J. Sheridan Le Fanu: Commentary

The Belfast Newsletter
The Northern Whig
Newry Examiner
Cork Examiner
Samuel Carter Hall

Sundry Critics
Elizabeth Bowen
Nelson Browne
V. S. Pritchett
W. J. McCormack
James Cahalan
Jean Lozes
Luke Gibbons
Joseph Spence
Robert Tracy
Patrick Rafroidi
Kevin Sullivan
Grace Eckley
Julian Moynihan
Jan Jedrzejewski
Victor Sage
Gaïd Girard
Margaret Kelleher
James Lecky

The Belfast News Letter (25 April 1845), “Literary Notice”: ‘This is one of the best novels we have read for a lengthened period. The tale is exceedingly interesting; and it is written with unusual power amnd originality. The characters are all admirably conceived and sustained; tdhwe many and varied incidents are vividly depicted; and like this April [462] weather of sunshine and shade, the captivating chapters of each volume abound in bright flashes of genuine humour, and thrilling passages of the most affecting pathos. In addition to the sterling merit, the work is truly Irish. It altogether, as its title indicates, refers to our native land; its gifted author, we believe, is a countryman; so are its spirited and enterprising publishers; and sure we are, that wherever it may be circulated, it will bear no mean comparison with the most popular Romances of the present day. / The story relates to an early period in the last century. Its hero, Edmond O’Connor, is represented as the son of one of the leading followers of James II, whose property has been entirely sacrificed in the cause of that unfortunate Monarch; and the heroine, all beautiful and good, is said to have been the daughter of an old impoverished, and unprincipled knight, Sir Richard Ashwoode. Between Edmond O’Connor, and the gentle Mary Ashwoode, there had from childhood existed a warm attachment; but to their union, Sir Richard and his only son, a very profligate character, also, were most bitterly opposed. The base means they adopted to disunite the fond and faithful couple; the instruments they employed to execute their villainous purposes; the gambling associates of young Ashwoode, and his fatal connection with them; the many affecting trials of Mary Ashwoode; her ignorance of her brother’s treachery, and horrible conduct towards her, while she confided so much to his love and direction; the courtships of the amorous Larry O’Toole; the singular generosity and kindliness of the warm-hearted Mr. Audley, Edmond O’Connor’s benefactor; the villainy of the ruffians Blarden and Chancey; and the mournful closing scenes of the tale - the execution of Henry Ashwoode, the death of his sister, the “frantic grief, the depth, the wildness, the desolation”, of the bereaved Edmond O’Connor’s woe, are most graphically and ably delineated.’ (p.4; quoted in Jan Jedrzejewski, ed., The Cock and Anchor [by] Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2000, Appendix III, pp.462-63.)

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The Northern Whig (24 April 1845), “Literature”, p.4: ‘The title of this work is not very attractive; but the work itself is. The Cock and Anchor is a novel of great ability. Its name is taken from that of a “hostelry”, which stood in the fair city of Dublin about one hundred and thirty years ago, and in, or connected with which, many of the incidents of the story are represented as having occurred. The name of the author is not given; but, whoever he is, these volumes prove him to be able and graphic in description; a good creator and delineator of character; possessing, in no slight degree, those dramatic powers so necessary for managing the personages in a novel; and having, moreover, a lively fancy, and a large stock of comic humour. We feel gratified, that such a work should proceed from the Irish press. [461] / It is not in our power to notice this publication as fully as it merits; and we feel that it would be little to the purpose, if we were to give a brief and necessarily dry analysis of the tale. Suffice it to say, that the author brings vividly before us the state of social affairs in Dublin, at the period of which he writes; that he introduces us, with great skill and power, to some of the scenes of fashionable dissipation, which were then presented in that city; that he produces, with excellent effect, incidents of a humorous kind, - occurrences which provoke abundant laughter, and also others which are painfully impressive, some from their degradation, and some from their purity and high-toned feeling. Gamblers and gambling transactions are forcibly sketched; a cock-pit scene is brought before us, as if it were a picture; the gay and dissolute, the crafty and reckless, the vulgar swindler, and more vulgar and intensely fraudulent usurer, the hollow-hearted circumventer, and the high-minded and pure-hearted beauty, are well portrayed; and, throughout, the writer has succeeded in giving to his characters an individuality and keeping, which prove a strong and skilful hand. / We are almost tempted to sketch the story; but we forbear. The reader must learn, for himself, the selfish and tyrannical cunning of Sir R. Ashwoode, and the low relentless malignancy of Nickey Blarden; the devoted attachment and high chivalry of O’Connor; the antiquated foppery and cold-blooded maliciousness of Lord Aspenley; the reckless gallantry of the dissipated, but gentlemanly, Major O’Leary; the Irish humour of honest Larry Toole, who was ever “the victim iv romance, bad cess to it”, and whose “bizzum was always open to the tindher impresssions”; the besotted and debased craftiness of Cordon Chancey; - with these and other characters in the work, the reader will have the pleasure of making his acquaintance. The narrative presents much that is amusing, much that is suggestive of instruction, and much that is calculated to touch the feelings. The winding up is tragical, or, at least, painfully mournful. True love, in this case, ran most roughly; and gambling, dissipation, and fraud, met their bitter deserts. There is some little improbability, and some, also, of repulsiveness, in parts of the story; but, as a whole, it is well handled, and effective, and entitles the writer to high praise. He says, at the close, that “those who are acquainted with the history of some of the leading Irish families, and who have turned over such scan records of the times, in which the scenes described are laid, as are stil accessible, will have no difficulty whatever in recognizing, in the leading incidents and characters of the tale, the hard, stern lines of record truth”.’ (Quoted in Jan Jedrzejewski, ed., The Cock and Anchor [by] Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2000, Appendix III, p.461-62.)

