about seven of your English miles to the left. The nearest inhabited schloss of any historic associations, is that of old General Spielsdorf, nearly twenty miles away to the right. I have said "the nearest inhabited village," because there is, only three miles westward, that is to say in the direction of General Spielsdorf's schloss, a ruined village, with its quaint little church, now roofless, in the aisle of which are the moldering tombs of the proud family of Karnstein, now extinct, who once owned the equally desolate chateau which, in the thick of the forest, overlooks the silent ruins of the town. Respecting the cause of the desertion of this striking and melancholy spot, there is a legend which I shall relate to you another time."
I'm not going to compare Carmilla and Dracula other than to say that I actually preferred the story of Carmilla - simply because it is less convoluted. To me the simplicity of Carmilla makes it more legend-like, more like a myth that can give you shivers when travelling through the dark countryside.
I don't know. I didn't get the same sense of dread and atmosphere from Dracula that I got from reading Carmilla, and for that reason alone I prefer Le Fanu's telling of the vampire story.
Incidentally, I guess, the vampire aspect is pretty much where the comparison between Carmilla and Dracula needs to end for me because Stoker's work expanded into a lot more than the vampire story, and included a lot of social commentary that is not the focus of Carmilla.
So, anyway, as a mere vampire story this was a great read.