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Sheridan Le Fanu

Sheridan Le Fanu Sheridan Le Fanu[2†]

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu (28 August 1814 – 7 February 1873) was an Irish writer celebrated for his ability to evoke the ominous atmosphere of a haunted house[1†]. He was a leading ghost story writer of his time, central to the development of the genre in the Victorian era[1†][2†]. Le Fanu worked across several genres, including historical fiction, nonfiction, sensation novels, short stories, and tales of mystery[1†][3†]. Throughout his career, he worked as a journalist, editor, and writer, and he contributed to several newspapers and magazines[1†][3†].

Le Fanu belonged to an old Dublin Huguenot family and was related on his mother’s side to Richard Brinsley Sheridan[1†]. His grandmother Alicia Sheridan Le Fanu and his great-uncle Richard Brinsley Sheridan were playwrights, and his mother was also a writer, producing a biography of Charles Orpen[1†][2†]. His most well-known works include the locked-room mystery Uncle Silas, the lesbian vampire novella Carmilla, and the historical novel The House by the Churchyard[1†][2†].

M. R. James described Le Fanu as "absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories"[1†][2†]. His ability to create an ominous atmosphere and his significant contributions to the Gothic horror and mystery genres have left a lasting legacy in literature.

Early Years and Education

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was born on 28 August 1814 in Dublin, Ireland[2†]. He was born into a literary family of Huguenot, Irish, and English descent[2†]. His parents were Thomas Philip Le Fanu and Emma Lucretia Dobbin[2†]. Both his grandmother Alicia Sheridan Le Fanu and his great-uncle Richard Brinsley Sheridan were playwrights[2†]. His mother was also a writer, producing a biography of Charles Orpen[2†].

Within a year of his birth, his family moved to the Royal Hibernian Military School in the Phoenix Park, where his father, a Church of Ireland clergyman, was appointed to the chaplaincy of the establishment[2†]. The Phoenix Park and the adjacent village and parish church of Chapelizod would appear in Le Fanu’s later stories[2†].

In 1826, the family moved to Abington, County Limerick, where Le Fanu’s father Thomas took up his second rectorship in Ireland[2†]. Although he had a tutor, who, according to his brother William, taught them nothing and was finally dismissed in disgrace, Le Fanu used his father’s library to educate himself[2†]. By the age of fifteen, Joseph was writing poetry which he shared with his mother and siblings but never with his father[2†]. His father was a stern Protestant churchman and raised his family in an almost Calvinist tradition[2†].

In 1833, Le Fanu entered Trinity College, Dublin to study law[2†][4†][5†]. He graduated in 1839[2†][4†]. However, he never practiced law, instead embarking on a career in journalism[2†][1†][5†].

Career Development and Achievements

Sheridan Le Fanu’s career was marked by his contributions to various genres, including historical fiction, nonfiction, sensation novels, short stories, and tales of mystery[3†]. He was a leading ghost story writer of his time, central to the development of the genre in the Victorian era[3†][2†].

Le Fanu studied law at Trinity College in Dublin and was admitted to the Irish bar in 1839[3†][6†][5†]. However, he never practiced law[3†][6†][5†]. Instead, he decided to pursue a career in literature and journalism[3†][6†]. He began contributing stories to the Dublin University Magazine in 1838[3†][6†]. He became the owner of the Warder newspaper in 1839[3†][6†], and he contributed to several newspapers and magazines throughout his career[3†].

Between 1845 and 1873, Le Fanu published 14 novels[3†][1†]. His best-known works include the locked-room mystery Uncle Silas, the lesbian vampire novella Carmilla, and the historical novel The House by the Churchyard[3†][2†][1†]. These works show his mastery of the supernatural and his ability to evoke the ominous atmosphere of a haunted house[3†][1†].

Le Fanu also owned the Dublin Evening Mail and other newspapers[3†][1†]. His work in journalism and his ownership of various publications demonstrate his significant influence in the literary world during his time[1†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Sheridan Le Fanu’s literary career was prolific, with his works spanning various genres, including Gothic tales, mystery novels, and horror fiction[2†]. His mastery of the supernatural was evident early on, with his first published story appearing in 1838[2†][7†]. This story was part of a series of ghost stories that were eventually collected in 1880 as "The Purcell Papers"[2†][7†].

Le Fanu’s best-known works include “Uncle Silas”, “Carmilla”, and "The House by the Churchyard"[2†][1†][8†]. These works showcase his ability to create suspense and fear, leaving a lasting impact on the horror genre.