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The Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser (14 May 1845), p.2: This is a romance of the beginning of the eighteenth century, in which the writer portrays a scene of fashionable dissipation, the reality of which is, alas! but too easily found in our own day. There are matters broached in the pages of this novel which, if not touched with the hand of a tyro, might have been turned to a good account. The writer is evidently a man of taste, but we do not think of matured judgment. His descriptive manner is excellent, but the plot is very imperfect. / In the first volume we are introduced to a level of the profligate Wharnton [sic!], then Viceroy of this country: there we meet with the immortal Swift - the unfretted monument of Irish genius; there we are made acquainted with his person and his undying satire, both of which are in a moment snatched off the stage of this novel, and the reader is doomed never again to see his illustrious name within its pages. For what purposes he was introduced by the author we are at a loss to divine. In the hands of a skilful writer, and with such a character as Swift, what a splendid opportunity was afforded for laying bare the villainy and the vice of that sink of iniquity, Dublin Castle, in which, a century ago, the lives and liberty of the Irish people were articles of merchandise. / The plot is not above the common kind - a young handsome fellow in love with (of course) a beautiful, engaging young maiden - an obstinate [476] and opposing father - the love affair carried on clandestinely - the whole exploded - the suitor ordered most unceremoniously to “keep the back seam of his stocking” towards Morley Court, the residence of the young Hebe. Deception is then practised on the parted lovers to make them hate, instead of love each other. In this conspiracy there is given, painted with no delicate hand, a picture of aristocratic depravity. - Love of money in but too many instances estranges the heart of its votaries from those endearing and consanguine ties which should bind the heart of father to child. Who leagued against the happiness of Mary - the gentle Mary Ashwood? Her father and brother, both of whom resolved to sell their victim to an old dotard fool with money and a title, that their libertine extravagance might still be indulged in. But young ladies, when placed in such situations, are (there is no accounting for it) perversely obstinate in refusing the choice of a wise, kind, loving father; and Mary Ashwood was no paragon of dutiful paternal obedience. She refused her father’s choice, and for very spite her father died. Her brother, a gambler, contracted such debts as totally embarrassed him. He too became the victim of a conspiracy in which he was netted, and cajoled by a scheming lawyer to assist in forging a bill for the amount of the debt. The bill was drawn on his most inveterate enemy, one Nick Blarden, who would have descended on a visit to his subterraneous namesake for revenge on the ill-fated Henry Ashwood. From his conferree, the lawyer, Blarden, got the bond in his possession - then for his revenge. His conditions were the possession of the unfortunate Mary her brother consented to the terms - she refused - the house became a garrison of infamous brutality, from which the young lady escaped in time to save her life and virtue. Hell could not have created greater rage than Blarden’s when he found that his prize was gone. He seized on her brother still in his power - cast him into gaol - prosecuted him for the forgery: it is enough to say that he was convicted and hanged; and in a short time after poor Mary died of a broken heart. In all this there is nothing above the common routine of novel making; but there is one scene in the book to which the reader is introduced - it is a conference of the friends of the house of Stuart, held in an old house in the Royal Park. Here seated in solemn conclave are men - the flower of the land whose fathers had staked their all on the destinies of that faithless monarch, yet their sons were as willing to again venture for the reinstatement of his fallen house. Here again we are at a loss to discover what the author meant to be at when he wrote this chapter, which appears to be entirely dislocated from the rest of the book. We cannot form the most distant idea, unless it was for the purpose of shewing off his own anti-Irish, anti-Catholic spirit. In this chapter a Catholic priest is made to thirst after the blood of his fellow-man - that man (for connexion’s sake in the tale) is made to be none other than Mary Ashwood’s lover, Edmond O’Connor, who was caught straying in the vicinity of the house. This is almost preposterous - think of it - a minister of Christ councilling an assembly of conspirators to sacrifice an innocent man. Horrible! It is a badly framed fiction, which would scarce be swallowed by the Soupers of Kerry.’ (Quoted in Jan Jedrzejewski, ed., The Cock and Anchor [by] Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2000, Appendix III, pp.476-78.)

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The Cork Examiner (16 May 1845), p.2, “Literature” [review of The Cock and Anchor, 1st edn.]: ‘This is an historical romance in which the scene is principally confined to Dublin and its localities. It professes to give, and really does give, to a certain extent, a description, vivid and life-like, of Irish manners and customs of the last century, when WARTON was Viceroy, ADDISON, Secretary, and SWIFT, the coarse but witty and honest Dean of St. Patrick’s, figured before the Irish public. Whilst reading the first chapters of the book, it struck us that the author was new and juvenile in his vocation, but as we progressed, so did the story and the language, and scenes of animation and graphic description grew up with every remaining chapter. The whole book is full of in[c]ident, told in a spiritstirring manner. It gives you a true picture of Dublin life and Dublin local scenery, as they then existed. Old Inns and cock-fighting, and gambling rooms and duels are painted to the letter, and true, chronologically and historically. The principal characters are an old roud baronet, with a beautiful daughter and a profligate son - an Italian valet - a fine young Irishman named O’CONNOR, in love with MARY ASHWOOD, the baronet’s daughter - a “LARRY TOOL[E], the servant of O’CONNOR - a sort of Irish SAM WELLER - these, with a ruffianly, usurious lawyer, and a gaming-house bully - form the chief attractions of the book. We cannot, in this short space, give an outline of the tale, but it is one of deep and absorbing interest. We are much rejoiced to find such publications issuing from the Irish press, and that we can now find such volumes brought out by publishers like Messrs. CURRY & CO., without hawking our literary wares to the Row, and making Irish genius dependant on foreign bounty. ( ... ) On the whole the work is one which we can strongly recommend, for good writing - a just appreciation of Irish character, a fine moral tone, and a fearful interest as regards the tale itself.’ (Quoted in Jan Jedrzejewski, ed., Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, The Cock and Anchor, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2000, Appendix III, p.478.)

