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'Inspiring a Mysterious Terror'

200 Years of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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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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5 Le Fanu’s ‘Green Tea’ and Irish Victorian Calvinism

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In his pioneering critical biography of Le Fanu, W. J. McCormack astutely notes ‘the difficulty of establishing criteria by which two differing modes of experience [literary text and biographical or political context] may be compared’, since ‘one is constantly betrayed into sleight of hand by analogy or metaphor’.1 Yet, acknowledging and striving to reduce the risk, as McCormack does, remains more responsible than pretending the risk is non-existent. On the other hand, McCormack believes that ‘the autonomy-critic [or formalist] may observe patterns and forms, but he [or she] cannot appreciate their significance’ unless ‘the political context of their composition is admitted as relevant’.2 But what happens when a text’s ‘political context’ is especially difficult to distinguish, as occurs with Le Fanu’s troubling, tantalizing tale ‘Green Tea’ (1869; 1872)?

In an earlier essay on ‘Green Tea’ and its imbibers, I surveyed over twenty critics (including practitioners of psychoanalytical, postcolonial, gender studies, gay studies, medicalizing, and Darwinizing approaches) and argued that their efforts to construct a convincing cultural context for ‘Green Tea’ were marred by misreadings and mistaken assumptions.3 In this complementary essay, I hope to establish that Calvinist theology provides a more cogent intellectual context for ‘Green Tea’ than ← 93 | 94 → pharmaceutical phobias, Darwinistic doubts, castration anxieties, sadomasochistic homosexual tendencies, subalternities, or psycho-political pseudo-allegories.4

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