Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh

Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh

Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh

Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh

Excerpt

Uncle Silas is a romance of terror. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu lets us know that he expanded it from a short story (length, about fifteen pages) which he wrote earlier in his literary life and published, anonymously, in a magazine--under the tide of A Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess. As he does not give the name of the magazine I have not, so far, been able to trace the story. I should make further efforts to do so could I feel that its interest was very great: its initial interest, that is to say, qua story. It holds, it is true, the germ of the later novel--or, at least, of its plot. But about that plot itself there is little new. The exterior plot of Uncle Silas is traditional, well worn by the time Le Fanu took up his pen. What have we? The Wicked Uncle and the Endangered Heir. I need not point out the precedents even in English history. Also, this is the Babes in the Wood theme-- but in Uncle Silas we have only one babe--feminine, in her late adolescence, and, therefore, the no less perpetual Beauty in Distress. Maud Ruthyn has her heroine-prototype in a large body of fiction which ran to excess in the gothic romances but is not finished yet--the distraught young lady clasping her hands and casting her eyes skyward to Heaven: she has no other friend. . . . No, it is hard to see that simply uncle and niece, her sufferings, his designs, compressed, as they were at first, into a number of pages so small as to limit "treatment" (Le Fanu'sforte) could have made up into anything much more than the conventional magazine story of the day.

What is interesting is that Le Fanu, having written the story, should have been unable, still, to discharge its theme from his mind. He must have continued, throughout the years, to be obsessed, if subconsciously, by the niece and uncle. More, these two and their relationship to each other became magnetic to everything strangest and most powerful in his own imagination . . .

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