Friday, August 29, 2014

Sheridan Le Fanu - leading ghost-story writer of his day

Yet another Irish and Dublin-born author has been honoured with a Google Doodle. Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 - 1873) joins the ranks that include James Joyce, Flann O'Brien and most significantly, Bram Stoker. The occasion of this Google tribute is to mark the 200th anniversary of his birth.


Described as the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century (Source: Wikipedia), he is widely credited with pioneering the genre of vampire fiction, directly influencing compatriot and fellow Dubliner, Bram Stoker in the composition of his classic work, Dracula. While not quite as well known as Stoker's oeuvre, Le Fanu's novella, Carmilla, preceded Dracula by more than 25 years. With its dark erotic overtones, it has been adapted many times and in different media since it was first published in 1871. In an age when vampire lore and legend has assumed a worldwide following, spawning a global industry of books, films, cultural iconography and so forth, it may surprise some to learn that the origins lie very much here, in Ireland.

Carmilla.jpg
"Carmilla" by David Henry Friston - English wikipedia via http://www.lacrypte.net/images/carmilla1.jpg.
Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was born in Dublin on 28 August, 1814. His place of birth is given as 45 Lower Dominick Street on Dublin's northside but his family moved soon thereafter, to the parish of Chapelizod in the vicinity of Phoenix Park. There is today, both a road and a park named after him in the Ballyfermot area of Dublin, close to where he grew up.

Born into a middle class family of literary distinction (Both his grandmother Alicia Sheridan LeFanu and his great-uncle Richard Brinsley Sheridan were playwrights (his niece Rhoda Broughton would become a successful novelist, according to Wikipedia) he struggled nevertheless, for most of his life with financial difficulties, leading to a varied but interesting career. Such circumstances probably lead to his support for popular causes of the day that carried a strong emphasis on social and political reform. He moved in circles that included Isaac Butt, Samuel Ferguson, John Mitchel, Thomas Francis Meagher.

Among his best known works, still widely read today, include Uncle Silas (1864) and In a Glass Darkly, a collection of short stories published shortly before his death that includes his seminal work, Carmilla.

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