Samuel Carter Hall: ‘I knew the brothers Joseph and Williarn Le Fanu when they were youths at Castell Connell, on the Shannon ; both became famous - one as an author, the other as a civil engineer [...] They were my guides throughout the beautiful district around Castle Connell and I found them full of anecdote and rich in antiquarian lore, with thorough knowledge of Irish peculiarities. They aided us largely in the preparation of my book, Ireland: its scenery and character,’ Quoted in S. M. Ellis, Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu and Others, NY: Books for Libraries 1968, p.154; cited in Gaïd Girard, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Une écriture fantastique, Honoré Champion 2005, p.81, n.)

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Elizabeth Bowen: ‘The hermetic solitude and the autocracy of the great country house, the demonic power of the family myth, fatalism, feudalism, and the “ascendancy” outlook are accepted facts of life for the race of hybrids from which Le Fanu sprang.’ (Collected Impressions, London: Longman 1950, pp. 3-4; quoted in Eulalia Pinero-Gil [essay in], That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature, ed. Bruce Stewart [Princess Grace Irish Library Conference, 1998; see also in Sara Wasson, Urban Gothic of the Second World War: Dark London, London: Palgrave Macmillan 2010, p.120, under Bowen > Commentary - as supra.]

Further [continuing after ‘sprang’]: ‘For the psychological background of Uncle Silas it was necessary for him to invent nothing. Rather he was at once exploiting in art and exploring for its more terrible implications what would have been the norm of his own heredity.’ (Rep. in The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen, sel. & intro. by Hermione Lee, London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1986, p.101; quoted in Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 [...]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Kelleher & Philip O’Leary, Cambridge UP 2006, Vol. 1 p.471.)

Elizabeth Bowen, Intro. to Uncle Silas (London: Cresset Press 1947): ‘Uncle Silas has always struck me as an Irish story transposed to an English setting [...]. Only while his contemporaries, the by then urbanised Victorian English, viewed the ancestral scene from the outside, that Irishman wrote out of what was in his bones.’ (p.8.) ‘It is not the last belated gothic romance but the first (or among the first) of the psychological thrillers. And it has, as terror-writing, a voluptuousness not approached since.’ (Ibid., [p.11]; rep. in The Mulberry Tree, 110-13; quoted in R. F. Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch: Connections in Irish History and English History , London: Allen Lane/Penguin Press 1993, p.109.)

Elizabeth Bowen (Intro. to Uncle Silas, 1947): ‘Uncle Silas is, as a novel, Irish, in two ways: it is sexless, and it shows a sublimated infantilism.’ (Introduction to Uncle Silas, London: Cresset 1947, p.9.) Refers to ‘abnormality as a heroine’ and dismisses ‘Victorian censorship’ as the cause: ‘The reactions of Maud [...] throughout are those of a highly intelligent, still more highly sensitive, child of twelve.’ (p.9.; both the above quoted in Susan Parlour, MA Diss., UUC 2008.[ top ]

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Nelson Browne, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (London: Arthur Barker 1951): ‘Mrs. Radcliffe is the progenitrix of everything in [Le Fanu] that may be termed romantic - his gloomy heroes, his intrepid heroines in perpetual flight from ruthless persecutors, his chivalrous conception of honour, his ancient houses and castles falling into ruin, his fondness for showing Nature in her sombre and threatening moods.’ (Quoted in David Punter, The Literature of Terror: A History of Gothic Fictions from 1765 to the Present Day (London: Longman 1980), p.231, and cited in Margarita G. Bon, ‘Seen Through Her Eyes: Point of View in Uncle Silas’, in paper in That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature: Transactions of the Princess Grace Irish Library Conference, 1998.)

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V. S. Pritchett: The Living Novel [1946] (London: Chatto and Windus 1954): ‘What he did was to bring an Irish lucidity and imagination to the turgid German flow. Le Fanu’s ghosts are what I take to be the most disquieting of all: the ghosts that can be justified, blobs of the unconscious that have floated up to the surface of the mind, and which are not irresponsible and perambulatory figments of family, moaing and claking about in fancy dress [...]. It is we who are the ghosts. Those are our own steps which follow us, it is our “heavy body” which we hear falling in the attic above. We haunt ourselves.’ (p.96; quoted in Gaïd Girard, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Une écriture fantastique, Paris: Honoré Champion 2005, p.15.)

Patrick Rafroidi, ‘The Irish Short Story in English: The Birth of a New Tradition’, in Terence Brown & Rafroidi, eds., The Irish Short Story (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1979), quotes the opening of “Leixlip Castle” by C. R. Maturin, and speaks of a third-person narration which refers to the narrator at least indirectly - calling it the simplest procedure of the “circumstantial method” without which it is imposible to provoke the Coleridgeian suspension of disbelief exploited by Le Fanu throughout the whole of In a Glass Darkly [1872] where each story of the collection is introduced as an item taken from the files of Dr. Hesselius, a German specialist in psychic cases’, adding that ‘in the stories of the above-mentioned writers the narrative structure - the “syntax” of the structuralist critics - conforms to the general pattern defined by Poe. Even when it is not based on an indispensable “gradation” it always seeks a single effect towards which all the components of the work must contribute.’ (p.29.) Further identifies the semantics of the stories with the norm of Romantic Europe as categorised by Mario Praz, Roger Caillois and Tzvetan Todorov, but notes the addition of an Anglo-Irish specificity and quotes V. S. Pritchett: ‘Anglo-Irish society, the most charming in the British Isles, was a guilty society’ [Intro. to In a Glass Darkly, 1947].

