Sheridan Le Fanu was a pioneering writer of horror fiction, known for using the Gothic imagery of ghosts and monsters to explore individual subjectivity. This blurring of internal and external ‘haunting’ relied heavily on Swedenborgian theories of influx and correspondence, and his depictions of ‘spirits’ often evoked Swedenborg’s seminal study of the afterlife, Heaven and Hell. In A Glass Darkly puts these into practice in five short stories from the most prolific period of his career. In each we see some of the earliest uses of horror tropes that would come to influence Bram Stoker, Henry James, and even Stephen King.
Known in nineteenth-century Dublin as ‘The Invisible Prince’ because of his reclusive and nocturnal habits, Le Fanu was fascinated by the occult. His writings draw on the Gothic tradition, elements of Irish folklore, and even on the social and political anxieties of his Anglo-Irish contemporaries. In exploring sometimes inexplicable terrors, the tales focus on the unease of the haunted men and women who encounter the supernatural, rather than on the origin or purpose of the visitant. This makes for spine-chilling reading.
JOSEPH SHERIDAN LE FANU (1814-1873). Anglo-Irish novelist and short-story writer renowned for his mysteries and ghost stories. Of Huguenot origin on his father’s side and related to the dramatist Richard Brinsley Sheridan on his mother’s, Le Fanu was educated at Trinity College Dublin and was called to the Bar, but made his living as a journalist, becoming over his lifetime the editor and proprietor of a number of journals. The influence of Swedenborg on his writing may be seen most strongly in his best-known novel Uncle Silas and in the story ‘Green Tea’ in the volume In a Glass Darkly. W B Yeats’s interest in Swedenborg may have been stimulated by his reading of Le Fanu.
References: W J McCormack, Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland (Oxford, 1980) and John J Cerullo, ‘Swedenborgianism in the Works of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Desocialization and the Victorian Ghost Story’, in Swedenborg and his Influence, ed. Erland J Brock and others (1988).