He obviously thought deeply about the nature of fictional supernaturalism and was aware of the implications that supernaturalism would have for the other dynamics of the story. In his best work LeFanu [sic] was primarily a psychologist…. Within his better fiction LeFanu [sic] so blended and intertwined the natural and the supernatural that his work is a fugue of strange states of consciousness, linkages between the outside world and man, and a hidden, often diabolic morality, that will not suffer evil to go unavenged or unbetrayed.
This is what made Le Fanu so unique in his age — so different from Collins and Bulwer-Lytton who saw ghosts as plot agents, adversaries, and obstacles. To Le Fanu they were mirrors, psychological symbols, and avatars of the interior. Carmilla appears almost as if summoned to help Laura sort out her burgeoning sexuality and womanhood: not as an opponent, but as a reflection. Rather, it is the crepuscular landscape of the human soul — the twilight world of shadows that casts reality in a murk of biases, lusts, fears, and denials: in an uncanny chiaroscuro — that gives Le Fanu his frighteningly confrontational universe.
Fittingly enough for someone whose fiction so frequently presaged the theories of Freud, those two stars were his father and wife. Thomas Le Fanu was a Church of Ireland clergyman who kept his family in poverty despite their comparative wealth through poor business decisions and a flaky detachment from physical life. It is perhaps remarkable that despite his full name — Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu — and considering the many versions of this appellation that circulate, Le Fanu neatly evicted his father from his signature, never calling himself J. Le Fanu or J.
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Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu, but almost surgically banishing the influence of a man whom he frequently viewed as fanatical, judgmental, and cruel. Despite his Anglican employment, Thomas was deeply motivated by Calvinist theology which celebrated predestination: the theory that God had preselected the Elect and the Damned, and that — from the moment of conception — nothing a man could do could prevent him from receiving his preordained destination.
Hence a mass murderer and pedophile might have been elected to heaven while a devout widow and philanthropist might awake from death in hell. The only way to know which one you were was to detect your intrinsic motives did you WANT to do good naturally, or was it an act? The second great influence was his wife, a woman who similarly displayed an imprudent obsession with spiritual matters at the cost of her waking life.
Unlike Thomas Le Fanu, whose religion was unshakable, Susanna Le Fanu was wracked with a disbelief that terrified her. She had no doubt in the existence of damnation, it seems, though she frequently questioned the resurrection, salvation, and the existence of God. But the existence of the Inferno never seemed to be a matter of controversy. Such was the case of Susanna Le Fanu, though she would not have called herself an atheist. Le Fanu was so repelled by her morbid obsession with spirituality, that her death following an episode of mania — one as mysterious as any in his novels — hounded him to his own demise.
Susanna had steadily become a victim of mental illness, growing hysterically terrified by the thought of death and her eternal destination. The response calls to mind E. Le Fanu frequently strands his characters in a crepuscular landscape which employs his favored chiaroscuro effect: light and shadow are equally enhanced and underscored, drawing attention to their uncomfortable proximity and their diametrically opposed natures, creating a convenient metaphor for good and evil, public and private, conscious and unconscious.
His is a world where opposites meet in a borderland where their essential qualities blur and dilute one another until the weakness is so great that a powerful change is exacted: light and dark blend into twilight; good and evil fade into moral ambiguity; heaven and hell blur into purgatory; sinners and saints merge into homeless souls; conscious and unconscious fuse into waking nightmares; the dead and the living merge into the dead man who is animated by lust and the live man who longs for death; city and country crosshatch into suburban landscapes that feel as desolate as settlements on the verge of a forbidding wilderness.
His universe is shadowy, but perceptible, lit but ill defined — one which demands that we squint and peer. And what do we see when the murk seems to thin and our sight breaks through the darkness? Horrors that punish our imprudent curiosity. His fiction, like that of his pupils — the Benson brothers, M. Jacobs, H. Wakefield, Ramsey Campbell, Bram Stoker, Oliver Onions, Walter de la Mare, and more — is profoundly subtextual, being more psychological commentary than spooky entertainment, more existentially upsetting than gruesome, and more dedicated to suggesting philosophical terrors — phantoms that torment the mind and soul — than exposing visual horrors which twist the stomach and gullet.
