Saturday, October 29, 2011

Madam Crowl's Ghost by Sheridan Le Fanu

Bringing up the Irish contingent in the Victorian ghost story sub-genre is Sheridan Le Fanu. He's a well-known writer of early spook stories, and was much-respected by the later greats such as M. R. James.

However, he suffers from having been over-influential. Today, virtually all of his plots and situations will be over-familliar to pretty much any reader, and the stories seem tiresome and hackneyed as a result. Perhaps in his day he was able to send shivers down spines, but after  a few stories I really couldn't take another formulaic yarn about evil deeds done in creaky old houses.

Le Fanu does set a couple of his stories in Ireland, and it is interesting to hear his take on the rural accent... some things about it seem not to have changed even over one hundred and fifty years. For the most part, however, even his Dublin-set stories are interchangeable with the standard London-based horror fiction of the Victorian period. Le Fanu did occasionally make use of Irish folklore as part of his story-telling, but not in this volume.

I can't really recommend this book except as a curiosity, or to anyone who is tracing the evolution of Victorian fantastic fiction, and even then it isn't very interesting.

Sorry Le Fanu, I really did want to like your work! You being from the ol' sod, and all. Ah well.

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