W. J. McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (Oxford 1980; rep. edn. Dublin: Lilliput 1991; rev. edn. Lilliput 1996), Do. [4th edn.] (Sutton: Far Thrupp 1997), 324pp.; b. 28 Aug., Dominick St., Dublin; son of Thomas Le Fanu, a Church of Ireland clergyman and grand-nephew of R. B. Sheridan on his mother’s side, and therefore a cousin of Lord Dufferin with whom he corresponded, and Caroline Norton; his m. was Emma, dg. of William Dobbin, Cork-born clergyman, prebendary of S. Michan’s, and confessor to the Sheares brothers in 1798, and also present at the execution of Emmet; related to Ruthyns, and Aylmers; family established in professional and ecclesiastical careers in Dublin, his paternal gf. being a wine merchant; spent childhood in Royal Hibernian Military School, Phoenix Park, where his father was chaplain, 1815; absentee rector of Ardhageehy, Co. Cork, 1817; appt. to living in Abingdon, Co. Limerick (nr. Murroe), 1823 at date of Stradbroke evictions, but remained three years’ absentee until appt. Dean of Emly in 1826, when he moved to the rectory of Abington in March, neighboured by the Catholic priest Thomas O’Brien Costello; Abington contains Le Fanu graves; cites list of Dean Le Fanu’s collection in Catalogue of the Library of the Very Rev. Thomas P. Le Fanu in Royal Irish Academy; incls. Mrs. Radcliffe; Thomas De Quincey; a 1527 Boccaccion ed. and 1st edn. of Poems of John Donne; Sheridan’s Pronouncing Dictionary and Moore’s Lifeof Sheridan; George Colman’s Terence, and a vol. entitled Scripture Revelations concerning the Future State; succeeded John Jebb at Emly; tithe of £1,179 in 1823; death of Elizabeth Bonne Le Fanu, sis. of Thomas, in Bath, 25 July 1818; faction fights in Abington district; encounters ‘the yella horse‘, summer 1838; presents his national ballad “Seamus O’Brien” at meeting of refounded Hist., April. 1839; cousin Frances experiences depressive crisis; McCormack identifies “Spalatro” as a tale by Le Fanu (so noted in diary of Chas. Lever, Mar.-April.1843, now in Pierpont Morgan Library, NY) and interprets its dual incidents of incest and vampirism; notes correspondence with father about William’s supposed ambition for the church instead of engineering.

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W. J. McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland [rev. edn.] (Dublin: Lilliput Press 1991): ‘He assumes importance and influence late in life when he found in sensational fiction a means ot describe the extraordinary quality of his life, its urbanity and its closeness to violence. Essentially the common feature of his experience and of his fictional world is the idea of a society based on non-social assumptions, an experience outwardly social but really isolated and dangerously interior. Victorian Ireland is fascinating and relatively unknown, its daily routine a neglected part of the past which has moulded Yeats, Shaw, Parnell, and other distinctively modern figures. Its larger value as seen in Le Fanu’s career can only be appreciated if we are prepared to make the connection between his failure to evolve a viable political stance in Ireland and his experiments in English sensationalism. Normal vision has its own censoring devices, and two sets of filters must be laid aside; one which excludes middle-class Orangeism of the 1840 as an historical irrelevance, and the other which dismisses sensational fiction as “pulp”. [... &c.]’ (p.8.); “Shamus O’Brien was in part a symbol of disenchantment with the alliance between an ascendancy (or sections of it) in Ireland and a government in England. The rebel’s pride and isolatioin are authentic. But Shamus is a peasant, one of the ruffian mob, and so his celebreation is necessarily undercut by mimicry and sentimental evasion.’ (ibid., p.53.)

W. J. McCormack (1991) - cont.: [On the Purcell Papers: ‘It is of course paradoxical that a rector‘s son, writing at the end of a humiliating and costly Tithe War, should choose as a persona a fictional O’Brien Costello; that he should maintain the device for twelve instalments is a striking indication of his need for some disguise. Le Fanu used the parish priest, sometimes as narrator, sometimes as a moral and religious standard in the stories, in much the same way that Maria Edgeworth used Thady Quirk in Castle Rackrent. The priest, like the famiy retainer, was a privileged person with access to the secrets of a caste superior to his own. Any further uneasiness about a Papist narrator is largely dissolved by placing the stories in remote early decades of the previous century. The priest is by now safely dead; his papers relate confessions and adventures dating from the first [55] years of his ministry. Here lies an advance over “Shamus O’Brien”, for in choosing his historical milieu Le Fanu has moved back beyond the peasant-rebel to the heroic, defeated Jacobites whose lives were at risk in their own country. The Purcell Papers ... achieve an impressive opacity and distance in their historic setting.’ (pp.55-56.)

W. J. McCormack (1991) - cont.: ‘Reversals of faith, death-bed exclamations of despair, ambiguous dual versions of supernatural themes, self-compelled if not self-inflicted deaths - these are the ingredients of tales which press back against an historical context, as if kept at arm’s length by their author. Can it be accident that these stories chould conclude the decade of the Le Fanus’ disillusion with their country, of their humiliation in a religious guerrilla war, of their domestic distress?’ (p.61.)

[On “Spalatro”:] ‘The hero’s passionate search for a dead woman (who also stands for his survival) is the first instance of powerful sexual feeling in Le Fanu’s fiction, a feeling which he will rarely describe. Instead he will translate his assumptions about sexuality [viz., that ‘sexes are not mutually exclusive classes’] into formal aspects of the fiction, into a recurrence of female narrators for example.’ (p.68); ‘[...] one feature of Sheridan Le Fanu’s fiction - its indirection. ... in the mature novels he frequently solves narrative difficultues or moral problems by stylistic or structural means’ (p.70); ‘In both political action and fictional analysis he sought to regain a lost country, all the more painfully desirable in its continuity with the idyllic landscape of his youth.’ (p.71.)

