Authors: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Irish novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Cock and Anchor, 1845

Torlogh O’Brien, 1847

The House by the Churchyard, 1863

Wylder’s Hand, 1864

Uncle Silas, 1864

Guy Deverell, 1865

All in the Dark, 1866

The Tenants of Malory, 1867 (3 volumes)

A Lost Name, 1868

Haunted Lives, 1868

The Wyvern Mystery, 1869

Checkmate, 1871

The Rose and the Key, 1871

Morley Court, 1873

Willing to Die, 1873 (3 volumes)

Short Fiction:

Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery, 1851

Chronicles of Golden Friars, 1871

In a Glass Darkly, 1872

The Purcell Papers, 1880

The Watcher, and Other Weird Stories, 1894

A Chronicle of Golden Friars, and Other Stories, 1896

Madam Crowl’s Ghost, and Other Tales of Mystery, 1923 (M. R. James, editor)

Green Tea, and Other Ghost Stories, 1945

Best Ghost Stories of J. S. Le Fanu, 1964

Ghost Stories and Mysteries, 1975


The Poems of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, 1896


Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (LEHF-uhn-yew or luh FAHN-yew) was the son of the dean of the Irish Episcopal Church and a relative of the famous Sheridans of Ireland. His grandmother was Alice Sheridan Le Fanu, a witty poet and playwright who was the sister of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, author of The Rivals (pr., pb. 1775) and The School for Scandal (pr. 1777). As a student at Trinity College, Dublin, Le Fanu contributed stories to the Dublin University Magazine, which he ultimately edited and used as an outlet for most of his twelve novels. Though he passed his bar examination in 1839, he eschewed the practice of law in order to follow a literary career. Le Fanu became famous overnight with two stirring ballads, “Shamus O’Brien” and “Phaudhrig Crohoore.” Drawn to the occult, the uncanny, and the ominous, he undertook to write a series of horror stories, some of which are considered to rank with the work of Wilkie Collins. The early historical novels, such as The Cock and Anchor and Torlogh O’Brien, seem to modern taste too exaggerated to be effective. By contrast, The House by the Churchyard, his masterpiece, and Uncle Silas, his best-known work, are distinguished by their ingenious plots and tightly knit construction.{$I[AN]9810001435}{$I[A]Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan[LeFanu, Joseph Sheridan]}{$I[geo]IRELAND;Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan[LeFanu, Joseph Sheridan]}{$I[tim]1814;Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan[LeFanu, Joseph Sheridan]}

A play, Beatrice, his one attempt to emulate his granduncle, was a failure and has not survived, but his stories of terror and suspense were enormously popular and still pack a punch. One of his early works, “A Chapter in the History of the Tyrone Family” (1839), reprinted in The Watcher, and Other Weird Stories, has powerfully lurid and violent scenes that have been suggested as a source for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847). Le Fanu is frequently dismissed by literary historians as a “mere incident of the mid-century,” but if the genre of the mystery story is considered a significant branch of literature, Le Fanu must be ranked as one of the important novelists of nineteenth century Ireland.

