Through the Looking Glass Darkly: The Alice Influence in some later fictions of Sheridan Le Fanu
This paper intends to examine the influence of Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories on Le Fanu’s last three novels: Checkmate (1871), The Rose and the Key (1871), and Willing to Die (1872). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland first appeared in 1865, and was an instant success; it has saturated the public consciousness ever since. Le Fanu’s late fiction contains discernible echoes of Carroll’s tale, most notably in the Alice-pattern his three final heroines follow. In each of Le Fanu’s texts, a clear split is made between a state of relative innocence and a realm of bizarre bewilderment peopled with absurd, sensational events and characters. This divide is often signalled by a geographical relocation that mimics Carroll’s Alice as she falls down a rabbit hole – a dramatic transportation to an uncanny illogical world where the comforting certainties of home and hearth are severely troubled. Thus Maud Vernon’s incarceration in The Rose and the Key signals a period of developing maturity amongst a throng of eccentric – even mad – characters who roam a landscaped croquet ground obviously redolent of Carroll’s story; and Ethel Ware’s removal from the country home of Malory in Willing to Die begins a series of dangers and trials for her as she formally enters society. In Checkmate, the aptly named Alice Arden becomes the “pawn” in a contest between Longcluse and her brother Richard. Longcluse is revealed to be a master strategist, “on every subject […] the cleverest fellow […]—art, literature, games, chess” (Chapter X); and certainly Carroll’s interest in chess and mathematical problems takes precedence in Through the Looking Glass (1871), published the year previous to Checkmate. Ultimately, in both authors’ texts, young females must negotiate their way through a maze of novel events, deciding which of the numerous numinous voices surrounding them speak wisdom and which utter nonsense.
The Wicked Fairy and the Child: Mysterious Seducers, Enchanted Victims and Intertextuality in three short stories and a novella
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s tales are often distinguished by the tendency to ‘intersect’ with one another, in both content and style. Whilst some of his stories might be regarded only as early versions of later, more complete, texts, the recurrent motifs and overlappings in plot and ideas that characterize a considerable part of his literary work, may indicate something more than that. Themes, notions, characters and entire scenes re-emerge in different texts, slightly or more altered, often complementing and reinforcing one another; nodding at the reader that they are the chain links of interconnected stories that form an interwoven system of thinking which the reader is invited to (re)interpret.
In this context, the purpose of this paper is to explore broad and narrow intertextuality, in four Le Fanu works that are all somehow intertwined with one another: ‘The Child that went with the Fairies’, ‘Ultor de Lacy’, ‘Laura Silver Bell’ and ‘Carmilla’. All four texts are closely associated with the supernatural world (fairies, ghosts, vampires) and shape, more or less, similar stories which I will analyze comparatively as to the repeated themes and motifs they share: seduction and parasitism, the ambivalent roles of predators and their preys, as well as the disruptive forces of sex, death and self-destruction that are unconsciously integrated within normality, innocence and virtue. Moreover, I will aim to demonstrate how the texts often tend to implicitly ‘refer’ to one another, and how they are related through allusion and self-imitation. Furthermore, my sources will include material based on both Le Fanu’s life and work.
In this respect, this paper might contribute to a fresh examination of some lesser known Le Fanu tales, and a presentation of a famous work of his through the connection to earlier/minor texts – thus stressing that intertextuality needs to become more prominent in order to achieve a better understanding of the author’s work.
Brinsley Le Fanu’s contribution to his father’s biography and art
This paper will examine the role of Brinsley Le Fanu (1854-1929) in shaping accounts of his father and in illustrating posthumous publications. I shall draw on research undertaken for my book Le Fanu’s Ghost (2006) and on later investigation that has yet to be concluded. Sources include the section of the Le Fanu archive still held by the family and the Edmund Downey correspondence held by the National Library of Ireland.
