Fonds RBSC-ARC-1837 - Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu research collection

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Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu research collection

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  • Photographic material
  • Textual record

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32 cm of textual records and 11 photographs.

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Biographical history

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was born August 28, 1814 in Dublin, Ireland. Growing up, his father, Thomas Philip Le Fanu, was a clergyman for the Church of Ireland and struggled financially causing them to move around Ireland several times throughout Le Fanu’s childhood. Le Fanu’s mother, Emma Lucretia Dobbin, supported his writing and he started writing poetry when he was 15 years old.

Le Fanu studied law at Trinity College in Dublin, and was called to the bar in 1839, but he soon left law for journalism and never practiced in a court of law. He first began writing stories for the Dublin University Magazine in 1838 where he published his first ghost story entitled "The Ghost and the Bone-Setter". In 1840, he became the owner or had interest in several newspapers, including the Dublin Evening Mail and The Warder, where he also published his stories.

On December 18, 1844 he married Susanna Bennett and the couple would have four children: Eleanor (1845), Emma (1846), Thomas (1847), and George (1854). Bennett suffered from anxiety and other neurological symptoms, and in 1858 died of unclear circumstances, or a “hysterical attack” as it was known then. This impacted Le Fanu deeply and caused him to cease writing for three years.

When Le Fanu resumed writing again in 1861, he became the editor and proprietor of the Dublin University Magazine. He published both “The House by the Churchyard” and “Wylder's Hand”. He then signed a contract with Richard Bentley, his London publisher, and in 1864 had success with an English audience and market with his publication of “Uncle Silas”.

Le Fanu is remembered for his horror fiction writing, often including Irish folklore into his stories, along with gothic, Victorian elements. Though known for writing ghost stories, he avoided overtly supernatural effects, and rather specialized in tone and effect in his mysteries. He is best known for his 1864 novel “Uncle Silas”, and a collection of five short stories published in 1872 entitled “In a Glass Darkly”. His legacy would influence 20th century ghost writers, notably M.R. James. Le Fanu’s work was so horrific that it is said he “died by fright” caused by a heart attack on February 7, 1873.

Custodial history

The records were collected by Roy Stokes throughout his professional and academic career. His main academic interest was in bibliographies, and he worked with various institutions in Europe and North America to acquire the records to create a comprehensive bibliography of Le Fanu that comprises this research collection. He donated the archival records along with a collection of books that are available in the UBC Library catalogue in the year 2000.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of the research on Le Fanu conducted by Roy Stokes. Records relate to the personal life and professional writing career of Le Fanu that were collected and composed by Roy Stokes. Records include: four original letters by or for Le Fanu, typed transcripts of letters, and correspondence between Stokes and various people and institutions throughout his research process; bibliographies by Roy Stokes and other authors; photographs and photo negatives of Beaumaris; newspapers and articles; photocopies of book chapters; and a poster and program for the Gate Theatre performance of “Carmilla”.

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Fonds arranged and described by Allison Gale in Spring 2022.

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