28 August 1814: Sheridan Le Fanu was born in Dublin on this day. His family name has French Huguenot roots. He was the author of many seminal works of Gothic Horror novels and short stories that influenced other writers and film directors down into modern times.
A great-nephew of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Le Fanu was the son of a Protestant churchman. He studied law at Trinity, but neglected the bar in favour of journalism and writing. Having made extensive use of his father’s library in his youth, Le Fanu went on to read Classics at Trinity College Dublin, before studying Law at King’s Inn in London. However the family fell on hard times and eventually the Library had to be sold to pay off debts.
From 1844 to 1858, he was married to Susanna Bennett, and they eventually moved into the Bennett family home in Merrion Square, Dublin. Susanna was prone to mental disorders that eventually killed her and that must have influenced Le Fanu's depiction of extreme neuroses. They had four children together. He wrote at the time of her death, as quoted by Kathryn West in the Dictionary of Literary Biography: "The greatest misfortune of my life has overtaken me. My darling wife is gone… . She was the light of my life."
He was among the first practitioners of the psychological ghost story, in which the haunting might be the result of supernatural intrusion into the everyday world but could also arise from the broken psyche of a protagonist.
He tried his hand at a number of genres but it was as a writer of Horror stories that he had the greatest success. He published his first ghost story, The Ghost and the Bonesetter in the Dublin University Magazine in 1838. Originally set in Ireland his publications met with only limited recognition. When his editor suggested that he switch the locations to England he finally got the recognition he desired.
The novel Uncle Silas was his masterpiece and though ostensibly set in Derbyshire he actually wrote it with Ireland in mind. The year before his death he published In a Glass Darkly which is a collection of five short stories first published in 1872. The second and third are revised versions of previously published stories, and the fourth and fifth are long enough to be called novellas.
The title is taken from Corinthians 13- a deliberate misquotation of the passage which describes humanity as perceiving the world "through a glass darkly". Some are set in Dublin and some abroad. The most famous one though is the ground breaking novella Carmilla which featured what was in effect a lesbian vampire sucking the blood of her innocent female victim Laura, this too was set abroad in eastern Europe.
Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, "You are mine, you shall be mine, and you and I are one for ever".
( "Carmilla" , Chapter 4)
Le Fanu died in his native Dublin on 7 February 1873, at the age of 58. Today there is a road and a park in Ballyfermot near his childhood home in the village of Chapelizod in south-west Dublin, named after him. He is buried in Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin [above].