BibliographyBegnal, Michael H. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1971. An essay-length discussion of Le Fanu’s works, which is valuable in providing general commentary about Le Fanu’s intellectual and artistic interests, especially his sensitive understanding of women.Browne, Nelson. Sheridan Le Fanu. London: Arthur Barker, 1951. This short critical exposition places emphasis on Le Fanu’s “essentially Gothick quality.” The author believes Le Fanu to be at his beat in his short fiction, advancing familiar objections to his novels’ prolixity. Old-fashioned in tone and attitude, but a pioneering study.Crawford, Gary William. J. Sheridan Le Fanu: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Part 1 discusses Le Fanu’s biography; part 2 is a primary, annotated bibliography of magazines, books, anthologies, and manuscripts; part 3 is an annotated secondary bibliography. Includes an appendix on films and plays based on Le Fanu’s work. Also contains two useful indexes.McCormack, W. J. Dissolute Characters: Irish Literary History Through Balzac, Sheridan Le Fanu, Yeats, and Bowen. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993. The section on Le Fanu discusses his relationship to the English novel, the development of his fiction, his treatment of characters, and his drawing on history. Includes notes but no bibliography.McCormack, W. J. Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1980. The standard work on Le Fanu. The author’s approach is twofold. First, this study is a detailed biography of Le Fanu. Second, it locates, with much intellectual sophistication, Le Fanu’s life in his times, giving to what might remain mere biographical data the stamp of historical significance. A second, enlarged edition of this important work was issued in 1991.Melada, Ivan. Sheridan Le Fanu. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Melada’s approach is chronological, proceeding from Le Fanu’s early short fiction to the major novels with which his career ends. The author sees Le Fanu as a writer of popular fiction, the quality of which entitles him to serious academic consideration. Contains a chronology and a bibliography.Orel, Harold. The Victorian Short Story. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986. In his chapter on Le Fanu, Orel discusses Le Fanu’s contributions to the development of the horror tale in the nineteenth century. Discusses the most important stories in In a Glass Darkly, including “Mr. Justice Harbottle,” “Green Tea,” and “Carmilla.”Sage, Victor. Le Fanu’s Gothic: The Rhetoric of Darkness. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. This work examines Le Fanu’s stylistic development and includes extensive analyses of Uncle Silas in addition to rarely discussed unpublished romances. Includes bibliography and index.Schnepf, Chester H. The Protagonist’s Dilemma in Poe and Le Fanu: The Emergence of the Modern Gothic Tradition. Waldoboro, Maine: Goose River Press, 2003. Locates Le Fanu as a progenitor, with Edgar Allan Poe, of the gothic in literature. Bibliographic references.Signorotti, Elizabeth. “Repossessing the Body: Transgressive Desire in ’Carmilla’ and Dracula.” Criticism 38 (Fall, 1996): 607-632. Argues that in contrast to Bram Stoker’s work, the female characters in Le Fanu’s story are allowed to usurp male authority; claims that Dracula attempts to repossess the female body for the purposes of male pleasure and exchange and to rectify the reckless unleashing of female desire that occurs in Carmilla.Sullivan, Jack. Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1978. A detailed discussion of “Green Tea” as the archetypal ghost story in the nineteenth century. Argues that the story is an intentionally fuzzy narrative, much like many of the stories of Ambrose Bierce.Sullivan, Kevin. “The House by the Churchyard: James Joyce and Sheridan Le Fanu.” In Modern Irish Literature: Essays in Honour of William York Tindall, edited by Raymond J. Porter and James D. Brophy. New Rochelle, N.Y.: Iona College Press, 1972. Le Fanu’s novel The House by the Churchyard has some of its significant scenes set in the village of Chapelizod, a few miles west of Dublin and at the western end of the Phoenix Park. James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939) contains numerous important allusions to both these Dublin settings. This essay traces the presence of the earlier work in the later. The undertaking is both an academic rehabilitation of Le Fanu’s novel and an illustrative instance of Joyce’s method in Finnegans Wake.Towheed, Shafquat. “A Chasm in the Narrative of J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s ’Green Tea.’” Notes and Queries 46 (March, 1999): 67. Accounts for a chronological inconsistency in the story by arguing the author of this serial fiction inadvertently confused real time and fictional time.Veeder, William. “’Carmilla’: The Arts of Repression.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 22 (1980): 197-223. A highly detailed discussion of the psychological dynamics of the story as a story of sexual repression. Discusses the dualities that dominate the story.Walton, James. Vision and Vacancy: The Fictions of J. S. Le Fanu. Dublin: University College Dublin Press, 2007. An examination of Le Fanu’s horror writing and how it stands apart from traditional ghost stories of the Victorian era. Also discussed are Le Fanu’s philosophies and literary influences.
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