We encounter and enjoy authors mostly through their writing, forgetting sometimes that there are personalities behind their words, some astonishingly well-known in their time, often now relegated to small press rediscoveries. With sufficient spans of years, these authors and their personalities pass out of memory, becoming less familiar to us as people and more so as names on title pages. But it is important to remember that these authors lived and worked, had careers and relationships; some of them died while relatively unknown, others were widely celebrated for their creations. With this in mind, I’ve decided to focus the current issue on reminiscences, interviews, and memoirs in hopes of summoning the shades of these writers and to show that in some ways their lives were not always so different from our own.
To that end, you will find a number of texts I have been collecting these past few years, now nestled here comfortably beside one another. Each one, I hope, will give you some insight into the lives of these authors, who they were, and a past that is not necessarily so far distant.
There are first-hand accounts by authors with whom I hope you are now familiar. Rosa Mulholland, Cheiro, and Dorothy Macardle all relate anecdotes of their own experiences with the psychical and supernatural. Elsewhere in this issue, you can spend an entertaining evening with Mervyn Wall. In this talk, given to the Bram Stoker Society in 1987, he delves into witchcraft and details the origins of his best-loved novel, The Unfortunate Fursey (1946).
We have a few interviews — “chats” — with those who worked as professionals, and whose names were familiar to the broader public on a weekly basis, as their stories were published and novels serialised in magazines of the day. Among these sketches you’ll be invited to spend agreeable afternoons with L. T. Meade, Charlotte Riddell, and Katharine Tynan. While they may not discuss strictly ghastly material, I hope these interviews bring us that much closer to authors whose works still find admiration of a modern readership.
You’ll also find some brief memoirs, including litterateur William Winter’s reminiscence of his fallen comrade Fitz-James O’Brien, who died in the American Civil War; and Samuel Carter Hall, who conjures two of Dublin’s gothic greats: Charles Maturin and Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu — perhaps reminding us that these authors existed in a wider social world.
However, the issue commences with Albert Power’s appraisal of George Croly’s Salathiel (1828), a novel which Stoker biographer Paul Murray posited as an influence on the composition of Dracula. Although, a tale of the Wandering Jew, Salathiel might have more in common thematically with Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, than Bram Stoker’s more famous book. Power aptly leads us through the life of Reverend Croly and how his book fits into the literary milieu of the dark fantastic.
If you would like to read more about some of these writers among these pages, you’ll find lengthier profiles in earlier issues of The Green Book. In Issue 9: Rosa Mulholland; Issue 12: Mervyn Wall; Issue 13: Cheiro and Beatrice Grimshaw. While this issue and the next will serve as an intermission in our Guide to Irish Writers of Gothic, Supernatural, and Fantastic Fiction, fear not — we will return with more entries in future instalments.
It looks as though 2019 was our most ambitious year to date. I had a suspicion this time last year that it might be and I wasn’t wrong. I had originally planned nine publications for 2019—alas, we only managed seven. But they’re seven of the best books we’ve done and results of which all involved can be proud. So let’s have a look at what we got up to these past twelve months.
The first book was a long time in coming: Bending to Earth: Strange Stories by Irish Women edited by Maria Giakaniki and Brian J. Showers. The anthology came together over many years, after much searching for tales that were not only good, but also infrequently reprinted, if at all. The original publications of these tales range from 1847 to 1914. There are names you might already be acquainted with, such as Lady Jane Wilde and L. T. Meade, and those that will certainly be less familiar to most, such as Katharine Tynan and Clotilde Graves. Darryl Jones, in his review of the this volume for the Irish Times, notes a particularly exciting aspect of this book: “Bending to Earth is full of tales of women walled-up in rooms, of vengeful or unforgetting dead wives, of mistreated lovers, of cruel and murderous husbands . . . ‘The De Grabrooke Monument’, a previously uncollected story by Charlotte Riddell [ . . . ] is a significant coup for Giakaniki and Showers.” Bending to Earth also marks the first time we worked with Dublin illustrator Karen Vaughan, who did an excellent job on the cover. We hope to work with her again sometime! You can read some more reviews and even an extract from the introduction if you wish.
