Vision and Vacancy: "Schalken the Painter" and le Fanu's Art of Darkness

By Walton, James | Papers on Language & Literature, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Vision and Vacancy: "Schalken the Painter" and le Fanu's Art of Darkness


Walton, James, Papers on Language & Literature


   And it's old and old it's sad and old it's sad and weary I go
   back to you my cold father, my cold mad father, my cold mad
   feary father ...

   --Finnegans Wake

Underlying the melodrama and moralism, the orthodoxy and mysticism of Uncle Silas (1864), W. J. McCormack has discovered a "sinister vacancy" from which "authority has withdrawn" (Sheridan Le Fanu 207). In the development of a technique for representing art itself as a mask for vacancy and for raising the mere ghost of authority, Le Fanu never surpassed "Schalken the Painter" (1839). (1)

Le Fanu's art fable first appeared in Dublin University Magazine as "Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter," framed as an "Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P. P., of Drumcoolagh." In the first Extract the "editor" presented Purcell's credentials as a priest "of the old school ... whose habits were from many causes more refined, and whose tastes more literary than those of the alumni of Maynooth." In the later version of The Purcell Papers, "many causes" is replaced by "education abroad," making the Catholic priest more clearly representative of the cosmopolitan culture promoted by the severely Protestant D. U. M. (2) In the early volumes of the magazine, "Schalken" kept company with James Clarence Mangan's Anthologia Germanica, with translations or adaptations of Goethe, Schiller and the lesser German Romantics, of one tale of Hoffmann's and three of Balzac's. (3) A common thread in these specimens of Romanticism (or, in Balzac's case "Romantic Realism" (4)) was their struggle with what Thomas Mann would describe as "sympathy with the abyss" (17). The sense of vacancy, the "urge," even, "towards nihilism" whose source McCormack finds in the predicament of the Protestant Ascendancy (Sheridan Le Fanu 194) had literary antecedents in a series of imaginative encounters with the void that were part of an Anglo-Irish writer's literary milieu.

During Le Fanu's tenure as editor/ proprietor (1861-69), D. U. M. printed an essay on "The Style of Balzac and Thackeray" remarking their power to penetrate the "surface," the "masquerade," of civilization (621). An earlier essay on "French Novels and Novelists" compares Balzac's art to Dutch painting: "fresh objects ever start out from the dim, yet transparent shades of his background" (351). In "Schalken" Le Fanu follows Balzac's "Le Chef-d'oeuvre inconnu" ("The Unknown Masterpiece") in using Dutch portraiture as a projection of his own uncanny realism. (5)

The story (in its unframed version) opens with a description of an imaginary painting by a real painter whose work was distinguished, as the narrator tells us, by "the curious management of its lights." (6)

The picture represents the interior of what might be a chamber in some antique religious building; and its foreground is occupied by a female figure, in a species of white robe, part of which is arranged so as to form a veil. The dress, however, is not that of any religious order. In her hand the figure bears a lamp, by which alone her figure and face are illuminated; and her features such an arch smile, as well becomes a pretty woman wear when practising someprankish roguery; in the background, and excepting where the dim red light of an expiring fire serves to define the form, in total shadow, stands the figure of a man dressed in the old Flemish fashion, in an attitude of alarm, his hand being placed upon the hilt of his sword, which he appears to be in the act of drawing. (29)

The narrator is certain that Schalken's picture represents "not the mere ideal shapes and combinations which have floated through the imagination of the artist, but scenes, faces, and situations which have actually existed" (29). The painting in fact depicts no single action in the story but seems a composite of two, occurring respectively in the middle and at the end. Together the three scenes constitute a kind of triptych comprehending the whole action of the narrative, which can be summarized as follows:

Like his original, the eponymous hero of Le Fanu's tale is the pupil of another genre painter, Gerard Douw (Gerrit Dou [1613-1675]). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Vision and Vacancy: "Schalken the Painter" and le Fanu's Art of Darkness
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.