It is a central thesis that nineteenth-century Ireland went through a series of traumatic processes of modernization, which have been denied and repressed in their aftermath. The mediated presence of Sheridan Le Fanu and Honore de Balzac in the work of W.B. Yeats brings to a head political questions of the utmost gravity, the most notable being Yeats's engagement with fascism. Le Fanu has been persistently aligned with a so-called Irish gothic tradition. The objective in this book is to observe the historical forces inscribed in Le Fanu's distinctive non-affiliation to this doubtful tradition. The book presents a French response to Charles Maturin's gothic work, Melmoth the Wanderer, which is followed by discussion of a triangular pattern linking Balzac, Le Fanu and Yeats. This is followed by an attempt to pay concentrate attention within the texts of Le Fanu's novels and tales, with only a due regard for the historical setting of Le Fanu's The House by the Churchyard. An admirer of Le Fanu's fiction, Elizabeth Bowen adopted some of the stock-in-trade of the ghost story to investigate altered experiences of reality under the blitz. A detailed examination of her The Heat of the Day serves to reopen questions of fixity of character, national identity and historical reflexivity. In this work, the empty seat maintained for the long dead Guy might be decoded as a suitably feeble attempt to repatriate Le Fanu's Guy Deverell from an English to an Irish 1950s setting.
characters. By this kind
of misreading, DissoluteCharacters could be taken as a
rebuke of Le Fanu and a covert endorsement of the more conventional
writers who contributed to The Dublin University Magazine
during the years of his proprietorship. Then, there is the second
danger – that of the book’s casually giving the
appearance of confusing the novelist with the man, husband
By focusing mainly on Sheridan Le Fanu, this chapter deals with a Victorian novelist of Irish birth and French background who utilised English, Welsh and Irish settings in his fiction. Le Fanu has been persistently aligned with a so-called Irish gothic tradition, inaugurated by Charles Robert Maturin and rendered notorious by Bram Stoker whose Dracula successfully transferred to the twentieth century and the snuff movie. The chapter also discusses the historical forces inscribed in Le Fanu's distinctive non-affiliation to the doubtful gothic tradition. In Le Fanu's recurrent character, Richard Marston, there is perhaps a nervous impersonation of Vautrin. Le Fanu's relation to his distinguished French contemporary raises far more engaging problems than those of a merely convenient tradition of Irish Gothicism.
The apocalypse preoccupied W. B. Yeats not only as an aspect of his theosophical system but also as a metaphor in the political domain. In the late nineteenth century, Yeats was associated with a series of subversive movements in which violent politics, irrationalist philosophy and sexual irregularity overlapped. Like Honore de Balzac with regard to Emanuel Swedenborg, Yeats was perhaps never fully convinced of, or committed to, the doctrines he espoused from time to time. Nevertheless, the name of Aleister Crowley will serve as an adequate shorthand for some of his activities. In the later stage of his career, when Yeats was preoccupied more with the politics of the dead, Le Fanu's Uncle Silas featured in Yeats's early drafts of the play about Jonathan Swift's post-mortem existence.
The Swedenborgian-cum-Yeatsian notion of 'dreaming-back' one's earthly experiences after one's death is not simply a dramatic device existing in isolation from any larger body of belief. Swedenborgian correspondence provided a means whereby a central doctrine is extended to account for every detail of the visible world: The whole natural world corresponds to the spiritual world, not only the natural world in general but also in every particular. Uncle Silas, being the best known of Le Fanu's novels, can stand as typical, and it has the additional merit of explicitly citing Swedenborgian texts. Le Fanu's fiction deals with a number of themes which occur prominently in Honore de Balzac. These include Swedenborgian doctrines concerning not only ultimate spiritual truth but matters as immediate as marriage and sexuality.
The opening pages of The House by the Church-yard are a dies irae, day of wrath, or even Day of Judgement for the Irish eighteenth century. In strict literary terms, The House by the Churchyard owes less to Scott than to the costume novels of Harrison Ainsworth, and also to the (anti-)puritan fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The innumerable elements and sub-elements into which The House by the Church-yard might be analysed are arranged in a centrifugal pattern precisely so as to screen from scrutiny the actual centre from which they issue. The House by the Church-yard combines two never wholly reconcilable aspects. It excavates the past, laying bare the evidence of deceit and homocide. It assimilates the past, transforming the ruddy-handed Eliabethan lord of creation into a dreamy paterfamilias or love-struck soldier.
Le Fanu published two short stories in The Dublin University Magazine; set in County Limerick and seventeenth-century Milan respectively, 'Ultor de Lacy' and 'Borrhomeo the Astrologer' indicate a breadth of reference which also impresses. These two unacknowledged stories of 1861-2 should be read as part of an anxious Victorian reconsideration of major theological and political themes. With its glimpse of Elizabethan massacre 'Ultor de Lacy' remains an isolated item in Le Fanu's writing. The purported incident upon which it is based is of the kind chronicled in Thomas Stafford's Pacata Hibernica. Ultor De Lacy was neither the butcher of 1601 nor the victim of Ultor O'Donnell's supernatural revenge. He lived between these savage events, implicated in the 1745 Jacobite rising it is true, but a middling fellow, a central character in that apparently immunising sense.
Sheridan Le Fanu's The House by the Church-yard had included less concentrated inquiries of a kind similar to those conducted in the stories of 1861-2. Whether for financial reasons alone or otherwise, Le Fanu was obliged to abandon Irish historical settings in all his subsequent full-length novels. The novel Wylder's Hand, in allowing its narrator to associate freely round the name of Rachel Lake, displays its open frontier to Irish history and intrigue. Though there is a powerful contrast between this novel and its renowned successor, Uncle Silas, Le Fanu's first attempt at a novel of English contemporary life, deserves attention. The implosive order of Uncle Silas demonstrates a corollary, that symmetry sustains itself only in destruction. Yet in his efforts towards a singular universe Le Fanu unveils evidences of serial character and plural textuality which may prove to be innovative.
The revelation of character has been presented as the supreme achievement of the novelist's art, its depth and complexity surpassing even the remarkable personalities of the ordinary world. For Victorians, names were imposed by inheritance or marriage, and the coercive implications in relation to a sense of character may be noted. The distinctive characteristics of Sheridan Le Fanu's fictional use of names are its lack of system combined with its pervasive reduplication: both constitute forms of coercion. The biblical quotation or motto is only one instance of Le Fanu's incorporation of brief or fragmentary textual matter into the narrative of novel or story. The contribution of names to characterisation is particularly tantalising in Le Fanu's treatment of women. Le Fanu's anxious inquiry into questions of historical responsibility, character construction and sexuality inflicted its own damage on the novelist.
Art seeks to control art in those scenes where Rembrandt's name or Wouvermans' is invoked. Even in the apparently superficial and immediate world of Brandon Hall, the narrator of Wylder's Hand had experienced in sleep the projective violence of art. In Guy Deverell and Wylder's Hand, the incidents apparently reactivating pictures are finally explained in mundane terms; in contrast, the short stories remain generally cryptic in their introduction of pictures. Explanation of a picture's significance or apparent power in the novels goes hand-in-hand with their rationalisation of the supernatural. In contrast, the short work is gnomic as to demons, ghosts and vampires as well as to painters' names. Sheridan Le Fanu's use of painting provides the opportunity to consider the problem of classification of literary genre. Words associated with painting and the depiction of lighted scenes proliferate, 'perspective', 'shade', 'dusky light', 'shadow', 'shadow' again, 'dark', and even perhaps 'lightly'.