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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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7 The Teller or the Tale? Narration, Genre and Irishness in ‘Squire Toby’s Will’

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First published anonymously in the English magazine Temple Bar in 1868, ‘Squire Toby’s Will. A Ghost Story’ has long been familiar to Le Fanu’s followers:1 M. R. James, who considered it one of ‘the best ghost stories in the English language’,2 recognized it as bearing the imprint of Le Fanu’s distinctive genius, and reprinted it in Madam Crowl’s Ghost.3 The story also opens E. F. Bleiler’s popular 1964 volume of Best Ghost Stories by Le Fanu.4 For all the praise and visibility it has acquired, the tale has remained strangely neglected in the surge in critical interest that Le Fanu’s fiction has enjoyed over the last three decades. W. J. McCormack’s pioneering study of Le Fanu only contains two passing references to the story, and the wide-ranging treatments of Le Fanu’s oeuvre that Victor Sage and James ← 139 | 140 → Walton have offered in their recent monographs do not mention it at all.5 One exception is Jochen Achilles, who devotes some sustained attention to techniques of displacement and condensation in the tale, and argues that it provides some of the clearest cases of ‘identifications of victim and aggressor’ in Le Fanu’s work.6

Ostensibly set in Yorkshire, ‘Squire Toby’s Will’ belongs to a late phase in Le Fanu’s career where he had been notoriously asked by English publishers to shun Irish settings and choose ‘the story of an English subject’.7 In the pages of Temple Bar, the ghost story does not sit too oddly with other...

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