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J. W. McCormack, Introduction to In A Glass Darkly (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1990), pp.vii-xvii: ‘[...] It is a collection rigorously organised in its very appearance of inconsistency and decentredness. Location proliferates - England, Ireland, France, and Austria, with Germany and Hungary implicated. Le Fanu’s fiction does not create a unified landscape, any rounded solid world either British or Irish, urban or rural; instead it spins elliptically on a trajectory which demolishes the notion of a controlling centre. Nor does it project an orderly or stratified hierarchy, either of class or value. Thus, the displacements of Le Fanu’s fiction are only part of its comprehensive rejection of all notions of fixed centrality, reliable identity, and social stability. / Action ranges wide but not without symmetry. The immobilised consciousness of young Beckett in ‘The Room in the Dragon Volant’ should be read as the counterpart of a lascivious and protean immortality in ‘Carmilla’. Sexuality doubles up for religion - but that’s hardly rare. What is more curious is that the narrator of ‘Carmilla’ addresses herself to a woman (‘a town lady like you’) while we are of ficially led to believe that Martin Hesselius is her correspondent. At the structural or narrative level this reproduction of transferred gender (‘what if a boyish lover had found his way into the house ...?’) echoes the narrated substance of the tale. But whether it echoes by way of confirmation or mockery is less clear. ‘Boyish’ still implies the lover’s femaleness even as it insinuates the word ‘boy’. / And verbal nuance is pervasive.’

W. J. McCormack, Dissolute Characters: Irish Literary History through Balzac, Sheridan Le Fanu, Yeats and Bowen (Manchester UP 1993): ‘As for narrators, their role is highly questionable. When the prologue to “Green Tea” informs us that the editor/narrator disqualified himself from surgical practice with ‘a very trifling scratch with a dissecting knife’ are we to read this as a foreshadowing of the Reverend Jennings’s cutting his own throat in the story which immediately follows? Interpreters of a Lacanian disposition might see the editor’s trifling accident as an act of self-mutilation, symbolic castration perhaps, and certainly as damaging to the scribal capacity as to the incisive one [but] Instead of seeking to link up these mutually remote characters in some pattern of behavior, perhaps attention should focus on the the objects named—dissecting knife, razor, and so on. (p.153; quoted in Joe Lee, Transactions of Princess Grace Irish Library Conference, 1998.)

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James Cahalan, Great Hatred, Little Room, The Irish Historical Novel (Syracuse UP/Gill & Macmillan 1983), Le Fanu contributed a ballad on Fitzgerald to the Dublin University Magazine in 1839, ‘That day that traitors sould him and inimies bought him, / The day that the red gold and red blood was paid - / Then the green turned pale and thrembled like the dead leaves in Autumn, / And the heart an’ hope iv Ireland in the could grave was laid.’ Cahalan notes le Fanu’s mother’s great admiration of Lord Edward, adding that she had even stolen his sword from the officer who captured him. [71] The more accurate version in his brother’s book, Seventy Years of Irish Life, is that she held the dagger with which he stabbed Capt. Ryan.

Note: Cahalan gives a full account of Le Fanu’s involvement with ultra-Protestant organs such as The Warder, and his hostility to Repeal of the Union. It seems from his footnote that he has read Browne’s study but not the work by W. R. Le Fanu - which he cites by name and without a date - upon which the story is based. Viz., Nelson Browne, Sheridan Le Fanu (London: Arthur Barker 1951).

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Jean Lozes, ‘Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: The Prince of the Invisible’, in Patrick Rafroidi & Terence Brown, eds., The Irish Short Story (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press 1979), pp.98-99: ‘The mystery of the rational, or the irrational, is in fact the mystery of guilt. The pangs that a guilty conscience has to endure, the various levels of consciousness of guilt one may uncover if one has the will to do so, the inevitable retribution, the constant suggestion of the dual or even triple aspects in a man’s psyche—all these definitely suggest a new science, a new way of studying the human personality. Le Fanu undeniable sensed the birth of psychoanalysis.’ (Cited in Thomas Loe, paper in That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature: Transactions of the Princess Grace Irish Library Conference, 1998.)

Luke Gibbons, ‘“Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, in Irish University Review (Spring/Summer 1997), pp.7-23; p.18, quoting Gothic novelist Sheridan Le Fanu: “Mystery is the shadow of guilt” [no source given].

Joseph Spence, ‘“The Great Angelic Sin”: The Faust Legend in Irish Literature, 1820-1900’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, 1, 2 (Autumn 1994), pp.47-58, espec. pp.53ff: The fate of the Anglo-Irish, symbolised by the victim’s inertia is not hard to see in ‘The Familiar’, but there are Irish resonances in the other stories too, for they reveal the insecurity of the Protestant Irishman in the wake of disestablishment of the Church of Ireland (1869), and with the dawning of the suspicion that Westminster, which had initially sanctioned it, might not be able to uphold the Williamite settlement after 1870, in the face of the Land League and the Home Rule movement’ (p.53.); Carmilla pleads sensually for Laura to join in her (?Anglo-Irish) life-in-death: “... No sacrifice without blood”.’ (p.54.)

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Robert Tracy, reviewing new editions of J. S. Le Fanu, The Cock and Anchor, 3 vols; The House by the Churchyard and The Purcell Papers along with William Allingham, Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland, in Nineteenth Century Fiction, Vol. 38 No. 3 (Dec. 1983), pp.354-57, writes: young hero in Cock and Anchor is dispossessed by Williamite Wars [i.e., a Catholic], and scorned by heroine’s family; no resolution is found; ‘nationalist’ and ‘Unionist’ as Le Fanu projects those terms back into the past from his own day, perish alike; the Ascendancy can neither compromise nor even sustain itself - Le Fanu’s warning to his own contemporaries; Purcell papers comprise the 12 pieces written for Dublin University Magazine from 1838 to 1840 with another from 1850.

