Born 200 years ago today, J. Sheridan Le Fanu is one of a handful of authors of Victorian Gothic fiction to register on the radar of the modern horror fan. Unlike Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley, Le Fanu wrote more than one classic tale - 'The Familiar', 'Green Tea', 'Schalken the Painter' and 'Carmilla' are all much-anthologised, and at least one of his novels, Uncle Silas, has never been out of print.
That said, 'Carmilla' has made most of the running when it comes to film and other adaptations. Without Le Fanu the history of vampire fiction would have been different, and the British horror film of the late Sixties/early Seventies would have been stuck for ideas.
So, here is my little tribute page for an author whose work I've always enjoyed and often find myself re-reading. Let's begin seriously, with an article at the Time Higher Educational Supplement that places Le Fanu the writer and the man within the sweep of Irish (and British) history. There is also an appreciation at The Irish Times. The latter ends with the following from V.S. Pritchett.
“Le Fanu’s ghosts are the most disquieting of all ghosts ... The secret doubt, the private shame, the unholy love scratch away with malignant patience in the guarded mind. It is we who are the ghosts. Let illness, late nights and green tea [the title of one of the In a Glass Darkly stories] weaken the catch we normally keep clamped so firmly down, and out slink one by one all the hags and animals of moral or Freudian symbolism.”Over at Project Gutenberg, we find Le Fanu's books ranged by order of popularity. 'Carmilla' is number one, followed by Uncle Silas, then a collection of 'Ghostly Tales'. Not at all surprising.
Here is a fairly recent BBC dramatisation of 'Carmilla'.
And here are some covers of Le Fanu books from around the literary world.