On a related note, some of you will recall the “Irish Writers of the Fantastic” poster that I designed with Jason Zerrillo in 2015. The poster was later issued by Dublin City Libraries and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature—I hope some of you managed to get a copy. Well, Jason and I created another poster this year: “Strange Stories by Irish Women”. It’s meant as a sort of illustrative companion to Bending to Earth, showcasing portraits of each author in the anthology and featuring suitably unsettling quotes from each of their stories. I believe the library still has plans to issue this as a poster at some point. I’d love to see it in libraries across Ireland and beyond.
Our next book was Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time and Other Strange Stories by Rosa Mulholland. As an Irish author Mulholland, of course, also featured in Bending to Earth, so those who liked her story in that anthology may wish to explore her other gothic offerings. There is something of a faerie tale quality to Mulholland’s stories, or as David Longhorn pointed out in his review for Supernatural Tales, “Mulholland also draws strongly on her Irish heritage, and this gives the tales an extra dimension, that of the looming Celtic Twilight.” Not to Be Taken at Bed-Time was originally published by Sarob Press in 2013 and swiftly went out of print. With an introduction by the late Richard Dalby, I’m pleased to bring this title not only back into print, but also under Swan River’s wing. An extract from Richard’s introduction can be read here. Our edition was given a vibrant new cover by Irish artist Brian Coldrick. Fans of the ghost story will want to check out Coldrick’s Behind You: One-Shot Horror Stories, a marvellous collection of illustrations perfectly capturing that moment of a pleasing terror.
After Mulholland we published a new collection by John Howard: A Flowering Wound. This is the third book we’ve worked on with John, having previously published Written by Daylight in 2013 followed by The Silver Voices in 2014. Once again, David Longhorn of Supernatural Talesweighs in on this marvellous collection: “John Howard’s tales seemed to me like suitable summer reading. Many of the stories concern overlit urban landscapes not unlike those in the stories of J. G. Ballard, though the mood is very different . . . . There are also some stories that recall Arthur Machen’s approach to London, his insistence that the great metropolis is a place of magic and mystery.” The cover, perfectly evocative of John’s writing, was provided by our long-time collaborator Jason Zerrillo. If you’d like to read more about A Flowering Wound, check out this wonderful interview with John Howard conducted by Florence Sunnen.
The Mulholland book was not to be our only Sarob Press reprint this year. We also reprinted “Number Ninety” & Other Ghost Stories by B. M. Croker, originally published in 2000. This volume, like the Mulholland, was also long out of print, and being written by an Irish writer, we were keen to bring Croker’s stories to our audience. Unlike Mulholland, who wrote often about Ireland, the majority of Croker’s stories are often set further afield. In his review for Wormwood, Reggie Oliver writes: “[Croker’s] Indian stories evoke colonial life vividly and there is no imperial condescension towards the native characters who are treated with the same respect and sharpness of vision as her British ones . . . . What makes them all readable are the well-observed characters and settings which, besides India, include Britain, Ireland, Australia, the South of France and the American Deep South.” You’ll find Croker also represented in Bending to Earth; likewise, Richard Dalby has provided us with another excellent introduction. The expert cover for “Number Ninety” is by Alan Corbett, who also provided the illustration for The Green Book 2—a panel from his excellent Cork-set graphic novel The Ghost of Shandon.
Next up was quite a special project, an opportunity that could not be missed: a 150th anniversary edition of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Green Tea, which was originally published in Charles Dickens’s All the Year Round in October 1869. “Green Tea” stands as one of my favourite ghost stories; it’s the world at its cruellest, Le Fanu at his bleakest. To create something really special, we put together a great team: Matthew Holness (writer/director of Possum) is a long-time admirer of Le Fanu’s work, and provided an introduction to Reminiscences of a Bachelor back in 2014. We also called in Alisdair Wood, who provided illustrations for our edition November Night Tales by Henry C. Mercer. For Green Tea, Alisdair not only fully illustrated the story, but designed the cover as well. We then teamed up with Reggie Chamberlain-King of Belfast’s Wireless Mystery Theatre to produce a dramatic recording of Le Fanu’s masterful tale of paranoia and fear—you’ve got to hear it!
