To mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Sheridan Le Fanu's classic story (in Dickens' magazine All the Year Round) the Swan River Press had produced a lavish commemorative volume.
Most of us already have the story in at least one anthology or collection. But this new edition is a very fine little book indeed, a real collector's item. Check out the details here. There are excellent illustrations by by Alasdair Wood, which capture the grim, disturbing essence of the tale while skirting overt horror. There is a subtly nightmarish quality about them - especially the last one. Wood also supplied the artwork for the excellent cover design by Meggan Kehrli.
The book is accompanied by a CD containing an hour-long audio dramatisation of the story, written by Reggie Chamberlain-King and performed Belfast's Wireless Mystery Theatre, Regular readers of this blog will know how much I love radio drama, and this play does not disappoint,
We are immediately introduced to Dr. Martin Hesselius (David Fleming), who recounts the tale of the mild-mannered Anglican clergyman, Mister Jennings (MarkClancy). The strength of their two central performances ensures that the play works extremely well. Susan Davey delivers a fine soliloquy as the Irish maid who witnesses the final tragedy. Bravo, all.
There is also an atmospheric soundtrack, plus a few well-chosen audio effects - a ticking clock in Jennings' study suggests that his time is short. Le Fanu's plot is relatively leisurely, of course, but the cast do an exemplary job of keeping the listener absorbed. You know what will happen eventually, of course - but the careful attention to detail in Le Fanu that so impressed M.R. James is in evidence in this adaptation. There's much in the story that I had forgotten, and listening to the drama made me want to read it again.
As well as the story, the book has an introduction by Matthew (Garth Marenghi/Possum) Holness. He asks why so few of Le Fanu's stories have been adapted for film and TV, and offers some interesting answers. He rightly points out that there are many cinematic aspects to Le Fanu's work. There are also two interesting essays by Brian J. Showers and Jim Rockhill. One is a short literary biography of Le Fanu and a look at the story's publication history. Then there is a fascinating piece on how contemporary critics reacted to In a Glass Darkly, in which we find that some anonymous souls gave the stories a right panning. Very heartening, for we minor writers of today.