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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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8 Growing a Voice: Le Fanu and the Laboratory of the Dublin University Magazine



Le Fanu has almost invariably been presented as one of the foremost representatives of ‘Irish Gothic’, together with Charles Robert Maturin and Bram Stoker. Yet the generic concept, ‘the Irish Gothic’ has been extensively discussed and qualified lately.1 Indeed, Irish Gothic, which for a long time was considered as essentially Protestant and the specific expression of Anglo-Irish anxieties, has fairly recently been broadened to Irish Catholic Gothic, including such writers as William Carleton, James Clarence Mangan, the Banim brothers and Gerald Griffin, the first two paradoxically having been regular contributors of the staunchly Protestant Dublin University ← 155 | 156 → Magazine.2 In an early article on ‘Richard Marston’, pre-dating his Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (1980), W. J. McCormack had already spoken of Le Fanu’s ‘outmoded Gothicism’, which he saw as ‘borrowed robes’.3 Moreover, the term ‘Gothic’ covers nowadays much more than a literary tradition or a canon. As many critics have argued in the last decades (such as David Punter, Fred Botting and Victor Sage),4 Gothic is a mode rather than a genre, marked by hybridity and cross-generic codes. Victor Sage sees Le Fanu’s Gothic as a ‘rhetoric’ rather than a genre in his book-length study of the author, and states that after the 1830s, ‘Gothic mutates everywhere and survives […], self-consciously, as an agent of textual hybridity across genres’, and has to be seen as a ‘cultural response’.5 Crossovers are indeed numerous enough between the Gothic, the Fantastic, the uncanny, terror and horror,6...

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