Finally, the book is rounded out by a pair of essays, written by myself and Le Fanu scholar Jim Rockhill, exploring the background and publishing history of “Green Tea”. The entire edition is signed by Holness, Wood, Rockhill, and Showers—and includes a facsimile signature of Le Fanu. Just to make the occasion even more special, I took the pile of signing sheets to Le Fanu’s grave here in south Dublin, where they rested for a while with a cup of strongly brewed green tea before I sent them off to the printer to be bound. Praised by Michael Dirda in the Washington Post as a “beautiful keepsake volume”, I’m confident our new edition of Green Tea is book Le Fanu himself would be proud of.
Our last book of the year arrived just a few short weeks before the holidays: The Far Tower: Stories for W. B. Yeats edited by Mark Valentine. Stories of magic and myth, folklore and fairy traditions, the occult and the outré, inspired by the rich mystical world of Ireland’s greatest poet, W. B. Yeats. The Far Tower is something of a tribute anthology, similar to The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray (2017), and Mark invited many of the same collaborators to the project, including cover artist John Coulthart, who really gave us something special this time. As the calendar draws to a close, I hope readers will enjoy this final offering of the year somewhere warm and relaxing. If you’d like, you can read Mark’s introduction as well!
Moving on to The Green Book. Some might have noticed that there was only one issue this year. This was quite unintentional, and one of the two books I had hoped to publish, but simply didn’t manage. However, The Green Book 13 did see the light of day last spring. Much like the previous two issues, issue thirteen contains a number of entries on obscure Irish writers of the fantastic, including Dora Sigurson Shorter, Cheiro, Oliver Sherry, Stephen Gilbert, and others. Issue fourteen will likely appear around the same time as issue fifteen, so don’t fret. Apologies for the delay!
The other book I was hoping to publish this year, but was unable to complete in time, is Uncertainties 4 edited by Timothy J. Jarvis. However, I am happy to say that the book is now finished, with a remarkable selection of stories, and will go to print in early 2020, complete with a fantastic cover from the painting “Night Beach” by B. Catling. This is the first time Swan River has worked with Catling, and won’t be the last . . .
A lot of publishing takes place in isolation, with me sitting here in Dublin at my desk tapping away at the keyboard: answering emails, updating accounts, editing, or simply reading. Occasionally I also have the opportunity to leave the house. This year Swan River Press attended Worldcon here in Dublin. It was my first Worldcon: slightly overwhelming, but loads of fun to meet people and talk about books. In October I made my way up to Glasgow for Fantasycon. Although smaller than previous years, it was still great fun to see friends. I’m very much looking forward to Stokercon in 2020—Scarborough is such a fun city to visit. I hope to see you all there!
Just because I’ve been asked lately, it does not look as though we’ll be hosting a Dublin Ghost Story Festival in 2020. The event is not permanently cancelled, so don’t despair just yet, but the idea does need to reach a certain momentum before I’m comfortable committing myself. The events in both 2016 and 2018 were great fun, guests of honour being Adam Nevill and Joyce Carol Oates, respectively. So I do hope we’ll be able to do another one when the time is right. If you want to keep abreast of any announcements, do join our mailing list or follow us on Facebook.
While much of publishing can take place in isolation, it is by no means a vacuum. There’s a reason Swan River books look so good. Jim Rockhill continues to proofread all of our volumes, offering his sharp eye and invaluable advice; Meggan Kehrli once again designed all our covers, keeping the look of the Swan River books uniform and exciting; and Ken Mackenzie, who typesets all our books, often a less noticed contribution, but one of great importance. I’d also like to thank Alison Lyons of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature for her constant support of fine literature.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who supported Swan River Press this year: with kind words, by buying books, donating through our patron programme, or simply spreading the word—I’m grateful for it all! If you’d like to keep in touch, do join our mailing list, find us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Instagram. I’d like to wish you a restful holiday season, and hope to hear from you in the New Year!