The same could be said about his own biography. He was an urban, Anglo-Irish, Conservative, Protestant who sympathized with and romanticized the rural, Celtic-Irish, Finnian, Catholics, instilled from an early ages with equal doses of fanatical Calvinist, fashionable Anglican, and superstitious Catholic theologies, and driven by a deep patriotism for his liege — the British Crown — his homeland — Ireland — and his community — the hybrid Anglo-Irish.
Le Fanu frequently set his fiction in bygone eras principally the Late Jacobean and Early Georgian periods which like M. He seems to find an allure in the era when men wore periwigs and embroidered banyans, swaddled their throats in voluminous cravats, and met in chaotic Enlightenment coffee houses rather than tidy Victorian tea rooms.
He is drawn to the order of the feudal countryside which was becoming extinct around him — replaced by industrial centers and manufacturing hubs. And yet he was repulsed by its cronyism, corruption, and lawlessness, detecting the same culprits in that time plying the same trades in his own, now sanctioned by society and the law where they had formerly been protected by the perhaps less revolting powers of the privileged aristocracy. In the place of violent squires, sadistic hanging judges, sinister earls, murderous rakes, and decadent countesses he saw selfish men of business driven by materialism rather than the more romantic motives of power and fame.
It lacked drama, it lacked motive, it lacked panache, villainy, romance, or power.
The first is a type of close observation that is somehow both tenacious and casual, taken and selected from, everything he happens to see. Then there is a level of imagination that is as familiar as it is wild, in the case of drawings like these that contain both intimacy and vastness. Finally, there is an indefatigable quality of technique in terms of color, line and form. With a thundering attack call, the army of the Dayfairies flew into battle.
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The bronze glow of the half-set Sun glinted on sharpened blades and bared claws and gave their armor a rich golden shine. The silvery armor of the enemy glared harshly in muddled, overbright tones, staggering the squirrel-mounts and blinding their riders. The wings of the two armies made cacophony, smooth flutter against angry buzz, so that the clearing was deafeningly loud. The Dayfairies were outnumbered greatly.
Their bright orange blood splattered on rock and leaf, drawn by thin, silvery blades that burned like icefire. Tatters of brightly colored wings in every shade of red and yellow filled the air, and, slowly, the Dayfairy soldiers were being grounded.
But defeat was not yet at hand, for their allies were awakening. In the distance, a new wingbeat was rising, one slow and steady, deep and full. Soon, the sound was strong enough to be heard over the cacophony of battle, and both armies paused, gazing into the depths of the teal-leaved trees, awaiting the arrival of the crepuscular. On large, dappled-dark wings they rose, pulsing their strong, slow rhythm. Their armor and arms, glowing with a dull green phosphorescence in the gathering darkness, clashed with the dying golden Sunlight.
Without ceremony or speech, they moved into the fray, and the battle began to turn. The teal foliage rustled with the ever increasing night wind. The enemy was falling back. And the Moon was rising. The Dayfairies on their squirrel mounts retreated before the silver glow of the gibbous Moon, and the warriors rushed to follow them. But Nightfairies were weakened, and the people of the sunset were strong.
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In the light of the Moon, the ruddy brown blood ran free, and pale green lights danced, and the enemy was driven back for another night. Victory had come, just as it had every dusk since before time. And, when the Sun again began to slide below the horizon and the Moon began to rise, the enemy would return. Just as it had always been, victory would come again. High above the battle, in the branches of a dying evergreen, a dark shape hung. Clinging to the short, coarse fur of his bat-mount, the wizened and vile shaman of the night hoard waited.
Though he grinned at each fallen enemy, the shaman only snarled in contempt when his own soldiers were struck down. He had led this nightly raid for years and years, seeking to usurp the power of the blazing Sun and so conquer all, instead of sliding through the shadows like the soft and fragile Moonlight that his people depended upon. For though the might of their arms had always driven the Dayfairies back, and would have won them many battles if not for the interference of the crepuscular Sunset people, the shaman truly desired the tremendous powers of magic the Dayfairies held thanks to the blessing of the Sun.
Tonight would be his night.