In addition to these, Le Fanu published several other notable works:

Each of these works contributed to Le Fanu’s reputation as a master storyteller of the supernatural genre[2†][1†][8†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Sheridan Le Fanu’s works have been widely analyzed and evaluated for their contribution to the Gothic tradition and the genre of the supernatural tale[9†]. His use of language, narrative, and dialogue, as well as his depiction of the social, political, and religious conflicts of his time, have been recognized for their literary expression and authenticity[9†][10†].

Le Fanu’s novels are often seen as mysteries without a detective, with mysterious situations that confuse the main characters and usually threaten their lives and fortunes[9†]. The supernatural is often present in his works; sometimes it proves to have a natural explanation, but sometimes it has to be accepted as real[9†].

His role in the evolution of the English gothic novel has been widely noted[9†]. The modulation from merely sensationalist effects to psychological verisimilitude in Le Fanu’s works is an example of a more general development in nineteenth-century fiction[9†]. In an Irish context, however, this modulation has a particular resonance. Its emphasis on withdrawal and duress, with failed fortunes and alienated circumstances, may be regarded as an unnervingly accurate representation of the declining importance of the Anglo-Irish as a culture-creating, and value-bearing, class[9†].

One of his most celebrated stories, “Green Tea”, has been compared to the exploits of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde[9†][11†]. The story’s narrator, Martin Hesselius, is one of the earliest supernatural sleuths and is the model for Bram Stoker’s Van Helsing, Blackwood’s John Silence, and Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-finder[11†].

Personal Life

Sheridan Le Fanu married Susanna Bennett in 1844[12†][13†]. They had two sons and two daughters[12†][13†]. One of their sons, George, became an artist and illustrated some of his father’s works[12†][13†]. The couple was prominent in Dublin’s social and cultural circles[12†]. Le Fanu was known as a brilliant conversationalist and was a popular member of society[12†].

However, his wife’s death in 1858 had a profound impact on him[12†]. His grief led him to withdraw from his companions, earning him the nickname the "Invisible Prince"[12†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Sheridan Le Fanu’s legacy is significant, particularly in the realm of supernatural and Gothic literature[2†][1†]. He was an innovator of the genre of the supernatural tale and a master storyteller[2†][10†]. His work has had a lasting impact, influencing many writers and works that followed[2†][1†][10†].

Le Fanu’s mastery of the supernatural and his ability to evoke the ominous atmosphere of a haunted house have been widely celebrated[2†][1†]. His work fed into films such as William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist[2†][14†]. His great-grandniece, novelist Emma Darwin, has noted his influence on her own supernatural fiction[2†][14†].

Despite his significant contributions to literature, Le Fanu’s life was marked by personal tragedy, which may have influenced the dark and eerie nature of his tales[2†][1†]. Yet, his work continues to be read and appreciated for its mastery of suspense and the supernatural[2†][1†][8†].

Le Fanu’s work, particularly his ghost stories and mystery novels, remain central to the development of these genres in the Victorian era[2†][1†][8†]. His stories continue to captivate readers with their intricate plots, atmospheric descriptions, and chilling narratives[2†][1†][8†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Britannica - Sheridan Le Fanu: Irish writer [website] - link
  2. Wikipedia (English) - Sheridan Le Fanu [website] - link
  3. Oxford Bibliographies - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [website] - link
  4. Wordsworth Editions - Le Fanu Sheridan [website] - link
  5. The Literature Network - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [website] - link
  6. Fandom - Literawiki - Sheridan Le Fanu [website] - link
  7. The Dictionary of Irish - Le Fanu, Joseph Thomas Sheridan [website] - link
  8. Goodreads - Book: The Complete Works of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [website] - link
  9. eNotes - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu Analysis [website] - link
  10. Springer Link - Sheridan Le Fanu, the supernatural and the sounds of the Irish countryman [website] - link
  11. Oldstyle Tales Press - J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Green Tea: A Detailed Summary and a Literary Analysis [website] - link
  12. Encyclopedia.com - Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan (1814 - 1873) [website] - link
  13. eNotes - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu Biography [website] - link
  14. The Telegraph - Sheridan Le Fanu, the father of modern horror, at 200 [website] - link
  15. Pantheon - Sheridan Le Fanu Biography - Irish Gothic and mystery writer (1814–1873) [website] - link
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