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Le Fanu, J(oseph) Sheridan

james reading death henry

(Irish, 1814–1873)

Le Fanu was a Dubliner of Huguenot descent, and a grandnephew of the dramatist, Sheridan. After the death of his beloved young wife he withdrew into a profoundly melancholy existence, spending much of his time reading mystical texts about life after death. The emotional intensity which Le Fanu invested in his ghost stories makes them uniquely memorable. One can never be sure whether the victims of the supernatural, such as the Revd Jennings in the eerie ‘Green Tea’, are really seeing the demons they imagine, or whether they are merely mentally disturbed. And which is more terrifying anyway? Added to that is a strong vein of gothic romanticism, in the perverse but heavily veiled sexuality of ‘Carmilla’, and ‘Schalken the Painter’. Henry James called Le Fanu ‘Ideal reading in a country house for the hours after midnight’. The best collection is In a Glass Darkly (1872).

M. R. James, Henry James (The Turn of the Screw), Bram Stoker.


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