Now Reading: Sheridan Le Fanu

My Wilkie Collins Craze is (nearly) over — gottseidank. Reading now breathlessly the last pages of Armadale.

Next, I’m expecting Great Things from Sheridan Le Fanu.

This is an Illustration for his novel Carmilla:


The novel tells the story, apparently, “of a young woman’s susceptibility to the attentions of a female vampire named Carmilla”, and is a great hit with feminists and scholars of gender studies. Wilkie Collins’ fascinating Victorian women, first and foremost Marian Halcombe, of course, and her as good as public lesbian relationship with her half-sister, but also the swarthy and especially the gorgeously red-headed villainesses have made me want more.

Joseph thomas Sheridan Le Fanu came to my attention a long time ago. In Dorothy L. Sayers‘s novel Gaudy Night (1935), Harriet Vane is doing research for a monograph on Sheridan Le Fanu, which is later reported to have been published. However, Sayers’ first quotes of Le Fanu appear in an earlier Lord Peter Wimsey novel, The Nine Tailors (1934), and a mysterious letter in the same novel is referred to by Mervyn Bunter as “written by a person of no inconsiderable literary ability, who had studied the works of Sheridan Lefanu [sic] and was, if I may be permitted the expression, bats in the belfry, my lord.”
Lord Peter’s christening present to Harriet — by then Lady Peter — for their first child is a quill pen which had belonged to Sheridan Le Fanu.

Some critics, among them William Veeder, suggest that Carmilla, notably in its outlandish use of narrative frames, was an important influence on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Most certainly something to look out for!

I will start with In a Glass Darkly (1872), a collection of five short stories. These are presented as the posthumous papers of the occult detective Dr Hesselius, and include:

  • “Green Tea”
  • “The Familiar”
  • “Mr Justice Harbottle”
  • “The Room in the Dragon Volant”
  • “Carmilla”

9 thoughts on “Now Reading: Sheridan Le Fanu

  1. Anja, you’re inspiring me to go back to more of Collins’ work — the words “female vampire” and “Carmilla” are just too tempting! Looking forward to hearing more about your assessments of the Collins fixation.

    Also, can you tell me what books to read *after* the Collins fixation is over? Because after plowing through The Woman in White one summer, I was completely at a loss to find something satisfying to read in the weeks afterward; all that quiet literary fiction I typically read seemed so … well, mumblecore in contrast.

  2. Hi Didion, and thanks! Just posted some remarks on my Wilkie Collins readings.

    I’ve started on Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Green Tee” — this seems to be more In the detective novel tradition, although with an “occultist” detective. I’ve only read about 20 pages, and it’s already giving me the creeps 🙂

    I had actually thought of calming the feverish mind with George Eliot — but, as you say, a lesbian vampire named Carmilla is just too tempting!

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