On this day, 23 October 1869, readers of All the Year Round, edited by Charles Dickens, may well have been unprepared for a chilling tale of paranoia and despair that commenced in Mr. Dickens’s weekly journal. That story was “Green Tea”, and though it was originally published anonymously, it was penned by the Dublin writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
While Le Fanu is probably now better known for his pre-Dracula vampire novella “Carmilla” (1871/2), for me “Green Tea” will always be his masterpiece. The story tells of the good natured Reverend Mr. Jennings, whose late night penchant for green tea brings on a curious malady—that of opening the interior eye. The Reverend Mr. Jennings finds out that, in opening the interior eye, genii of the infernal plane can also perceive the world of man, and soon he is plagued relentlessly by a demonic chattering simian. For the delight of hell is to do evil to man, and to hasten his eternal ruin.
“Green Tea” was collected (along with Carmilla”) in Le Fanu’s most famous volume, In a Glass Darkly (1872), one of the author’s final books before he died in February of 1873. “Green Tea” has since become a staple of horror anthologies, gaining admirers from Dorothy L. Sayers to V. S. Pritchett.
For the story’s 150th anniversary, I wanted to create an edition worthy of such a powerful tale. My first port of call was Matthew Holness, known to many for his horror send-up Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, but also as the writer/director of Possum, one of the most emotionally chilling horror films I’ve ever seen. Holness is a long-time admirer of Le Fanu, which is why it seemed natural to ask him to write an introduction for our new edition. We’d also previously worked together on a volume in 2014 for the bicentenary of Le Fanu’s birth: Reminiscences of a Bachelor.
That same year I asked Reggie Chamberlain-King of Belfast’s Wireless Mystery Theatre if he would adapt “Green Tea” as a radio drama. He did this, and the piece debuted at Toner’s Pub that August. I’d been searching for an excuse to record this wonderful adaptation, and when work on the new edition began, an opportunity had finally manifested. Each copy of our new edition of Green Tea will be issued with a CD of this magnificent recording.
Then there are the illustrations of Alisdair Wood, with whom I worked on November Night Tales by Henry C. Mercer. As with Holness, working with Wood again seemed an obvious choice. His pen and ink style is reminiscent of magazine illustrations from the nineteenth century. For the book, Wood created twelve original illustrations, plus the book’s striking cover.
Rounding out the volume, Jim Rockhill and myself once again teamed up to write a pair of afterwords to explore the publication history and contemporary reception of “Green Tea”. We had previously done the same for Reminiscences of a Bachelor. Rockhill has long worked as a Le Fanu scholar, with perhaps his greatest achievement being a three-volume complete stories of Le Fanu, published by Ash Tree Press (2002-2005). It was great fun looking at “Green Tea” in depth. As always, we hope you find our scholarship illuminating, possibly even useful to your own explorations.
Other features found their way into the design. For example, the monogram on the full title page is from Le Fanu’s letterhead; and on the signing page, signed by all contributors, we’ve reprinted a facsimile of the author’s signature—I’m afraid the best we could do under the circumstances. The rest of us have signed the page ourselves. I did, however, take the opportunity to visit Le Fanu’s vault with the signing pages before they were bound into the books. There they rested while we enjoyed a freshly brewed cup of green tea (a pot of which I am drinking now. In moderation, of course).
Further instalments of “Green Tea” were published in All the Year Round over the subsequent three weeks in 1869: 30 October, 6 November, and 13 November. While you may have read this story before, we hope you’ll make time this season to return to its pages. For “Green Tea” Le Fanu holds no punches: exploring as he does the absolute limits of a man dogged by a fiend from hell, caught in the enormous machinery of a malignant universe. This is no cosy ghost story, no pleasing terror. The climax in “Green Tea” remains one of the bleakest in all of supernatural literature.
Swan River Press’s deluxe hardback edition of Green Tea, in celebration of the story’s 150th anniversary, is now available on our website www.swanriverpress.ie.
