Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Green Tea”
ANDRÉ L. DECUIR
ONE MIGHT FIND IT ODD TO BEGIN A STUDY OF A POSSIBLE ACKNOWLedgment of male homosexual identity in a piece of Victorian fiction with a reference to Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s most famous work, the vampire tale, “Carmilla.” Critical attention has almost always centered on the homoerotic relationship between Laura, the narrator of the story, and the vampire, Carmilla. Nina Auerbach asserts in Our Vampires, Ourselves, perhaps the most recent work to analyze “Carmilla,” that “Carmilla is one of the few self-accepting homosexuals in Victorian or any literature.”1
The perceived relationship between the two women in the story has led inevitably to speculation about Le Fanu’s own sexuality, but the sparse critical studies of Le Fanu’s life and works provide no conclusive evidence that Le Fanu was either a practicing or latent homosexual. W. J. McCormack in Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland, perhaps the definitive study of Le Fanu, points out that “Le Fanu’s last five years [he died in 1873] were passed largely in isolation”2 and that “for the year 1870 virtually nothing is known, apart from his non-payment of bills and non-attendance at church.”3 McCormack alludes to the writer’s sexual identity in one line: “That Le Fanu may have been a latent homosexual has a certain clinical interest.”4
This essay certainly does not attempt to set forth irrefutable evidence of Le Fanu’s homosexual identity. Rather, through a close reading of the short story, “Green Tea,” with the lens provided by recent gay literary criticism, I wish to show that Le Fanu was certainly aware of same-sex desire which undoubtedly manifested itself within enclaves of accepted examples of masculinity: circles of professional men such as those in the Victorian medical profession.
While McCormack does not make any claims about Le Fanu as