Imagine my surprise when I realised the last story in Sheridan Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly seems to be about a lesbian vampire who is the guest in an Austrian castle high in the wooded mountains of Styria. Very hammer horror in dead.
Le Fanu lends the scene where we first guess at the woman’s sexual persuasions a deal of eroticism, which must have been very racy for his Victorian authorship:
‘She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear … And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek.’
And the erotic tension is raised a page later:
‘…breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardour of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet overpowering; and with gloating eyse she drew me to her, and her hot lips travelled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one for ever.”‘
We are not told that she is a Vampire, but Le Fanu knowingly lays all the clues for the reader. The pleasure is not in the mystery as such – we know roughly what the outcome will be – but in the languid pleasure of it’s telling.
I guess you could call this story horror – vampire’s and spirits are generally classified so. What is the difference between horror and fantasy – both deal with things are not supposed to be real?
This evening I came across information about Gene Wolfe’s new title due in September – see http://mysite.verizon.net/~vze2tmhh/wolfeblog.html. But then whilst researching Sheridan Le Fanu I also found that he had written a short story with the same name. It will be intriguing to see if there is any link. In the current publicity for the book Lovecraft’s influences are referenced, but not Le Fanu as far as I can see.
The blurb for Wolfe’s book reads:
‘Set a hundred years in the future, An Evil Guest is a story of an actress who becomes the lover of both a mysterious sorcerer and private detective, and an even more mysterious and powerful rich man, who has been to the human colony on an alien planet and learned strange things there. Her loyalties are divided–perhaps she loves them both. The detective helps her to release her inner beauty and become a star overnight. And the rich man is the benefactor of a play she stars in. But something is very wrong. Money can be an evil guest, but there are other evils. As Lovecraft said, “That is not dead which can eternal lie.”‘
Sneaky Mr Wolfe. Am planning to read the short story soon and see if I can detect any possible nods and winks from the blurb on Wolfe’s forthcoming book. More findings soon hopefully!
Watch this space.
I finished the third tale in the book today – Mr Justice Harbottle. This story had an incredible atmosphere to it. It felt like Sleepy Hollow combined with Monty Python in the depiction of the crooked 18C judge. The main character is a hang ’em high type who is pursued beyond the grave by his victims. The sense of impending doom and descriptions of characters and settings, such as twisted rotting tress outside a carriage door, are what made it for me I think.
More on Sheridan Le Fanu here – http://www.litgothic.com/Authors/lefanu.html and of course wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheridan_Le_Fanu
I’m currently reading Through a Glass Darkly by Sheridan Le Fanu. This is not a novel per se, but a collection of five ghost stories connected by a common narrator – a Dr Hesselius. The stories remind me of some of the ghost stories by Henry James – Turn of the Screw etc, but also of Sherlock Holmes, as they have an almost investigative aspect to them. Often the afore mentioned narrator or even another Dr or priest is trying to find a medical or metaphysical explanation for strange occurences.
I am enjoying the first two stories that I have read so far – there is a good building of tension, which the Jamesian allusive prose adds to.