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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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1 Introduction: Forgetting Le Fanu?


Given that, in 2016, the Gothic1 is still (very) big business, what is Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s place in it – indeed, does he even have one? Cultural gatekeepers have, of course, tried their best to forget the whole Gothic business since it emerged in the 1760s, and have been treating it as something like a corny embarrassment for well over 250 years now, complaining vociferously about the ‘fashion’ for what a reviewer of the first edition of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) called the ‘absurdities of Gothic fiction’ with its ‘machinery of ghosts and goblins’.2 Famously, in the anonymous complaint against what he termed ‘Terrorist Novel Writing’ (1798), one reviewer looked forward to a day when no one would want to read such rubbish anymore: ‘as I observe that almost all novels are of the terrific cast, I hope the insipid repetition of the same bugbears will at length work a cure’.3 Instead of going away, though, the Gothic continued ← 1 | 2 → to get bigger and badder. Indeed, the nineteenth century witnessed not the death of the Gothic, but rather its diffusion. As Julian Wolfreys explains, after the 1820s, the Gothic cannot be ‘figured […] as a single, identifiable corpus’ as it slips out of a generic quarantine and into the culture at large like a horror monster escaping the control of the mad scientist who has created him. In the Victorian period, the tropes, props and stock characters of the so-called ‘first wave’ of Gothic fiction...

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