Portrait of Sheridan Le Fanu

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (August 28, 1814 – February 7, 1873) was an Irish author known for his psychological horror and mystery stories.

Le Fanu began publishing short stories in college. He spent the first twenty years of his career, however, in journalism. It was not until he became owner of the Dublin University Magazine in 1861 that he returned to writing fiction. He serialized his stories in the magazine first then published them in book form for the English market. In the last ten years of his life, Le Fanu became a popular and productive author, publishing a dozen novels in addition to many short stories and novellas.

Sheridan Le Fanu is considered to be one of the greatest Victorian ghost story writers. He influenced many authors including M.R. James and Bram Stoker. His best-known works include the Gothic novel Uncle Silas and the vampire novella Carmilla.


Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was born on April 28, 1814 in Dublin to Thomas Philip Le Fanu and Emma Lucretia Dobbin. He was the second of three children. His father was a Church of Ireland clergyman of Huguenot descent, and his mother was the niece of the famous Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Sheridan Le Fanu 001

Photograph of Sheridan Le Fanu taken late in his life.

Le Fanu was privately tutored at home. He spent many hours in his father's large library, and he began writing poetry at a young age. Although he studied law at Trinity College in Dublin and was admitted to the Irish bar in 1839, he never practiced law. He decided instead to pursue a career in literature and journalism. He began contributing stories to the Dublin University Magazine in 1838 and became owner of the Warder newspaper in 1839. Le Fanu went on to own several other newspapers including the Dublin Evening Mail in his lifetime.

In 1844, Le Fanu married Susanna Bennett with whom he would have four children. After the marriage and publication of two unsuccessful historical novels set in Ireland, Le Fanu worked mostly as a press writer. Susanna, who suffered from neurosis, was plagued by anxiety and religious doubt after the death of her father and other family members. When she died at the age of 34 in April 1858, Le Fanu was struck by a feeling of guilt and by his own religious doubts. His interest in the supernatural grew, and he became increasingly more reclusive.

In 1861, Le Fanu purchased the Dublin University Magazine which he continued to own and edit till1869. He began to write fiction again, serializing the stories in the magazine first then revising and publishing them for the English market afterwards. The House by the Churchyard (1863), a Gothic historical novel set in Ireland with elements of mystery, is today considered a masterpiece. The novel, however, was received poorly at the time, and Le Fanu was advised by his London publisher to set future works in England in modern times. Following the advice, Le Fanu changed the setting of his 1838 short story "Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess" to England and expanded it to create his next novel Uncle Silas (1864). It became a great success, and many more novels and short stories followed.

Despite his popularity, Le Fanu remained reclusive. He died at home in Dublin on February 7, 1873.

Selected works

Uncle Silas 1864

Title page of the first edition of Uncle Silas (1864)

  • The House by the Churchyard (1863), novel
  • Uncle Silas (1864), novel
  • In a Glass Darkly (1872), collection of five stories:
  • "Green Tea"
  • "The Familiar"
  • "Mr. Justice Harbottle"
  • "The Room in the Dragon Volant"
  • Carmilla
  • The Purcell Papers (1880), posthumous three-volume collection of early short stories:
  • "The Ghost and the Bone-Setter"
  • "The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh"
  • "The Last Heir of Castle Connor"
  • "The Drunkard's Dream"
  • "Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess"
  • "The Bridal of Carrigvarah"
  • "Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter"
  • "Scraps of Hibernian Ballads"
  • "Jim Sulivan's Adventures in the Great Snow"
  • "A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family"
  • "An Adventure of Hardress Fitzgerald, a Royalist Captain"
  • "The Quare Gander"
  • "Billy Maloney's Taste of Love and Glory".
  • Madam Crowl's Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery (1923), posthumous collection of short stories edited by M.R. James:
  • "Madam Crowl's Ghost"
  • "Squire Toby's Will"
  • "Dickon the Devil"
  • "The Child That Went with the Fairies"
  • "The White Cat of Drumgunniol"
  • "An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street"
  • "Ghost Stories of Chapelizod"
  • "Wicked Captain Walshawe, of Wauling"
  • "Sir Dominick's Bargain"
  • "Ultor de Lacy"
  • "The Vision of Tom Chuff"
  • "Stories of Lough Guir".

External links