Further (Robert Tracy): ‘Allingham and Le Fanu both broke away from the more or less realistic conventions of nineteenth-century Irish fiction to experiment with form, one bythe use of verse, the other by use of unreliable narrators and surrounding events with mystery. Both were aware that the Irish novel could not succeed by using the same techniques as the English novel, and both seem to have realised that the episod[ic] and provisional nature of Irish life coud not be accommodated within the centripetal English-novel tradition in which the story moves towards social integration and unity. Irish reality did not encourage such integration. “Not men and women in an Irish street / But Catholics and Protestants you meet.” (Blackberries, 1884).’

Kevin Sullivan, reviews W. J. McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (OUP 1980, in Nineteenth Century Fiction, Vol. 36 No. 2 (Sept. 1981), pp.244-46: Le Fanu, called ‘Invisible Prince’, obsessed with ‘post-sepulture’ existence; four children; d. 7 Feb.; religious doubt followed death of wife in 1858; quotes McCormack: ‘essentially, the common feature of his experience and of his fictional world is the idea of a society based on non-social assumptions, an experience outwardly social but really isolated and dangerousbly interior.’ [245]; McCormack calls Uncle Silas ‘a habitation of symbols’ [245; see further under McCormack.]

Grace Eckley, Children’s Lore in Finnegans Wake (Syracuse UP 1985), contains remarks on The House by the Church-yard considered as a source for Finnegans Wake. (See under James Joyce, Commentary, infra.

Julian Moynahan, Anglo-Irish: The Literary Imagination in a Hyphenated Culture (1995), pp.178-79: ‘A trend toward allegorical or eqivocal writing may indeed develop from several factors in the Anglo-Irish artists’ situate. We can agree that one of these might be a sense of social guit, which a writer cannot opening acknowledge without appearing as a traitor to her class, and which therefore must be smuggled in, as it wre into express. We saw this form of indirection in Irish Gothic, particualy in Le Fanu’s ghost stories and mysteries. Le Fanu also supplied the formula of its operation. ’Mystery’ - for mystery read allegory - is the shadow of guilt.Something else reinforcing the AI writers turn towards equivocal or veiled writing may be her or his despair, after Unioin, of remaining in or joining the mainstream of English writing. To put it brutally, it was no longer socially rewarding to go to London and make sounds (and gestures) like an English man.To stay at home and do that was not rewarding [178] either. Hence the incentive to discover another way of writing, perhaps one that drew form very old traditions indeed of Irish indirectness, reticence, and implicitness in speaking, in manners, and in mien. The formula for this might be, ’to say what one means one says what one does not mean.’ [See also foregoing comments on Mccormack; and note that Moynahan gives no source for the sentence from Le Fanu.]

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Jan Jedrzejewski, Introduction, The Cock and Anchor (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 2000): ‘[...] the young lovers [Edmond O’Connor and Mary Ashwoode] are eventually buried side by side, and a newly-forged friendship between their surrogate fathers offers a glimmer of hope that the faultline between the two traditions [i.e., Catholic and Protestant] might not be as unbreachable as one would initially be justified in supposing. / This is precisely where The Cock and Anchor becomes a contribution to the mid-nineteenth-century debate about Irishness: it is a call for moderate unionists, particularly those of the conservative persuasion (Oliver French, significantly, is a Tory), and for moderate nationalists - in other words, for those grouped around The [xv] Dublin University Review on the one hand, and for those associated with the Young Ireland movement on the other - to come together and join forces in the search for a new Ireland, one in which the future Mary Ashwoodes and Edmond O’Connors would no longer face the barriers of prejudice and sectarianism. The two political grouping can try to reconcile at least some of their differences and work together because they both face the same opposition: on the one hand, the Whig establishment (represented in the novel by the Earl of Wharton), corrupt and materialistic, and interested first of all in the promotion of their own interests at Westminster rather than in recognising the actual needs and problems of Ireland, and, on the other hand, the radical O’Connellite nationalists (represented by O’Hanlon’s ruthless fellow-conspirators gather at Finiskea House), blinded by their prejudices, religious and/or ideological, for the sake of political expediency. The task is difficult, and there is no guarantee of success - Mary and Edmond do not get united this side of the grave after all - but the possibilities are there, and therefore worth exploring.’ [Cont.]

Jan Jedrzejewski (intro., The Cock and Anchor, 2000 Edn.) - cont.: ‘The structure of The Cock and Anchor as a metaphor of Irish politics in the mid-1840s is clear enough - and yet the novel does not read quite like a political tract; in fact, on closer inspection, some of the aspects of its political message ring, if not untrue, then at least decidedly hollow. This is particularly true if one considers the novel alongside its powerful predecessor, John Banim’s The Boyne Water: resembling the earlier novel in its main motif - a cross-tradition love match thrown against the background of Ireland’s troubled past - Le Fanu’s analysis of his eighteenth-century Irish world does not always appear fully convincing, and its focus is not always fully consistent. In the earlier novel, the two pairs of lovers are all personally involved in the business of politics, and indeed, in a more or less direct way, in armed struggle: what separates them is not, as is the case with the protagonists of The Cock and Anchor, primarily the egoism and petty-mindedness of the people around them, but the incompatibility of their ideologies, to which they are, at least at the beginning of the novel, more or less fully committed. The Catholic M’Donnells and the Protestant Evelyns are not, as it were, token Catholics and token Protestants, enclosed, the way Mary Ashwoode is for the most part of The Cock and Anchor, in the private worlds of their domesticity; on the contrary, they are conscious representatives of their respective tribes, experiencing the dark reality of the conflict in which they are engaged with the full understanding of its nature [xvi] and origins. In a rather similar way, Le Fanu’s attempts to incorporate into his novel scenes involving the leading political figures of the day appear, by comparison with Banirn’s work, rather less than convincing; unlike George Walker or Patrick Sarsfield in The Boyne Water, Le Fanu’s Earl of Wharton, Addison, and Swift are not characters in their own right, but puppets employed by the author to put across his anti-Whig political message - they have no role to play in the plot of the novel, and they exist merely to give it a flavour of historical authenticity. Similarly, the scene of O’Connor’s unfortunate adventure at Finiskea House is not fully justified by the novel’s narrative logic; it is there so that Le Fanu make his point about the dangers of political radicalism (reinforced, as W. J. McCormack suggests, by the ironical implications of its location - by Le Fanu’s time, as Phoenix Park, a symbol of the political establishment of Victorian Dublin [McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, 1980, p.98.), but it has little connection with the plot, and it strikes the reader as structurally forced - despite the genuine narrative tension that it generates.’ [Cont.]

