A Guest post for Irish Short Story Week Year Two
March 11 to July 1
by Audra Martin D'Aroma, author of The Galveston Chronicles
|Joseph Sheridan le Fanu
1814 to 1873
"STRANGE EVENT IN THE LIFE OF SCHALKEN THE PAINTER" by James Sheridan le Fanu (1838)
A man who may or may not be a demon secures the bride from a painter that his apprentice wanted is a good very short description of this wonderful story.
I essentially agree with Mel u’s opinion that the story is carried by the strength of its prose.
I am a firm believer that style should contradict subject matter. Where a more juvenile writer might attempt to create suspense or mood through language, Le Fanu reports the story in a journalistic manner. Through stories like these, you can see the direct relationship with the Southern Gothic tradition. Namely, the idea that reality is stranger than fiction.
I was acquainted, in my early days, with a Captain Vandael, whose father had served King William in the Low Countries, and also in my own unhappy land during the Irish campaigns.
Le Fanu’s personal life was also rooted in troubles: his father had money problems and his wife suffered from hysteria and died under mysterious circumstances.
There is something else to be said about the story. Le Fanu is realistic in the way he portrays painters. It is surprising how many writers fall into ridiculous stereotypes when they are talking about painters; it sometimes seems like every painter can be reduced to being Van Gogh, Caravaggio or the local emotionally frayed Sunday painter. Le Fanu works with another stereotype (the genius painter in the crude body) but somehow manages to breathe new life to it, possibly by taking him out of the driver’s seat of the narrative.
There are few forms upon which the mantle of mystery and romance could seem to hang more ungracefully than upon that of the uncouth and clownish Schalken--the Dutch boor--the rude and dogged, but most cunning worker in oils, whose pieces delight the initiated of the present day almost as much as his manners disgusted the refined of his own; and yet this man, so rude, so dogged, so slovenly, I had almost said so savage, in mien and manner, during his after successes, had been selected by the capricious goddess, in his early life, to figure as the hero of a romance by no means devoid of interest or of mystery.
The way he utilizes the painting to bring the reader into the narrative is reminiscent of Russian storytellers.
Actually begins with the by a remarkable picture, in which, though no connoisseur myself, I could not fail to discern some very strong peculiarities, particularly in the distribution of light and shade, as also a certain oddity in the design itself, which interested my curiosity.
An interesting fact: the two painters in the story, Gerard Douw and Gottfried Schalken, actually existed. Schalken being, like the story, Douw’s student and Douw being the most famous pupil of Rembrandt. (Thanks to Literary Gothic for that piece of information and others).
In general I am not a fan of ghost stories but this story goes beyond the genre and should be read in that way.
(Mel's Post on this story is here)
Audra Martin D'Aroma
|Audra Martin D'Aroma
End of Guest Post.
I am very grateful to Audra Martin D'Aroma for this very insightful post on one of my favorite authors, Joseph Sheridan le Fanu, the best 19th century writer of ghost stories and the creator of one of my event hosts, Carmilla. When she mentioned his connection to Southern Gothic tradition I learned something important to me. Her new book The Galveston Chronicles is an exciting historical novel set on the Texas Island of Galveston and cover the span of the 20th century and focuses on the devastation periodic storms have caused.
Here is the description of the The Galveston Chronicles from the publisher and it does sound very exciting
"In the stifling days before the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, Isadora Khaled begins to dream about catfish and murdering her daughter, setting off a chain of events that will not be resolved until Hurricane Ike in 2008. The descendents of Isadora are defined by and eventually named after the hurricanes that shape their lives: Fatima, who enters into a doomed relationship with a visiting artist in 1961; her drug-numbed daughter Carla, desperate to get home in 1983; and Carla's daughter Alicia, reunited with her heritage on a modern island embracing disaster culture in 2008. An epic tale, THE GALVESTON CHRONICLES holds a mirror to the transformation of an unforgettable island, looking at the Gulf Coast region through the eyes of these women in the days preceding and following Galveston's major hurricanes."
|"Mr Joseph Sheridan le Fanu is