Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Evil Guest by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

The Evil Guest by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu (1869, 90 pages)

Joseph Sheridan le Fanu (1814 to 1873, Dublin) is one of if not the greatest all time writers of horror and Gothic short stories and is the creator of Carmilla, cohost for The Irish Quarter:  A Celebration of the Irish Short Story.  I first discovered him during Irish Quarter One in 2011 and have since then read several other works by Le Fanu (there is some additional background information on him in my prior posts).   The Evil Guest shows his total mastery at creating an atmosphere of impending doom.  

"Daddy, welcome back!- Carmilla
The Evil Guest is set on the Irish country estate of a man, his wife, and  young daughter.   The wife's closest companion is the French tutor for the daughter.   The French tutor is described over and over as beautiful.   She acts as sweet as can be but there is a sinister feel behind her.   The story is set toward the end of the 18th century in Ireland.   The relationship of the couple is now more formal than intimate.   The man goes through many moods and is given to long brooding silences.   One day a letter arrives from his cousin, a 50 something year old bachelor, another stock character, the overly polite highly refined aging  roue.   In the letter he basically invites himself for an extended visit.   The husband is worried as there seems to be a very old cloud on the title of the property and he thinks the man may have a claim on the estate.   When he arrives strange things begin to happen.  Given the title I was inclined to think he was the evil guest but Le Fanu spends so much time building up the atmosphere and introduces some other possibilities such as his son away at school, the French tutor (I think we know that it is not a good idea for married women in Victoria novels whose husband no longer cares to visit their separate bed chamber to employ beautiful young tutors or maids, especially French ones), and some house hold servants.   We also meet a very well done cleric and we are confused when some of the servants, who have been at the house for decades, tell the man that they feel they must quit as they have forebodings of great evil.  The visit roue is found with his throat cut and a servant is seemingly the murderer.   I will leave the rest of the plot untold.

The pleasure in this marvelous work, for me anyway, was in the great atmosphere created by the author and his marvelous prose.   It was fun trying to second guess what really happened  and the ending was very interesting and nicely tied in with the history of the time.  

If someone wanted to read just one work by Joseph Sheridan le Fanu I would, based on my limited reading, suggest you start with his novella Carmilla or if you prefer to read a short story I liked his "The Child Stolen by Fairies", a very dark story directly related to the famine years.

I will soon be reading his famous Gothic novel, Uncle Silas and I plan to read more of his short stories, perhaps starting with his collection, The Purcell Papers, which is said to contain some of his very best horror and ghost stories.

The work of Joseph Sheridan le Fanu is great fun to read, not something to force yourself through for a class or for background reading.  

You can download a lot of the work of the author from Manybooks, among other places.  

Please share your experiences with Irish Gothic, ghost and horror stories with us.

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

This is a writer I keep meaning to investigate, it has yet to happen but time is still there for it to do so.

Valerie Sirr said...

I love le Fanu's prose too and 'Carmilla'is a great read and interesting for it's influence on Bram Stoker's Dracula