If you’d like to read more about Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, please see our previous post here.
And don’t forget to check out our journal The Green Book (Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature), past issues of which have featured J. S. Le Fanu and his work.
“Perhaps other souls than human are sometimes born into the world, and clothed in human flesh.” — Uncle Silas (1864)
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) was born in Dublin on Dominick Street Lower. He spent his youth in Chapelizod and the rural village of Abington, Co. Limerick. He entered Trinity College in 1833 and was called to the Irish Bar in 1839. Instead of pursuing a career in law, Le Fanu purchased and edited several newspapers including The Evening Mail and The Warder. In 1861 he bought the Dublin University Magazine, which he edited until 1869. He retreated from public life on the death of his wife in 1858, and from the seclusion of his Merrion Square home he turned his attention to writing novels. He is best known today for such pioneering weird stories as “An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in and Old House in Aungier Street”, “Green Tea”, and “Carmilla”. His notable novels include The House by the Church-yard (1863), Wylder’s Hand (1864), Uncle Silas (1864) and The Wyvern Mystery (1869). His seminal short story collection, In a Glass Darkly, was published in 1872, less than a year before his death.
Those who wish to explore Le Fanu’s writing even further might be interested in our two 2014 issues of The Green Book, which focused on Le Fanu and his writing in his bicentennial year: Issue 3 and Issue 4.
And for the Le Fanu aficionado who has everything, we suggest the Stoker-award nominated essay anthology Reflections in a Glass Darkly, edited by Gary W. Crawford, Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers.
A good while back I posted the image of a poster designed by myself and long-time Swan River conspirator Jason Zerrillo. It features a line-up of Ireland’s most recognisable and possibly most influential writers of fantastic literature. I explained the impetus for the poster’s creation in an earlier post.
While I’m pleased with the results, it was not easy choosing who to include and who to leave off. Much as I wanted to indulge in the most obscure and overlooked (Oliver Sherry, anyone?), there is also merit in showcasing the luminaries: a reminder of this island’s contributions to worlds of unbridled imagination.
Ultimately, this poster is meant as a gateway for exploration. So you can imagine my delight when Alison Lyons of Dublin City Libraries and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature agreed to produce copies of the poster to distribute for free around Dublin this autumn. The goal had always been to make this poster available to libraries, schools, bookshops, to anywhere that loves to promote good literature, and to anyone who loves to read it.
To augment this poster, I also wrote a series of capsule biographies and recommended reading for each authors. You can find it over on the Dublin City of Literature website.
And so how do you get a copy of the poster? Easy! Go into any Dublin City Library branch and ask! Better yet, have a browse around for these authors’ books. Librarians will be happy to help!
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.
I’m sure you’ve seen the ubiquitous “Irish Writers” poster around Dublin. It depicts the usual suspects: Wilde, Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, et cetera. A while back the Irish Times published a reply to that poster, again entitled “Irish Writers”, but this time featuring only women (as the original featured only men). You can view both posters here.
Despite the strengths of these two posters, I felt there were still a few conspicuously absent faces.
As Swan River Press is Ireland’s only publishing house dedicated to what might broadly be termed “literature of the fantastic”, I felt it up to us to submit our own entry into the cavalcade of Irish literary posters.
As our treat to you this Halloween, I’d like to present Irish Writers of the Fantastic.
The poster was designed to give an overview of these worthy and often overlooked Irish authors. Some you will recognise, others you will not. Some, such as Bram Stoker and Lord Dunsany, have had a profound impact on international literature. Others, like Fitz-James O’Brien and Dorothy Macardle, will be more obscure. But each one is worth discovering or revisiting this Halloween season.
Ultimately I hope you will find something of interest among them. There are both men and women included in our poster. Writers who are world renowned and those who are less well known. There’s horror, fantasy, science fiction, supernatural, satire . . . You’ll find here writers from both the Republic and Northern Ireland, and their contributions to literature span the better part of two centuries.
