Authors: Lafcadio Hearn

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American, then Japanese short-story writer and novelist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Stray Leaves from Strange Literature, 1884

Some Chinese Ghosts, 1887

Kotto: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs, 1902

Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things, 1904

The Romance of the Milky Way, 1905

Fantastics and Other Fancies, 1914

Long Fiction:

Chita: A Memory of Last Island, 1889

Youma: The Story of a West-Indian Slave, 1890

Nonfiction:

Historical Sketch Book and Guide to New Orleans and Environs, 1885

Two Years in the French West Indies, 1890

Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan, 1894

Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life, 1896

Gleanings in Buddha-Fields, 1897

Exotics and Retrospectives, 1898

In Ghostly Japan, 1899

Some Strange English Literary Figures of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, 1899

Shadowings, 1900

Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation, 1904

Lafcadio Hearn, Japan’s Great Interpreter: A New Anthology of His Writings, 1894-1904, 1992 (Louis Allen and Jean Wilson, editors)

Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, 2001 (S. Frederick Starr, editor)

Lafcadio Hearn’s America: Ethnographic Sketches and Editorials, 2002 (Simon J. Bronner, editor)

Biography

Lafcadio Hearn is remembered for a delicate, continuously responsive sensibility and style; an interest in the weird, the strange, and the uncanny, especially as these qualities are manifested in folklore; and an ability to move between cultures that was in many ways far ahead of his time.{$I[AN]9810000124}{$I[A]Hearn, Lafcadio}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Hearn, Lafcadio}{$I[geo]GREECE;Hearn, Lafcadio}{$I[geo]JAPAN;Hearn, Lafcadio}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Hearn, Lafcadio}{$I[tim]1850;Hearn, Lafcadio}

Lafcadio Hearn

(Library of Congress)

Born Patricio Lafcadio Tessima Carlos Hearn in the Ionian Islands on June 27, 1850, he was the son of a British army surgeon and a young Greek woman of a respected family. Her elopement with a member of the unpopular British occupational forces broke her ties with her own family; thus, when she could not follow her husband to the West Indies, she and the infant Lafcadio went to Ireland to live with his family. There, religious differences, the language barrier, and her keen sensitivity to the criticism of her in-laws and, later, of her returned husband led to a mental collapse from which she never completely recovered. She eventually returned to the Ionian Islands, married a compatriot, and died in a mental hospital on Corfu.

Hearn was left in Ireland to live an unsettled life as the ward of a very devout great-aunt, becoming prey to all sorts of fears, especially of the supernatural. He was educated at home by tutors and at a church school in Normandy before being sent to Saint Cuthbert’s College near Durham, England. Here his imaginative pranks and winning nature won him many friends among the students.

Hearn left college without a degree because of three personal tragedies. Extremely myopic, he lost the sight of one of his eyes when it was accidentally struck by a classmate during a game. About this same time, his great-aunt lost her wealth through the business speculations of a relative she wished to help, and Hearn’s own father, who might have contributed financially to his schooling, died on a return voyage from service in India. His father’s money was left to three daughters by a second marriage.

The great-aunt, now senile, resorted to sending Hearn to the United States. After two desperate years in New York, he went to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he was befriended by Henry Watkin, an English printer who helped launch his career as a journalist, first with the Cincinnati Enquirer and later with the Cincinnati Commercial. Hearn made his reputation in Cincinnati by reporting a sensational tan-yard murder in grisly, lurid detail.

After six years in Cincinnati, Hearn lived in New Orleans for ten years, becoming first assistant editor of the New Orleans City Item, then assistant editor of the New Orleans Democrat, and finally literary editor of the Times-Democrat. In New Orleans, he attacked corruption in city government, praised George Washington Cable’s writing about Louisiana Creoles, reconstructed tales from Arabian and Chinese literatures, and above all, through his translations in newspapers, introduced Émile Zola, Guy de Maupassant, and Pierre Loti to an American reading public.

Twice he visited the West Indies, where the color and charm of native life made an immediate appeal to his senses. Exotic travel sketches and two novellas about Creole life gained him an international audience before he departed for Japan in 1890 on an assignment from Harper and Brothers.

Hearn planned to stay in Japan for only a short time, but he was so thrilled with the culture he found there–one he immediately recognized as rivaling that of the West–that he spent the rest of his life there, identifying himself with the Japanese by marrying into a Japanese family and by becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen. His studies of customs and legends and his acute interpretations of the Japanese were translated into many languages. In 1895, after teaching in several secondary schools, he was made professor of English literature in the Imperial University of Tokyo.

When he died in Tokyo on September 26, 1904, he was buried with Buddhist rites in a Buddhist cemetery. This was his wish–to die and be cremated and buried like the Japanese. Given Hearn’s penchant for the exotic, Western critics and scholars have often questioned his understanding of what he saw in Japan as well as his ability to shed his own background and culture. Yet nowhere are works by and about Hearn as popular as in Japan, where he is considered an author who gave the Japanese significant insights into their own national character.

BibliographyBisland, Elizabeth. The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906. An authorized biography.Cott, Jonathan. Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn. New York: Knopf, 1990. Particularly valuable for literary analysis.Dawson, Carl. Lafcadio Hearn and the Vision of Japan. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992. This book’s strength is in its examination of Hearn’s European background.Gale, Robert L. A Lafcadio Hearn Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. An encyclopedia devoted to Hearn. Includes bibliographical references and an index.Hasegawa, Yoji. A Walk in Kumamoto: The Life and Times of Setsu Koizumi, Lafcadio Hearn’s Japanese Wife: Including a New Translation of Her Memoir “Reminiscences.” Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental, 1997. As informant and translator, Setsu provided Hearn with many of sources for his tale adaptations. Her reminiscences of her husband thus contain valuable accounts of his short-story production.Hirakawa, Sukehiro, ed. Rediscovering Lafcadio Hearn: Japanese Legends Life and Culture. Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental, 1997. Although quite miscellaneous, this important collection includes treatment of Hearn’s short fictions, such as the influence on one of them by Charles Baudelaire.Hughes, George. “Lafcadio Hearn: Between Britain and Japan.” Poetica, no. 44 (l995). Analyzes Hearn’s role as East-West cultural mediator.Metzinger, Sylvia Verdun. “Lafcadio Hearn: The Japanese Years.” AB Bookman’s Weekly, September 17, 1990. A concise sketch of Hearn’s life in general and his last years in Japan in particular.Murray, Paul. A Fantastic Journey: The Life and Literature of Lafcadio Hearn. Folkestone, Kent: Japan Library, 1993. Like a number of the new works on Hearn, this one emphasizes the Irish influences on Hearn.Ronan, Sean G., ed. Irish Writing on Lafcadio Hearn and Japan: Writer Journalist and Teacher. Folkestone, Kent: Global Oriental, 1997. A former Irish ambassador to Japan, Ronan assembles tributes.Stevenson, Elizabeth. The Grass Lark: A Study of Lafcadio Hearn. New ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1999. An authoritative biography.Yu, Beongcheon. An Ape of Gods: The Art and Thought of Lafcadio Hearn. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1964. It assesses the degree to which Hearn managed to intuit a universal “philosophy” based on a combination of European and Japanese attitudes.
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