J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 – 1873)


Albeit perhaps not with the same frequency, I resume today my profiles of authors that contributed in some way to the development of our favourite genre.

26930Sheridan Le Fanu, in full Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, (born Aug. 28, 1814, Dublin, Ire.—died Feb. 7, 1873, Dublin), Irish writer of ghost stories and mystery novels, celebrated for his ability to evoke the ominous atmosphere of a haunted house.

Le Fanu belonged to an old Dublin Huguenot family and was related on his mother’s side to Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Educated at Trinity College, Dublin, he became a lawyer in 1839 but soon abandoned law for journalism. The Purcell Papers, written while he was a student, show his mastery of the supernatural and were collected in three volumes in 1880. Between 1845 and 1873 he published 14 novels, of which Uncle Silas (1864) and The House by the Churchyard (1863) are the best known. He contributed numerous short stories, mostly of ghosts and the supernatural, to the Dublin University Magazine, which he owned and edited from 1861 to 1869. In a Glass Darkly (1872), a book of five long stories, is generally regarded as his best work; it includes his classic story “Carmilla,” which popularized the theme of the female vampire. Le Fanu also owned the Dublin Evening Mail and other newspapers. (Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica).

[Le Fanu] has had no discernible influence on other writers. Yet in the last decade of his life he produced a dozen novels mostly concerned with crime, of which four are worth remembering and at least one is a brilliant mystery puzzle. [Uncle Silas (1864), By the Churchyard (1863), and Checkmate (1871)] But the book referred to as a brilliant mystery puzzle, Wylder’s Hand (1864), is Le Fanu’s chief contribution in the field pf detection. . . . All this should have been enough to establish Le Fanu as one of the most important originators of the crime novel, but in this respect he has never received acknowledgment. (Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder. From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel: A History, Penguin Books, 1974. pp. 60-62)

Mike Grost at A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection wrote: ‘Le Fanu came to the mystery very early. Many of his first short stories (late 1830’s) were written before Poe’s mystery tales, before Dickens, and long before Wilkie Collins. However, Hawthorne was already practicing obscurely in America (early 1830’s), and Le Fanu was also a successor to Bulwer-Lytton’s Pelham (1828), not to mention Godwin and the entire Gothic novel. Le Fanu’s tales often deal with impossible crimes, generally explained by some architectural trick or secret passage. In this he shows a similarity to both the Gothic writers, and to Hoffmann’s “Fraulein de Scuderi”.’ (To continue reading please click here).

s-l1600A lost classic by one of the 19th century’s most prominent writers of ghost stories and suspense novels

The Wylders and the Brandons share a history of intermarriage, bitter rivalry, villainy and madness. The wedding of Mark Wylder to his rich and beautiful cousin, Dorcas Brandon, was to inaugurate a harmonious new era at Brandon Hall. But as the ceremony draws near, Mark disappears without trace, leaving Dorcas in shock, and the assembled family in a state of severe agitation. And when Mark’s letters arrive back at the Hall, postmarked from Europe, the sinister figure of Captain Stanley Lake emerges from the wings to claim Dorcas as his own…

First published in 1864, Wylder’s Hand was one of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s most popular novels, but has been largely neglected – until now. It is a nerve-jangling tale of jealousy and murder, for fans of the grisly and gripping. (Source: Atlantic Books)

Wylder’s Hand has been reviewed, among others, at Vintage Pop Fictions and EuroCrime.

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