Jan Jedrzejewski (intro., The Cock and Anchor, 2000 Edn.) - cont.: ‘This is exactly where the fundamental difficulty about The Cock and Anchor becomes clear: intended as a historical novel in the style of [Walter] Scott and, at the same time, as a vehicle for Le Fanu’s reflections on the nature of modern Irish society and on the current problems of Irish politics, it is a respectable and conscientious enough attempt to conform to the conventions of the genre - but it only gathers pace where Le Fanu departs from his model, ceases to be a historian and a politician, and becomes a story-teller and a creator of character. He feels much better in the streets of Dublin, or on the road, than in the formal environment of Dublin Castle; he fails in his attempts at social satire - as testified by his grotesque and desperately unfunny portraits of Lady Stukely and Lord Aspenly - but he succeeds in creating, in Nicholas Blarden, a thoroughly frightening portrait of a villain; he is not bad at recreating scenes of early-eighteenth-century Dublin life - as, for instance, in the scene of the cock-fight - but he is even better when describing young Ashwoode’s spiralling descent into moral and financial degradation, or his sister’s virtual imprisonment at Morley Court and her subsequent dramatic escape. Le Fanu perceives the world in simple terms of good and evil, and he finds evil much more interesting to analyse; he handles suspense better than humour; he prefers to explore hatred, fear, and guilt to writing about love, understanding, and compassion; he is much better as a psychologist than as a sociologist - in a word, he is best when he writes in a mode reminiscent of the eighteenth-century tradition of the Gothic. [...; &c.’]

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Victor Sage, ‘Irish Gothic: C. R. Maturin and J. S. Le Fanu', in A Companion to the Gothic , ed. David Punter (Oxford: Blackwell 2000): ‘Loyal, indoctrinated Maud [in Uncle Silas], who takes her charge so seriously and yet displays the detached curiosity of the original fairy tale, in itself the heritage of Eve, cannot believe her uncle is evil; so even when the signs are staring her in the face that he intends to destroy her, she honourably refuses to believe it of her kinsman, putting herself in mor[t]al danger.’ (p.91; quoted in Susan Parlour, UUC MA Diss., 2008.)

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Gaïd Girard, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Une écriture fantastique (Honoré Champion 2005), Introduction: ‘[...] Comme tout Irlandais, Le Fanu baigne dans une culture plus attentive qu’une autre aux pouvoirs de l’imaginaire et à la magie du verbe, toujours proche d’un passé pourtant mythique. Bien avant le “réveil celtique” de la fin du XIX siècle, il n’était pas rare que les membres de l’Ascendancy s’intéressent à la culture gaëlique. Les lettrés de l’époque, qu’ils soient protestants ou catholiques, cherchaient les moyens adéquats pour transférer à l’écrit un récit conté oralement, comme en témoignent de nombreux articles du DUM [Dublin University Magazine]. William Trevor, et bien d’autres avant lui, ont vu dans ce passage à l’écrit d’une tradition orale fortement ancrée dans la culture irlandaise l’acte de naissance de la “nouvelle irlandaise”’. Frank O’Connor avait été beaucoup plus précis et universel à la fois en voyant dans la nouvelle une forme d’expression privilégiée de groupes culturels dominés [vide n., “submerged population groups”]. Il est incontestable que Le Fanu excelle dans la forme courte. / Ainsi, les premiers chapitres de cet ouvrage proposeront une archéologie de Fécriture fantastique de Le Fanu, consacrée aux textes directement inspirés de la culture orale irlandaise et de leur inscription dans Histoire; nombreux sont en effet les récits de Le Fanu, très rarement commentés, qui utilisent et retravaillent des motifs 1égendaires connus. En revanche, l’influence de l’esthétique du. roman gothique sur ses écrits à toujours été abondamment signa1ée, à tel point qu’il à été quelquefois présenté comme un “late Gothic writer”, dont Uncle Silas offrirait au genre l’un de ses plus tardifs fleurons. Le Fanu n’est cependant ni Ann Radcliffe ni même Maturin; comme nous le montrerons, il écrit trop longtemps apré ses illustres aînés pour ne pas utiliser le genre gothique de manière réflexive et distanciée. De plus, il est Irlandais alors que le genre est éminemment anglais. D’une autre manière que pour le conte irlandais, c’est à nouveau. de ré-écriture qu’il s’agit ici. / On ne finit pas d’ailleurs encore au XXIe siècle de découvrir l’aptitude du genre gothique à se moderniser et à plaire à des lecteurs pourtant revenus de tout. Après avoir montré combien le genre pouvait avoir été subversif, en particulier au XVIII siècle [n.: C’est le travail enterpris par les études féministes principalment], les études génériques ont dû reconnaître que le genre est plus protéiforme qu’il n’y paraissait et que les frontières entre gothique, sensationnel et roman d’énigme deviennent très poreuses au XIXe siècle. À l’ère de la grande peur victorienne de la contamination, cette dernière est manifestement à l’oeuvre dans la production romanesque britannique et européenne; nous verrons que Le Fanu n’est pas en reste, quoique de façon détournée, lui qui se refuse dans les quelques textes théoriques et essais littéraires qu’on lui connaîit à se voir affubler de l’étiquette d’auteur à sensation. / Dans cette distance maintenue avec le sensationnalisme en vogue an milieu du siècle, on trouve le souci constant chez Le Fanu de ne pas grossir les effets impunément; le grotesque qu’il pratique à l’occasion s’articule toujours sur une vision étrange, sinon terrifiée, de l’homme et de ses rapports au monde. Dans ses textes les plus audacieux, il ne se contente pas de réutiliser des codes répertoriés pour écrire les affres d’une conscience hantée, bien qu’il sache utiliser à l’extreme les peurs et les terreurs des héroines gothiques persécutées, mais il y intègre le modèle de la confession calviniste, du journal intime écrit sous l’oeil implacable de Dieu pour exprimer les tourments les plus douloureux de la psyché humaine. / Sans qu’une opposition absolument étanche soit opérante entre souffrances mentales masculines et féminines dans les écrits de Le Fanu, il est néanmoins frappant de constater que les manifestations des troubles de la psyché chez ses personnages épousent une division sexuelle qui recoupe le discours victorien sur les maladies mentales: aux femmes les symptémes hystériques théorisés par les épigones d’une tradition médicale héritée du mesmérisme, aux hommes les tourments des délires de persécution menant souvent an suicide, plus proches des théosophies swedenborgiennes. Dans les deux cas, qui se chevauchent dans certains textes, attestant ainsi de la grande labilité de son écriture, Le Fanu fait [ètrer] son lecteur au plus près des abîmes de l’âme humaine et de la dépossession de soi-mème, anticipant dans un effet troublant de boucle proleptique le texte de Freud sur [“]l’inquiétante étrangeté”. Les structures de répétition, les dénis et les détours sans cesse à j’oeuvre dans ses textes, à tous les niveaux de la construction fictionnelle, fondent une véritable “poétique du cauchemar” [vide Gwenhael Ponnau, La Folie dans la littèrature fantastique, 1987, p.271]; fantasme et vision hallucinée s’y entremélent au coeur d’une esthétique exigeante, qui privilégie le regard et la suspension du temps, qui construit l’oeuvre d’art sur les éclats d’un réel qui se dérobe. / C’est la construction de cette esthétique que cet ouvrage cherche à mettre au jour au moyen d’une déambulation attentive au coeur des textes de Sheridan Le Fanu marqués par l’étrange. C’est seulement par l’analyse du “cristal” [vide, Oscar Wilde: ‘Art is not a mirror but a crystal ...’] de l’écriture que l’on pourra rendre compte de la fascination que Le Fanu à exercée sur des écrivains aussi différents que Henry James et Julio Cortàzar. II n’a pas été preté suffisamment attention jusqu’ici à cette écriture singulière et c’est l’ambition de cet ouvrage que de faire briller d’un sombre éclat les multiples facettes d’une poétique de l’inquiétude à la fois lucide et hantée.’ [End intro.]

