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'Inspiring a Mysterious Terror'

200 Years of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu


Edited By Jarlath Killeen and Valeria Cavalli

Best known for his Gothic masterpiece Uncle Silas and the vampire story Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was a prolific writer whose extensive body of work included historical, sensation and horror novels, poems and ballads, numerous stories of the supernatural, journalism and a verse-drama. While his name is well known to aficionados of the horror genre, much of his work still remains in the shadows. Indeed, despite his vampire creation, Carmilla, being the best-known female blood-sucker in the world, and despite an enormous scholarly and popular interest in the novella in which this character first appeared (an interest evident in the very large number of cinematic, televisual and even new media adaptations of the story), Le Fanu himself is almost completely unknown outside of the world of Irish Gothic scholarship, and most of his fiction remains difficult to obtain or is out of print.

To celebrate the bicentenary of Le Fanu’s birth, this collection brings together established scholars and emerging researchers in order to shed new light on some of his less famous fiction and celebrate his influential contribution to the Gothic genre. The main aim of the collection is to read Le Fanu in the round, expanding the critical focus away from its current obsession with a small proportion of his work and taking account of the full extent of his writing, from his other Gothic novels, The Rose and the Key, Haunted Lives and A Lost Name, to his short stories and journalism. The collection also considers Le Fanu’s relationship to Victorian Ireland and especially Dublin from a number of different angles, as well as addressing his status as an ‘Irish’ writer of substance.

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Thanks must first go to the contributors to this collection who were also participants in a conference on Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, held in the Long Room Hub, Trinity College, in October 2014. The conference was generously funded by the Arts and Social Sciences Benefaction Fund and the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, and The British Association for Victorian Studies. We would also like to thank the following individuals: Sheila Pratschke and Sarah Bannan at the Arts Council; Eve Patten; Bernice Murphy, Clare Clarke and Christina Morin who all chaired talks at the conference; Laura Habbe and Rob Brown; Sarah Dunne and Jürgen Barkhoff of the Long Room Hub; Brian Showers for his constant support and enthusiasm; Anna and Francis Dunlop for permission to use the photo of Le Fanu’s death mask for the cover image.

The title was kindly suggested by Richard Haslam, and is taken from a lecture by M. R. James called ‘The Novels and Stories of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’, delivered at the weekly meeting of the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 16 March 1923. The lecture was reconstructed from James’s notes and published in Ghosts and Scholars (1985).1

Valeria Cavalli would like to thank Paula Keatley, Ruth Doherty and Fidelma Slattery.

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