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Ghostly Tales (J. S. Le Fanu) online
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 – 1873) was an Anglo-Irish writer of Gothic tales and mystery novels. He was the premier ghost story writer of the nineteenth century and had a seminal influence on the development of this genre in the Victorian era.
Le Fanu worked in many genres but remains best known for his mystery and horror fiction. He was a meticulous craftsman, with a penchant for frequently reworking plots and ideas from his earlier writing in subsequent pieces of writing. (Many of his novels are expansions and refinements of earlier short stories). He specialised in tone and effect rather than "shock horror", often following a mystery format. Key to his style was the avoidance of overt supernatural effects: in most of his major works, the supernatural is strongly implied but a possible "natural" explanation is left (barely) open—for instance, the demonic monkey in "Green Tea" could be a delusion of the story's protagonist, who is the only person to see it; in "The Familiar", Captain Barton's death seems to be of supernatural causes, but is not actually witnessed, and the ghostly owl may just be a real bird. This approach has proven important for later horror writers and also for other media (it is surely an antecedent to the film producer Val Lewton's principle of indirect horror). Though other writers have since chosen blunter approaches to supernatural fiction, Le Fanu's best tales, such as the vampire novella "Carmilla", remain some of the most chilling examples of the genre. Considering the influence of his work—including his enormous influence on the 20th century's most important ghost story writer, M. R. James—it is surprising that Le Fanu is not better appreciated.