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Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 [...]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature, ed. Kelleher & Philip O’Leary (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. 1: ‘[...] Le Fanu’s first novels were historical: The Cock and Anchor, being a Chronicle of Old Dublin City (1845) and The Fortunes of Colonel Torlogh O’Brien: A Tale of the Wars of King James (1847), the latter influenced by John Banim’s Boyne Water (1826). In The Cock and Anchor, early eighteenth-century Dublin is vividly depicted as “the capital of a rebellious and semi-barbarous country - haunted by hungry adventurers, who had lost everything in the revolutionary wars.” Early chapters give voice to the claims of the Catholic dispossessed, “mercenaries and beggars abroad, and landless at home”, against a “perjured, corrupt, and robbing ascendancy, a warning and a wonder to all after times” but the novel ultimately reads as a cautionary tale for the present, directed towards a mid-nineteenth-century aristocratic class then experiencing a sharp decline in its political power.’ [Cont.]

Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English; 1830-1890 [...]’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature (2006), Vol. 1 - cont. [of Uncle Silas]: ‘In the suspense-filled story of young orphan Maud Ruthyn, who is under threat of her life from her villainous relative, Le Fanu also revisited one of his earliest stories, “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess”, first published in the DUM (November 1838). Through Maud’s narration of her incarceration and release, the novel brings most clearly to light the sexual anxiety and terrors which afflict almost all of Le Fanu’s heroines, from the pursuit of Mary Ashwoode in his first novel, Cock and Anchor, to the layered psychosexual implications of his vampire story “Carmilla”. In this regard, one of the most significant, and still underrated, effects of Le Fanu’s fiction is, in the words of critic Thomas Kilroy, its “anatomy of domestic horror” (Kilroy, Introduction to House by the Churchyard [rep. edn.] 1992, p.xiii.)’

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James Lecky, ‘Sheridan le Fanu: Master of the Macabre’, in Honest Ulsterman (June 2015), cites an entry on Le Fanu by John Clute in The Encyclopaedia of Horror which attributes the form of his best work to ‘Protestant guilt’ - presumably associated with colonial crimes in Ireland: ‘[...] What separates In A Glass Darkly from earlier Gothic Horror, is the sense of doubt and ambiguity which Le Fanu weaves into his narratives. Previous Gothic Horror had often been crude, piling horror upon horror, with imagery frequently more important that plot, particularly in the short fiction which emerged in its early flowering, and more often than not, supplying a rational explanation for any supernatural occurrence. Ambiguity abounds in Le Fanu’s work – the demonic entity of Green Tea may or may not be an hallucination, and the story is one of mental breakdown and addiction as it is of supernatural horror. Similarly, in The Familiar, the situation in which the protagonist Captain Barton finds himself – pursued by a ghostly entity who may simply be a vengeful figure from his past – is one which is open to either rational or supernatural interpretation.’ (See Honest Ulsterman - online; accessed 17.08.2015.)