No 121 Lafcadio Hearn

By Fowler, Christopher | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), April 29, 2012 | Go to article overview
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No 121 Lafcadio Hearn


Fowler, Christopher, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


INVISIBLE INK

At the age of 24, when he was still known as Paddy, Lafcadio Hearn wrote an article for the Cincinati Enquirer that described a man being stuffed into a furnace. It was a typical early piece for him, absurdly lurid and not actually true.

Born in 1850 on Lefkas, of Irish-Greek descent, he was raised in Dublin and Durham, lost an eye, became down-and-out in London, headed to America as part of the great Irish diaspora, immersed himself in the Creole culture of New Orleans, studied voodoo and finally fetched up in Japan at the age of 40, where he married and began to produce books. This heady background provided him with his trademarks; police reporting gave him a taste for grisly accounts, and although he became philosophical about his fears, he wrote in order to come to terms with grotesque and violent terrors.

What Hearn became, though, was one of the greatest Western interpreters of Japan. His wife was Japanese, and he used Shinto beliefs in his exploration of a society previously unimagined in the West. In his translations of traditional ghost tales, he introduced to us the idea of the spirits of the dead co-existing with the living (as well as the fetishised ghost-clich of flowing black hair).

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