J. Sheridan Le Fanu

 

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873), Irish lawyer, writer, poet, and journalist is best known today for the brooding suspense novel and locked-room mystery.


Born in Dublin of expatriate French Huguenot stock, and related to the celebrated dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Le Fanu began drawing cartoons with moralistic captions by the age of 6 and writing patriotic Irish verse by the age of 15. In 1826, his family left the comforts of cosmopolitan Anglo-Irish life in Dublin for rural County Limerick. Le Fanu’s familiarity with the history and folklore of Limerick and surrounding regions proved a significant influence on his early ghost stories and lingered as recurrent themes in his most powerful works.  

 

Although he began his working life as a lawyer, Le Fanu soon turned to journalism and the writing of fiction. His first short story, “The Ghost and the Bone-Setter” was published 1838.


After his wife’s sudden death in 1858 Le Fanu virtually retired from public life, earning himself the sobriquet “The Invisible Prince”. During these years he produced a steady stream of novels, short suspense and supernatural fiction, and other works.

 

Legends surrounded Le Fanu’s death, depicting a bug-eyed, clutching corpse undone by recurrent nightmares. There are no eyewitness accounts of these events, which owe much to Le Fanu’s own tale of supernatural pursuit, “The Watcher”. His youngest daughter relates in a letter written within two days of the event, “He had almost got over a bad attack of Bronchitis but his strength gave way & he sank very quickly & died in his sleep. His face looks so happy with a beautiful smile on it.”

 

Jim Rockhill