I shall focus both on Dublin and ‘Ireland in London’, as Francis Fahy termed it. Brinsley trained as an artist in Dublin, London and Paris. He lived in Chelsea and Lavender Hill, maintaining contact with Irish writers including Downey and, intermittently, members of the Le Fanu family. He provided anecdotes which were relayed by A.P. Graves and S.M. Ellis in early accounts of J.S. Le Fanu. Downey also used information supplied by Brinsley for an article published prior to Ellis’s essay. I shall trace this process of accretion.
Besides illustrating his father’s work, Brinsley worked on many of the titles in W.T. Stead’s extensive series of children’s classics. Much of the latter ‘jobbing work’ must have been undertaken hastily. Other, more refined work was done for books such as Downey’s Little Green Man (written under the name F.M. Allen). I shall offer an assessment of Brinsley’s abilities and pinpoint some examples of inspired accompaniment or interpretation.
Reference will also be made to other family members, including J.S. Le Fanu’s daughter Eleanor [Ella] Robertson, the novelist, who planned to write a memoir of her father. Finally, I shall indicate some tantalising leads that remain to be pursued.
Richard Marston of Dunoran – A Tragedy across Three Decades
Discussion and analysis of J. S. Le Fanu’s three-part novella “Some Account of the Latter Days of the Hon. Richard Marston of Dunoran” (Dublin University Magazine, April-June 1848), contrasting it with its truncated version translated to England as “The Evil Guest” (Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851)), and with its much elaborated triple-decker novel version, A Lost Name (1868) – consideration of strengths and drawbacks of each; in particular how each differs from the other on the theme of religious belief, and how the novel version, being set in the mid-nineteenth century, differs in structure, style and plot from the earlier two versions, set just before the French Revolution. This discussed in the overall context of Le Fanu’s demonstrated tendency to revise and elaborate his fictional work – with brief comparative treatment of the enlargement of “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess (1838) (through “The Murdered Cousin” (1851)) to Uncle Silas (1864) and “A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family” (1839), which grew into The Wyvern Mystery (1869).
‘Squire Toby’s Will’: the narratological implications of Le Fanu’s Anglo-Irish subtexts
It has long been recognized that Le Fanu’s later ‘English’ fiction often remained permeated by the Irish concerns of his early work. ‘Squire Toby’s Will’, while set in Yorkshire, is replete with Anglo-Irish motifs such as the decaying house, the doomed landowning aristocrat, or hints of a Faustian bargain which can all prompt comparisons with Big House fiction. While such motifs may prompt us to consider this text as yet another ‘Irish tale in disguise’, they work equally well within the English Gothic tradition. The story’s most crucial Irish dimension, I will suggest, rather concerns its apparent narratological oddities, which have gone unnoticed in the scarce commentary that this neglected text has attracted. ‘Squire Toby’s Will’ is related by a heterodiegetic first-person narrator whose flights of imagination seemingly rely on suspensions of disbelief concerning his knowledge of events. Placing the story within an Anglo-Irish tradition, however, highlights the dubious narratological role played by the servant, whose literary ancestry can most profitably be traced back to Maria Edgeworth’s Thady in Castle Rackrent. Thady’s example underscores the subtly manipulative nature of the ‘faithful’ servant both as a character and as a concealed, but pivotal intermediary narrator, which a cursory reading of ‘Squire Toby’s Will’ might easily overlook.
