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.
As today is Poetry Day here in Ireland, I thought I’d share a poem by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873). If Le Fanu is one of Ireland’s overlooked authors (when remembered it is mainly for his ghost stories and sensation novels), then as a poet he is certainly almost entirely forgotten. Though this was not always the case.
It wasn’t until over twenty years after the author’s death that the Poems of J.S. Le Fanu (London: Downey, 1896) were collected under the editorship of family friend Alfred Percival Graves. But as Graves indicates in his introduction, Le Fanu had been a lifelong poet, and was writing “brilliant doggrel” as a young man, the only surviving example being a valentine to “a very pretty” Miss K——:
“Your frown or your smile make me Savage or Gay / In action, as well as in song; / And if ’tis decreed I at length become Gray, / Express but the word, and I’m Young.”
One of Le Fanu’s earliest successes as a poet was “The Ballad of Shamus O’Brien”, though curiously his authorship was, even at the height of the poem’s popularity, not known. In fact, it was commonly attributed to Samuel Lover (1797-1868) who popularised the ballad in America in 1846. In a letter to Le Fanu’s brother William, Lover wrote:
“In reading over your brother’s poem while I crossed the Atlantic, I became more and more impressed with its great beauty and dramatic effect—so much so that I determined to test its effect in public, and have done so here, on my first appearance, with the greatest success.”
So enduring was the ballad’s popularity that it was adapted as an opera by Charles Villiers Stanford in 1895. Long out of print in the twentieth-century, Swan River Press issued in 2011 a new edition of Le Fanu’s poetry as a limited edition hand-bound booklet, copies of which are available here.
“Shamus O’Brien” first saw print in the July 1850 issue of the Dublin University Magazine, a magazine to which Le Fanu is now intricately connected as both contributor and editor. And even here it appeared anonymously, as many of his contributions did. A brief introductory note explains the poem’s popularity with public recitations, and notes the misattribution to Samuel Lover.
And so, for Poetry Day Ireland, we wish to share with you Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Ballad of Shamus O’Brien” as it first appeared in the Dublin University Magazine:
“In Ireland we have a national apathy about literature . . . It began to descend on us after we became self-governing; before that we were imaginative dreamers.”
— AE to Van Wyck Brooks, 10 October 1932
So wrote the poet, painter, and mystic George William Russell (1867-1935) — better known by his spiritual name AE — less than a year before he left Ireland after a lifetime working to enrich a nation he loved and dedicated himself to. Yet his vision of Ireland as an enlightened society was seemingly at odds with the mass desire for the cultural censorship and social conservatism that coincided with the birth of the Irish Free State.
Today, with the continuation of a crippling austerity policy — which includes the treatment of the arts as commodity, the considered monetisation of our public museums, financial cuts to arts funding, and the budgetary destitution of the National Library, among other similar injuries masquerading as common sense measures — one wonders just exactly how the arts are valued in a nation that still proudly sells itself as “the land of saints and scholars”.
Fifty years later, a sentiment similar to AE’s was echoed by author Mervyn Wall (1908-1997) in a fascinating interview (reprinted in this issue) in which he asserts that, “When the new Free State was set up, it settled down to very mundane things . . . since 1922 there has been no inspired leadership whatsoever, leadership that would say here is a small country starting off fresh and here is the opportunity to make something wonderful of it.” But instead of leaving Ireland, as so many of our luminaries did (and still do), Wall wrote a pair of brilliant fantasy novels, The Unfortunate Fursey (1946) and The Return of Fursey (1948), sharply satirising both Church and State — and though they tried, the Irish censors could find no specific reason to ban Wall’s books. Similarly acerbic, his 1952 novel, Leaves for the Burning, with its accumulation of exaggerated and improbable details, is often read as a satire, but as critic Robert Hogan points out, should be considered more of a realistic (“albeit one-sided”) depiction of post-war Ireland. Wall, incidentally, worked for the Arts Council from 1957-1975, and his legacy includes Ireland’s tax exemption for artists scheme, which I might add the current government occasionally talks of abolishing because of its perceived “cost to the taxpayer”. Many of Wall’s comments in this interview, though conducted over thirty years ago, feel just as relevant today.
Also in this issue you’ll find Kevin Corstorphine’s survey of a selection of stories by Cork-born author Fitz-James O’Brien (1826?-1862). O’Brien left Ireland at a young age, and eventually settled into a bohemian literary lifestyle in New York before perishing in the American Civil War. Corstorphine looks at O’Brien’s better known stories, like “What Was It?” and “The Diamond Lens”, and those less read but equally deserving of examination, such as “The Lost Room” and “A Dead Secret”. We’ve also got an essay by noted Stoker-scholar Elizabeth Miller, who considers in detail the 1901 abridged paperback edition of Dracula. Published during Stoker’s lifetime, and possibly even condensed by his own hand, Miller’s essay sheds just a little more light on the mind of the Dubliner who penned the most influential horror novel of all time. Finally, though Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s bicentenary celebrations are now over, here are two short, but important pieces by Richard Dury and James Machin that are simply too good to pass up: new discoveries that notably expand the ever-growing list of the Invisible Prince’s admirers.
A word should also be said about this issue’s cover painting, “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” by Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951). Pixie, as she was known to her friends, was an accomplished artist who not only illustrated Bram Stoker’s final novel, Lair of the White Worm (1911), but in 1909 contributed the eighty drawings that adorn the iconic Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. The painting on the cover of this issue, which kindly comes to us from the Collection of John Moore, was a gift from Pamela Colman Smith to AE. An inscription on the back of the painting reads: “To AE, with all good wishes to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year and all time. Yours, Pixie. Xmas 1902.” Beside the inscription is a small drawing of a pixie. As a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Pamela Colman Smith was likely introduced to AE through their mutual friend W.B. Yeats. This is the first time “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” has been published.
AE’s comment regarding our national apathy toward literature—and art in general—is provocative and disheartening, and the natural instinct will be to deny it, pointing to one example or another of independent artistry or do-it-yourself creativity existing in Ireland today. And yes, AE’s comment was made nearly a century ago. But I do not think his assertion should be dismissed without first deep consideration tempered with honesty free from national pride.
However, given the gloominess of AE’s words at the start of this piece, I thought we might do well to end it with a comment he made to Seán Ó Faoláin in a letter from 1933, a decidedly more hopeful prescription from the man who helped shepherd into the world writings we now associate with Ireland’s literary identity.
“We have imagined ourselves into littleness, darkness, and ignorance, and we have to imagine ourselves back into light.”