Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 Classic #9

Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh – Sheridan Le Fanu, 1864

Victorian-era author Le Fanu is most famous for his vampire and ghost stories such as “Carmilla” and “Green Tea” so I picked up Uncle Silas for the supernatural category in all good faith. No spooks groan or haunt, as it gradually dawned on me, though the atmosphere is eerie enough in a creepy old house. The usual elements of a gothic novel are on display:  a too trusting and overly sensitive heiress, malignant scoundrels, vicious creeps, and tense episodes.

In the introduction, Le Fanu urges the reader to see this novel as a “tragic English romance” in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott instead of “a novel of sensation.” Despite the request to be open-minded, the problem is that while reading Uncle Silas the reader just can’t the sensation novel The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins out his mind. Le Fanu is too obviously taking a cue from Collins, throwing in too many impressions, being picturesque.

And spinning things out. This was a three-volume novel, so Le Fanu had to fill doorstop books with something. So we hapless readers must wade through scene after scene when the vampiric guardian is pooh-poohing the fears of the heroine. We have to soldier through romance scenes made tedious due to alien attitudes, mores, and situations.

I would suggest this early mystery to committed readers curious about the origins of our favorite popular genre. But other readers looking for a rip-roaring Victorian mystery should go to Lady Audley’s Secret or The Moonstone.

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