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Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu


Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-73), "The Invisible Prince", Irish journalist and writer, father of the Victorian ghost story. While he is best known for his novel about the "venerable, bloodless, fiery-eyed" uncle, Uncle Silas (1864) it was his vampire novella Carmilla (1872) that would contribute to defining the horror genre and probably influenced Bram Stoker in his writing of Dracula.

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was born 28 August, 1814 to noble Huguenot parents Thomas Philip Le Fanu, a clergyman, and Emma Lucretia Dobbin Le Fanu. During the first few years of the Tithe Wars the Le Fanu family lived in Abington, county Limerick, at great risk. Exposure to folk superstitions in rural Ireland surely left an impression on Le Fanu at an early age.

In 1833 Le Fanu entered Trinity College, Dublin to study law, graduating in 1839. He was called to the bar but never practiced, instead embarking on a career in journalism. He joined the staff of the Dublin University magazine. In 1838 Le Fanu's first story The Ghost and the Bonesetter was published in the Dublin University Magazine, which he was to become proprietor and editor of in 1861. Many of his short stories were to form the basis for his future novels, some of them appearing anonymously.

In 1844 Le Fanu married Susanna Bennett with whom he had 4 children. Sir Walter Scott was to influence his first novel The C'ock and Anchor (1845). His second novel The Fortunes of Colonel Torlogh O'Brien was published in 1847. In 1851 Le Fanu and Susanna moved to their house on Merrion Square, Dublin, where he remained until his death. Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery was published this year and The Mysterious Lodger in 1850.

In the year 1858 Le Fanu's wife Susanna died and he became a recluse, setting to work in his most productive and successful years as a writer. With two candles for light while nocturnally writing, he was to become a major figure of 19thC supernaturalism. His work turned Gothic's focus on external sources of horror to the inward psychological potential to strike fear in the hearts of men. Le Fanu wrote to George Bentley his publisher that through his writing he sought "the equilibrium between natural and the super-natural.."

A series of books came forth in close succession: Wylder's Hand (1864), Guy Deverell (1865), The Tenants of Malory (1867), The Green Tea (1869), The Haunted Baronet (1870), Mr. Justice Harbottle (1872), The Room in the Dragon Volant (1872) and In a Glass Darkly. (1872)

On 7 February, 1873, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu died in Merrion Square and lies buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin, Ireland.

The Purcell Papers (1880) were published posthumously. Le Fanu would have entered the annals of obscurity were it not for M.R. James who published a collection of Le Fanu's work in 1923.

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.

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