Le Fanu’s ‘Green Tea’ and Irish Victorian Calvinism
Over the past five decades, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s supernaturalist tale ‘Green Tea’ (1869) has been analyzed via multiple critical frameworks from theology to Darwinism to psychoanalysis to gender studies. In the past two decades, postcolonial critics from Ireland, the U.K., and the U.S.A. have attempted to establish an Irish and imperial context for the tale. But critics who seek to contextualize the story plausibly must grapple with W. J. McCormack’s caveat concerning ‘the difficulty of establishing criteria by which two differing modes of experience [(i) literary text; (ii) biographical / political context] may be compared’, since ‘one is constantly betrayed into sleight of hand by analogy or metaphor’ (Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland 146). The first part of the proposed paper briefly examines some of the interpretative problems arising from such “sleight of hand” techniques and argues that the hermeneutical richness of ‘Green Tea’ opens up broader questions about the role of theory in Irish literary studies today. The second part of the paper engages with McCormack’s complementary caveat that ‘the autonomy-critic [or formalist] may observe patterns and forms, but he [or she] cannot appreciate their significance’ unless ‘the political context of their composition is admitted as relevant’ (146; my emphasis). I argue, in contrast, that for a text like ‘Green Tea’, whose “political context” is difficult to establish, the search for cultural “significance” may be more fruitfully pursued and more plausibly construed by focusing on a different context—the theological rather than the political, particularly as revealed in a comparison between ‘Green Tea’ and the spiritual journal Le Fanu kept after his wife’s death. Nevertheless, the paper concludes by expressing caution about the degree to which we can extrapolate from our understanding of Le Fanu’s artistic use of Calvinist themes to larger claims about Irish Victorian Calvinism.
Hyphenated States: The Postcolonial Geographies of J. S. Le Fanu’s Gothic Fiction
‘You might as well expect to find a decayed cheese without mites, or an old house without rats, as an antique and dilapidated town without an authentic population of goblins’. – J. S. Le Fanu
This paper will seek to establish the ways in which Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic fiction can be re-read as postcolonial texts.
The gothic propensity in Anglo-Irish writing is well-documented; widely acknowledged to be motivated by the very tangible fear of a burgeoning (and increasingly hostile), Catholic peasantry in Ireland. What is perhaps not considered, however, is that the gothic mode of writing allows for a multi-directional flow of meaning: that by utilising motifs of haunting and spectral encounter, the gothic text creates a space in which the disavowed indigenous Irish are written into being, and the Anglo-Irish colonisers can vicariously confront their colonial ‘Other’.
As an Anglo-Irish writer, Le Fanu is both coloniser and colonised: living in a hyphenated state between the imperial centre and the colonial outpost. Espousing postcolonial gothic and settler theory, this paper will attest to the innate postcoloniality of Le Fanu’s writing, highlighting moments of colonial encounter and unearthing ‘the “repressed” of colonization: collective guilt, the memory of violence and dispossession’. This paper will also trace the postcolonial geographies in the landscapes and architecture of Le Fanu’s texts. It will examine the ways in which urban and rural spaces interact in a mimesis of the coloniser-colonised relationship, constantly depicted in uncomfortable proximity to one-another: sites physical and psychological encounter with the ‘Other’.
Reception: back drawing-rooms in Le Fanu and Bowen
In writing her preface to the 1947 reissue of Uncle Silas, Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) assisted in the rehabilitation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s reputation and the subsequent critical re-evaluation of his work. Correctly identifying it as ‘an Irish story transposed to an English setting’, Bowen also recognised his treatment of the ‘accepted facts of life for the race of hybrids from which Le Fanu sprang’ (The Mulberry Tree 100-13). Such accepted facts inherent in Le Fanu’s Gothic fictions are part of the Anglo-Irish literary tradition inherited, modified and perpetuated by Bowen.
Reception is central to the focus of this paper, from our reception of the work of these authors, to the reception spaces of their fictions, and to the reception of unwelcome guests within them. Considering the significance of Bowen’s prefaces to two of Le Fanu’s novels – Uncle Silas and The House by the Church-yard (1947 and 1968) – this paper develops into a comparative reading of Le Fanu’s “Green Tea” (1872) and Bowen’s “The Back Drawing-Room” (1926). Back drawing-rooms are significant to both stories and, through the authors’ respective treatment of these suggestive subordinate spaces, play host to projections of colonial anxiety and, ultimately, can be read metaphorically as manifestations of the subconscious.