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Distinguished Edwardian ghost story author M. R. James referred to his Victorian predecessor Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) as the Master of the sub-genre, an assessment echoed by many fans since then. E. F. Bleiler, one of the few serious 20th-century literary scholars to specialize in (instead of despise) the literature of the supernatural, assembled this collection of Le Fanus best, in his estimation, in 1964, and this edition is an unabridged Dover reprint. There are 16 selections here, including the novella Carmilla, which Id read before and have reviewed in its own right (my review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... ). Ive also previously read Squire Tobys Will, Green Tea, and the chilling Madam Crowells Ghost; the first two are included in, respectively, The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories and Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, while the third was in an anthology I read over 20 years ago and no longer have bibliographic information for. :-( On this go-around, Ive read six selections (as usual, somewhat out of order).Im inclined to accept Bleilers judgment that An Authentic Narrative of a Haunted House, which Le Fanu published in the Dublin University Magazine during the time that he edited it, is written by Le Fanu, and that the authors assertion that it is not fiction, but an actual account of paranormal experiences he and his family had, is genuine. (Le Fanus editorial introduction doesnt identify himself as the narrator, but doesnt preclude that identification either.) This was quite fascinating (at least to me), and describes phenomena that I think might tentatively be explained by the hypothesis of psychic imprinting, if such a thing can happen. Of the five fictional stories Ive read so far, the highly original Mr. Justice Harbottle is my favorite (though I liked all of them). The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh arguably suffers somewhat structurally from the fact that, under the guise of repeating contradictory local legends, Le Fanu here tells two completely different stories involving the same character and locale (only the first one making real use of the peculiarities of the invented locale) and the apparent theme of a satanic bargain, although that interpretation isnt stated. Both are effective, but it could be maintained that making this two independent stories, and changing the main characters name and the place name in the second, would have been a better route to go. Schalken the Painter is definitely a dark tale, and arouses a strong negative reaction toward the sexist attitudes and practices of the society it depicts (though that might not have been Le Fanus primary intention).Ill come back to this book later this month, and write more (with, hopefully, some more general comments and assessments) at that time!Nov. 2, 2012Ive now finished this book, and can pronounce it an excellent read of its type! Probably my favorite selection among the ones read in this go-around is The Haunted Baronet (1870), which at 117 pages is novella length, and so affords more scope for character development, incident, and atmospheric treatment (to use the authors term) than most of the other works here. This is one of apparently several tales Le Fanu set in the fictional village of Golden Friars in northern England (the other one reprinted here is The Dead Sexton). Bleiler says the author left Dublin only for occasional trips, but from his effective evocation of that setting, Id say he probably made at least one of those trips to the Yorkshire area. (The last part of the novella employs exactly the same plot --with just variation in names, setting, and details-- as the conclusion of The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh, which shows some literary laziness, IMO; but its not a deal-breaker.) Most of the other stories are set in Ireland, and according to Bleiler The White Cat of Drumgunniol makes use of actual Irish folklore, though Im not well enough versed enough in that area to tell. Ghosts, of course, provide the usual supernatural phenomena here, but Satanic pacts and (in Green Tea) visitations of demons are represented as well. Le Fanus ghosts are characteristically motivated by desire for revenge, sometimes not just against those who wronged them, but against the latters descendants too.Bleiler, in his interesting and informative introduction, suggests that a strength of Le Fanus approach to the ghost story (which he finds distinctive among Victorian writers in the genre) is his interest in the psychology and perceptions of the haunted person, not just the scary outward aspects of the haunting. I dont know about other Victorians, but Le Fanu certainly does focus on this; he doesnt reduce the supernatural to a psychological illusion, but he more than once suggests that certain conditions have to exist in the mind and nervous system before a persons senses can perceive the supernatural, and in tales like The Familiar he concentrates on the psychological effects the haunting has on its victim. Writing on the supernatural genre in Good Fiction Guide (Oxford Univ. Press, 2001), Michael Cox suggests that Victorian writers in the field tended to bring the supernatural into the setting of their own time and place, rather than making it remote in time or geography as the Romantic writers tended to do. But this may be another difference between Le Fanu and his contemporaries; the great majority of the stories here are set in the 18th century, and Carmilla, one of the few works set in his own time, takes place in distant Austria. Indeed, with his frequent use of the motif of old, handed-down stories and reference to old documents or old paintings, its easy to see him as a significant influence for M. R. James in the development of the latters own antiquarian style. He also has, like Lovecraft (who liked his work), a preference for straight narration over the use of much dialogue, though he can use dialogue in places where its needed, and even makes, at times, very realistic use of Irish and northern British dialect.Some have suggested that Le Fanus character Dr. Martin Hesselius is literatures first occult detective. That worthy does appear in a few of the stories here, but his function is to be a listening ear for haunted characters to tell their stories to, and a collector of occult lore. His role is passive, not active like that of true occult detective characters like Carnacki or Flaxman Low, who get out of the office, take on supernatural baddies on their own turf, and actively thwart them. Where he appears, Hesselius has more in common with figures like Irvings Geoffrey Crayon or Diedrich Knickerbocker: a filtering narrative voice to add, to use Irvings term, resonance to the tale.Note: The selection Ghost Stories of the Tiled House is actually, according to the appended page-length note on Sources at the end of this collection, a couple of chapters from the longer, serially published story cycle The House by the Churchyard (1861). The latter of these two was reprinted as An Authentic Narrative of the Ghost of a Hand in Montague Summers The Supernaural Omnibus and as The Ghost of a Hand in Roald Dahls Book Of Ghost Stories. Id read it there, but didnt immediately recognize it here because of the difference in title --though I remember thinking that it was distinctly thematically akin to the one Id read earlier! :-)The Sources usually dont date the original publication of these stories, with a few exceptions, and theyre not arranged here in their chronological order (or, seemingly, any other logical order). Those would have been useful editorial features. But that minor quibble aside, this is a really outstanding collection of Le Fanus work, and Im really glad to have finally had the pleasure of reading it!

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