28 August 1814 – 7 February 1873
18 Merrion Square
Feb. 9th /73.
Dear Lord Dufferin,
I write a line to tell you of our terrible loss. My darling father died on Friday morning [7 February] at 6 o’Clock. He had almost got over a bad attack of Bronchitis but his strength gave way & he sank very quickly & died in his sleep. His face looks so happy with a beautiful smile on it. We were quite unprepared for the end. My brother Philip & I never left him during his illness & we were hopeful and happy about him even the day before he seemed to be much better. But it comforts me to think he is in Heaven, for no one could have been better than he was. He lived only for us, and his life was a most troubled one. I know you will feel this Dear Lord Dufferin. He loved you very much and very often spoke of you.
Ever your affectionate,
Emmie L. Le Fanu
The above note was sent by Le Fanu’s daughter, Emma Lucretia, to his cousin, Frederick Temple Blackwood, 1st Marquis of Dufferin and Ava. It was written in a long flowing hand on card with a heavy black border. According to the diary of Le Fanu’s brother, William, the author breathed his last at “½ past 6”. He was interred in a vault in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Harold’s Cross, Dublin on 11 February, where he joined his wife Susanna. A stream of obituaries followed, lamenting the loss of Dublin’s “Invisible Prince”.
Le Fanu had many admirers, among them ghost story writer M.R. James, who famously observed that Le Fanu, “succeeds in inspiring a mysterious terror better than any other writer”; and Henry James who wrote that author’s novels were, “the ideal reading in a country house for the hours after midnight.”
E.F. Benson’s brief laudatory essay on Le Fanu, published in The Spectator (1931), is available here.
In 1880 an anonymous reviewer of Le Fanu’s posthumous collection The Purcell Papers opined that, “The genius of the late Mr. Sheridan Le Fanu (the author of Uncle Silas and other romances) was also of a chill and curdling nature. No author more frequently caused a reader to look over his shoulder in the dead hour of the night. None made a nervous visitor feel more uncomfortable in the big, bleak bedrooms of old Highland houses.”
To celebrate the life of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, take the time today to read one of his most notable and chilling tales, “Green Tea”, available to read online here.
His vampire tale, “Carmilla”, which almost certainly influenced his fellow countryman Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, can be read here.
Or if you’re in the book buying mood . . .
In celebration of Le Fanu’s 200th birth anniversary, Swan River Press published two books: Reminiscences of a Bachelor, a brooding gothic novella not reprinted since its first publication in 1848; and a tribute anthology Dreams of Shadow and Smoke, which won the Ghost Story Award for best book in 2014.
by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
One wild and simple bugle sound,
Breathed o’er Killarney’s magic shore,
Awakes sweet floating echoes round
When that which made them is no more.
So slumber in the human breast
Wild echoes that will sweetly thrill
Through memory’s vistas when the voice
That waked them first for aye is still.
Oh! memory, though thy records tell
Full many a tale of grief and folly,
Of mad excess, of hope decayed,
Of dark and cheerless melancholy.
Yet, memory, to me thou art
The dearest of the gifts of mind,
For all the joys that touch my heart
Are joys that I have left behind.