However, as is the nature of lists, I hope you will disagree with this one. With any luck, you’ll be only too eager to point out someone that deserves to be included, but was not. And I hope you do. And when you do in the comments below, tell us why you think they should be included (and might they bump someone off the list?) Don’t grunt, elucidate! That second part is the most important bit. Because, above all, this poster is meant to get people talking about these writers . . . and then running to the nearest bookshop or library to read their works. In the meantime, Swan River Press will continue to lead the way in their rediscovery.
Anyone with a further interest in Ireland’s contributions to the genre might want to check out our twice-yearly journal The Green Book, which features commentaries, articles, and reviews on Irish gothic, supernatural, and fantastic literature. Until then . . .
So far The Green Book has been avoiding Mr. Bram Stoker. Not out of dislike or animosity, but for a journal that hopes to illuminate the lesser seen corners of Irish fantastic literature, I felt it was okay to let Stoker—our most prominent spokesman—wait patiently in the wings for the first few issues and allow others the spotlight for just a moment. But now that we’re six numbers in, it’s time to give Mr. Stoker his due and allow him to take centre stage. And so we pull back the red velvet curtains on this issue in grand style.
It’s not every day one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But there it was, on page three of an equally forgotten daily newspaper. It appeared quite unexpectedly in the far right-hand column. There’s nothing quite like that rush of excitement one feels when making such a discovery in the otherwise subdued and dimly-lit microfilm room of the National Library. The thrill of reading that recognisable prose, filled with masculinity, adventurous seafaring, nefarious murder, teetotalling, a clever fiancée, and a ghost. Did I not mention it’s a ghost story too? It is, and also the second (known) story Stoker had ever published. No, it’s not every day that one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But they’re out there, just waiting to be uncovered. And we’re happy to be able to share this one, which has lain dormant for nearly 150 years, with you.
We’re equally fortunate to have in this issue an introduction from David J. Skal giving some background and context to Stoker’s lost tale. As some of you may already know, Skal’s new biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, will be out next year; certainly an event keenly anticipated by many. At the end of this issue, John Edgar Browning, himself no stranger to unearthing forgotten writings by Stoker, interviews Skal about Dracula, Stoker, and his forthcoming book.
So what’s in between this Stoker sandwich? Glad you asked. We’ve got an excellent essay on Lafcadio Hearn’s Irish influences from John Moran (to coincide with the Hearn exhibition running this autumn at the Little Museum of Dublin), a short reminiscence of the Great War by Lord Dunsany, a piece by Martin Hayes on the fraught relationship between Yeats and Crowley (hey, we’ve got to mark the Great Poet’s sesquicentenary somehow, right?), and finally an essay on the oddly overlooked mystic, visionary, poet, artist, pacifist, and statesman George William Russell (AE)—rightly described by Archbishop Gregg as “that myriad-minded man”—who I hope you will find as interesting as I do. In addition to all this, we have our usual crop of reviews, from which I hope you’ll find something to discover.
Finally, before I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Stoker, I would like to direct your attention to the cover. Here you will find Harry Clarke’s “Mephisto” (1914) from Goethe’s Faust. Stoker’s employer, the celebrated actor-manager Sir Henry Irving, played Mephistopheles with great success throughout his career. It is a role Stoker saw him perform over seven hundred times. The infernal character, as portrayed by Irving, is thought to have influenced Dracula—but the astute reader will catch Stoker’s much earlier reference to Mephistopheles in the pages ahead.
And now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present to you, Mr. Bram Stoker’s “Saved by a Ghost” . . .
First published in 1845, Valancourt Books reissued the novel in 2010.
The Cock and Anchor is set in Dublin in 1710, twenty years after Protestant William of Orange defeated Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne. Ireland is under British rule and a Lord Lieutenant, Thomas, 5th Baron Wharton, is ruling the country from Dublin Castle. While the leaders of the Catholic aristocracy who supported King James have fled to France (The Wild Geese) there is still a corps of Jacobite supporters in Ireland who are readying themselves for the day when King James returns to reclaim his crown and the lands of England and Ireland.
I did not know what to expect when I started reading this novel, but what I found delighted and intrigued me. It proved to be one of those books that I did not like to put down and found myself making time to return to.
