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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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3 Richard Marston of Dunoran: A Tragedy across Three Decades


A reader of the writings of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu will not read long, if he or she proceeds with any degree of thoroughness, without encountering instances of repetition, most often of theme, sometimes of name and place, sometimes even of story. Very soon it becomes apparent that this tendency to reuse derives not from dearth of invention, or dilatoriness, but from the instinct natural to any creative artist deserving the name: a need to improve, to perfect, to attain to the uttermost in the chosen art that the creator is capable of achieving.

The repetitions observable in the writings of Le Fanu present diversely. There are stories published years apart, in versions that differ in slight degree, but are indistinguishable in substance: such as ‘A Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter’ (1839),1 which became ‘Schalken the Painter’ in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851),2 and ‘The Watcher’ (1847),3 which did service as ‘The Familiar’ in In a Glass Darkly (1872),4 ← 47 | 48 → where it is the same story except for insertion of chapter headings and the fussy if ineffectual introduction from Dr Hesselius and an editorial postlude. Other Le Fanu stories have identical themes or centre-points, but yet offer quite distinct narratives, with divergent actors and locales: as in the early tale ‘The Drunkard’s Dream’ (1838)5 and its virtual alter ego from thirty years later, ‘The Vision of Tom Chuff’ (1870).6 Then again, there are...

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