I read Uncle Silas years ago, and absolutely loved it. Not sure why it took me so long to get back to reading Le Fanu. If you are into reading stories with a definite Gothic vibe, eerie and creepy, and have elements of the weird, odd or supernatural, then Le Fanu is your author, and In a Glass Darkly is your book. The collection is comprised of five of Le Fanu’s finest works, the first three more of the short story variety, the final two a bit longer novellas.
The five tales are cases taken from a certain Dr. Hessilius, a physician who studies cases have some basis in metaphysical or supernatural type occurrences.
The three shorter works all have a familiar set up in that each involves someone beings followed or stalked by something unearthly: “Green Tea”, the first in the collection, involves a clergyman who is followed by a “demonic” monkey that seems to know his every move and every thought. “The Familiar” deals with an individual being stalked by an evil dwarf. The third in the volume, “Dr. Justice Harbottle”, is about a cruel judge who begins to see visions in the form of spirits and an evil doppelganger. Perhaps these visions are the basis for revenge? Fascinating about all these stories is that the victims who are being hounded by something sinister all have some “inner” demons to work out as well.
The two longer works that finish the collection, “The Room in the Dragon Valant” and the more popular “Carmilla”, are superb examples of storytelling.
“The Room in the Dragon Valant” was my favorite. It involves a naïve young man stumbling upon a beautiful Countess and becoming instantly and foolishly enamored with her. As the young man is fascinated by this young beauty, he fails to see some pitfalls coming his way. This story is so multi-layered; there are so many subtle little hints that foreshadow events to follow. There are elements of the bizarre, rumors of a haunted room at an inn (which, of course, our main protagonist is rooming), and a bit of a Gothic feel (there is even a masquerade that adds to the atmosphere). The story has elements of romance, dark imagery, some twists, and great denouement. While the least “supernatural” of the works, I thought it was superb.
“Carmilla”, Le Fanu’s classic vampire tale, was also a brilliant example of creating a sense of tension of foreboding. The narrator, Laura, relates an extraordinary tale. She becomes friends with a girl named Carmilla, a young lady who stays when Laura’s father agrees to look after Carmilla for three months. During Carmella’s stay, Laura begins to have frightful events happen to her in the form of being visited by unearthly beings during the night. Meanwhile, there are several cases of young ladies becoming deathly “ill” in the village, under odd conditions. It is clear to see how “Carmilla” has had influence on so many modern filmmakers and writers who have redone the vampire story.
What Le Fanu manages to do in this collection, perhaps a lost art form, is give an opening of ambiguity to aspects of events, conversations, details, etc. This gives an added layer of dimension to the reads, builds the mounting tensions, and makes the reader active in following the rather bizarre cases and findings. Rather than tell, Le Fanu shows; and he does this quite effectively. The stories all have a build that rises and rises with subtle revelations that shock and awe the reader. Clearly, Le Fanu was a master at this craft of creating an ominous, uncomfortable, atmospheric, and unnatural feeling in his tales, and In a Glass Darkly is a brilliant illustration of such.
These five works are all excellent, in my humble opinion, but I definitely thought the longer works, the final two in the collection, to be far superior to the three short stories that open because we can see this work unfold in a slow crawl that build and builds.
- Paperback: 290 pages
- Publisher: Wentworth Press (28 February 2019)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0526248904
- ISBN-13: 978-0526248902
- Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.5 x 23.4 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 413 g
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