The Valancourt edition contains a 46-page introduction, 14 pages of informative notes referenced from within the text, and a 52-page appendix containing contemporary reviews and extracts of other works referenced in the introduction. The novel itself is 439 pages in length. All in all, this is a comprehensive tome for anyone intent on studying The Cock and Anchor in a serious fashion.
In this note I will freely discuss elements of the story, so I warn the reader to set this document aside until having read the work and then return to discover my thoughts on the book and to agree with them, argue against them, raise your own thoughts, feelings, or revelations that pounced upon you as you travelled through the pages written in an age long gone, 130 years into the past.
The geopolitical machinations of the novel’s setting, and the societal impact of the war ended only nineteen years before the tale told in the book begins, are used by Le Fanu as a backdrop to the story rather than as a raison d’être for the telling of the story. While the prevailing political and religious practices and prejudices of the time are not the main theme of the story, they do inform the behaviours of the characters and the social context of the events and relationships involved.
At the heart of the story is the love between the son (Edmond O’Connor) of a Jacobite nobleman, (Richard O’Connor), and the daughter of Sir Richard Ashwoode, a member of the ruling aristocracy. As a Jacobite, Edmond O’Connor is a Catholic and as the daughter of one of the established ruling aristocracy, Mary Ashwoode, the daughter is Protestant. Sir Richard is, of course, not in favour of an alliance between Mary and Edmond, but the religious difference is not cited as the root cause of his displeasure about the match, but the fact that he considers young Edmond O’Connor to be from a poorer class.
The Irish peasantry is presented as a body of people who look up to the wealthier classes and doff their caps and follow their orders. Some of them are used for comic relief, especially Mr. Larry Toole who is a stereotypical, stage-Irish character with all the “begorrahs” and “begads” you could ask for. He was a servant in the employ of the Ashwoode estate who has been let go and who manages to find himself a position as servant to Edmond O’Connor.
Humour was an unexpected element of the book but it is more pervasive in the first half of the story. It is still present later in the book but the more serious matters of the later parts of the story reduce the opportunity for humour. It is still there, but not as frequently. Much of the humour is in the descriptions of the characters:
Lady Stukely: “Lady Stukely was a delicate, die-away lady, not very far from sixty; the natural blush upon her nose outblazoned the rouge upon her cheeks; several very long teeth – “ivory and ebony” peeped roguishly from beneath her upper lip, which her ladyship had a playful trick of screwing down, to conceal them – a trick which made her ladyship’s smile rather a surprising than an attractive exhibition.”
Physician: “The physician of those days was a solemn personage: he would as readily have appeared without his head, as without his full-bottomed wig; and his ponderous gold-headed cane was a sort of fifth limb, the supposition of whose absence involved a contradiction to the laws of anatomy; his dress was rich and funereal; his step was slow and pompous; his words very long and very few; his look was mysterious; his nod awful; and the shake of his head unfathomable; in short, he was in no respect very much better than a modern charlatan. The science which he professed was then overgrown with absurdities and mystification. The temper of the times was superstitious and credulous, the physician, being wise in his generation, framed his outward man (including his air and language) accordingly, and the populace swallowed his long words and his electuaries with equal faith.”
Doctor Mallarde: “Doctor Mallarde was a doctor-like person, and, in theatrical phraseology, looked the part well. . . . he had a habit of pressing the gold head of his professional cane against one corner of his mouth, in a way which produced a sinister and mysterious distortion of that organ; and by exhibiting the medical baton, the outward and visible sign of doctorship, in immediate juxtaposition with the fountain of language, added enormously to the gravity and authority of the words which from time to time proceeded therefrom.”
I could continue to quote humorous character descriptions from this book all night, but I will let you enjoy reading them yourself when you read the book.
Real characters: Le Fanu uses a mixture of real and fictitious characters. The Lord Lieutenant, the Earl of Wharton, was a real person whose character and description Le Fanu gleaned from the writings of Jonathan Swift, another real person who appears in the novel. Swift wrote a pamphlet from which Le Fanu drew information on the Earl of Wharton.
