‘The supposed incipiency of mental disease’

Guilt, regret and suicide in three ghost stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

in Suicide and the Gothic
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In recent years, J. Sheridan Le Fanu's ghost-story collection In a Glass Darkly (1871) has been interpreted through its Gothic, medical and theological contexts. Yet the focus of these disparate literary and cultural discourses at the moment of death and – more pointedly – in the enactment of self-annihilation has never been explored. The first three narratives in the collection, ‘Green Tea’, ‘The Familiar’ and ‘Mr Justice Harbottle’, depict troubled, indeed persecuted, individuals – a diffident clergyman, a retired naval officer, a notorious and corrupt hanging judge – whose lives end prematurely following a personal contemplation of past actions known to themselves, but not to their contemporaries. This chapter will consider the deteriorating mental states of the Reverend Jennings and Captain Barton, the respective protagonists of ‘Green Tea’ and ‘The Familiar’, and the retrospective account which charts the final days of the unfortunate Mr Justice Harbottle. All three stories amply illustrate the complex relationship between introspection and self-destruction in the persecutory tradition of Gothic fiction.

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