The supernatural: I recall four allusions to the supernatural: three of these could be dismissed as the imaginings of individuals but the fourth is a detailed description of the appearance of a spirit to Edmond O’Connor. This spirit fits with the legend of banshees in all but the appearance and the noise produced. Lord Ashwoode is overheard telling someone to leave him while in a state of delirium but subsequently it is discovered there is no-one in his room. Likewise, his son tells O’Connor of a spirit that is bothering him and tormenting him in his time of despair. The other mention of anything that might be supernatural is the young Sir Henry Ashwoode’s thinking her sees the paintings of his ancestors move as he looks at them.
Profanity: The novel is full of dashes: lines in the text to mark were foul words have been used. I have seen two editions of the novel and they both have the “bad words” obliterated. I suspect this was to placate the sensitivities of the puritanical reader. Even the word, “Devil”, is presented as, “D—l”.
Language: Le Fanu does not use one word where fifteen will do. This is not a complaint. The language he uses is a pleasure to read and is beautifully put together. Take for example, his description of Mr. Larry Toole’s tendency to poke his nose into other people’s business: “A liberal and unsolicited attention to the affairs of other people, was one among the many amiable peculiarities of Mr. Laurence Toole . . . ”
Kept guessing: While many of the plot elements are used in later texts, Le Fanu always kept what way the plot would turn a mystery. There were many places in the book where I was convinced I knew how the story was going to turn only to be surprised by Le Fanu as he took me a totally different direction. This kept me interested and eager to carry on reading the book.
Locations: Many of the locations used in the story are real and still exist. One of the most famous is The Bleeding Horse pub which is still a thriving business and has a stone plaque honouring Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu on the footpath at the entrance. Other locations that can still be visited are Dublin Castle, albeit slightly renovated since 1710; Leixlip, with a better road through the village than existed at the time of the story; and Chaplizod which still some of the aspects of the small village of 1710.
The view of Ireland: Dublin Castle was the residence of the Lord Lieutenant and in the novel it is the scene of a great social gathering. Le Fanu does not, however, let the reader forget that it is the centre of an occupying force that supports a predominantly English ruling class in a country with a population that has proven difficult to keep repressed. His description of the castle on the night of the banquet in question is wound up thus:
“ . . . the ponderous old towers which have since disappeared, with their narrow loopholes and iron studded doors looming darkly over the less massive fabrics of the place with stern and gloomy aspect, reminded the passer every moment, that the building, whose courts he trod, was not merely the theatre of stately ceremonies, but a fortress and a prison.”
In an exchange between the Lord Lieutenant and Johathan Swift, Le Fanu presents the views of the ruling class of Ireland and how it was considered a backwater that did no-one’s career any good:
“On my soul, we want you in England – this is no stage for you. By —- you cannot hope to serve either yourself or your friends in this place.”
“Very few thrive here but scoundrels, my lord,” rejoined Swift. “Even so,” replied Wharton with perfect equanimity – “it is a nation of scoundrels – dissent on the one side and popery on the other. The upper order harpies, and the lower a mere prey – and all equally liars, rogues, rebels, slaves, and robbers. By — some fine day the devil will carry off the island bodily. For very safety you must get out of it . . . ”
On St. Patrick’s Day I decided to spend my time not drinking Guinness, but instead promoting Irish Writers of the Fantastic on both Twitter and Facebook. While I’m not convinced there is a “tradition” of Irish fantastic literature—that is to say a relatively unbroken chain of influence from one writer to the next—Ireland has consistently produced authors whose works have proved to be singular contributions of international importance. Unfortunately, some of these authors are given short shrift in Ireland—even those authors otherwise widely recognised abroad.
Here is the list that I compiled. It is by no means complete or definitive (and at one point in particular even quite self-indulgent). There is a comments section down there too, so no reason you can’t add to the list if you feel I’ve overlooked someone important.
And as a reminder, anyone who would like to learn more about Irish writers of the fantastic, I encourage you to check out The Green Book, a journal started specifically to explore these authors and their works.