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Sheridan Le Fanu Locked Room Titles

Sheridan Le FanupngDid Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu actually write the first locked room mystery three years before Edgar Allan Poe? Was it the prototype for The Murders in The Rue Morgue?

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 – 1873) was an Irish writer of Gothic tales and mystery novels. He was the leading ghost-story writer of the nineteenth century and was central to the development of the genre in the Victorian era. M. R. James described Le Fanu as “absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories”. Three of his best-known works are Uncle Silas, Carmilla and The House by the Churchyard.

Sheridan Le Fanu was born in Dublin, into a literary family of Huguenot, Irish and English descent. His parents were Thomas Philip Le Fanu and Emma Lucretia Dobbin. Both his grandmother Alicia Sheridan LeFanu and his great-uncle Richard Brinsley Sheridan were playwrights (his niece Rhoda Broughton would become a successful novelist), and his mother was also a writer, producing a biography of Charles Orpen. Within a year of his birth his family moved to the Royal Hibernian Military School in the Phoenix Park, where his father, a Church of Ireland clergyman, was appointed to the chaplaincy of the establishment. The Phoenix Park and the adjacent village and parish church of Chapelizod would appear in Le Fanu’s later stories.

In 1826 the family moved to Abington, County Limerick, where Le Fanu’s father Thomas took up his second rectorship in Ireland. Although he had a tutor, who, according to his brother William, taught them nothing and was finally dismissed in disgrace, Le Fanu used his father’s library to educate himself. By the age of fifteen, Joseph was writing poetry which he shared with his mother and siblings but never with his father. His father was a stern Protestant churchman and raised his family in an almost Calvinist tradition.

In 1832 the disorders of the Tithe War (1831–36) affected the region. There were about six thousand Catholics in the parish of Abington, and only a few dozen members of the Church of Ireland. (In bad weather the Dean cancelled Sunday services because so few parishioners would attend.) However, the government compelled all farmers, including Catholics, to pay tithes for the upkeep of the Protestant church. Although Thomas Le Fanu tried to live as though he were well-off, the family was in constant financial difficulty. In 1838 the government instituted a scheme of paying rectors a fixed sum, but in the interim the Dean had little besides rent on some small properties he had inherited. In 1833 Thomas had to borrow £100 from his cousin Captain Dobbins (who himself ended up in the debtors’ prison a few years later) to visit his dying sister in Bath, who was also deeply in debt over her medical bills. At his death Thomas had almost nothing to leave to his sons and the family had to sell his library to pay off some of his debts. His widow went to stay with the younger son William.

Sheridan Le Fanu studied law at Trinity College in Dublin, where he was elected Auditor of the College Historical Society. Under a system peculiar to Ireland he did not have to live in Dublin to attend lectures, but could study at home and take examinations at the university when necessary. He was called to the bar in 1839, but he never practiced and soon abandoned law for journalism. In 1838 he began contributing stories to the Dublin University Magazine, including his first ghost story, entitled “The Ghost and the Bone-Setter” (1838). He became owner of several newspapers from 1840, including the Dublin Evening Mail and the Warder.

In 1844 Le Fanu married Susanna Bennett, the daughter of a Dublin barrister. They took a house in Warrington Place near the Grand Canal in Dublin. Their first child, Eleanor, was born in 1845, followed by Emma in 1846, Thomas in 1847 and George in 1854. In 1847 Le Fanu supported John Mitchel and Thomas Meagher in their campaign against the indifference of the government to the Irish Famine.

His personal life also became difficult at this time, as his wife suffered from increasing neurotic symptoms. She had a crisis of faith and tended to attend religious services at the nearby St. Stephen’s Church and discuss religion with William, Le Fanu’s younger brother, as Le Fanu had apparently stopped attending religious services. She suffered from anxiety after the deaths of several close relatives, including her father two years before, which may have led to marital problems. In April 1858 she suffered an “hysterical attack” and died the following day in unclear circumstances. She was buried in the Bennett family vault in Mount Jerome Cemetery beside her father and brothers. The anguish of Le Fanu’s diaries suggests that he felt guilt as well as loss. From then on he did not write any fiction until the death of his mother in 1861. He turned to his cousin Lady Gifford for advice and encouragement, and she remained a close correspondent until her death at the end of the decade.

In 1861 he became the editor and proprietor of the Dublin University Magazine and he began to take advantage of double publication, first serializing in the Dublin University Magazine, then revising for the English market. He published both The House by the Churchyard and Wylder’s Hand in this way. After lukewarm reviews of the former novel, set in the Phoenix Park area of Dublin, Le Fanu signed a contract with Richard Bentley, his London publisher, which specified that future novels be stories “of an English subject and of modern times”, a step Bentley thought necessary for Le Fanu to satisfy the English audience. Le Fanu succeeded in this aim in 1864, with the publication of Uncle Silas, which he set in Derbyshire. In his very last short stories, however, Le Fanu returned to Irish folklore as an inspiration and encouraged his friend Patrick Kennedy to contribute folklore to the D.U.M.

Le Fanu died in his native Dublin in 1873, at the age of 58. Today there is a road and a park in Ballyfermot, near his childhood home in south-west Dublin, named after him.

Edited from Wikipedia

Note: There really are only two basic Sheridan Le Fanu locked room titles:

‘A Passage in The Secret History of An Irish Countess’ (1838), was reprinted in ‘Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery’ (1851), as ‘The Murdered Cousin’, then later developed into the mystery novel ‘Uncle Silas’ (1864). The short story was again republished, under the original title, in The Purcell Papers (1880). Most commonly read and available in novel format.

‘Some Accounts of the Latter Days of the Honourable Richard Marston of Dunoran’ (1848),  was reprinted in ‘Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery’ (1851) as the novelette ‘The Evil Guest’, then later developed into the novel ‘A Lost Name’ (1868). Most commonly read and available in novelette format.

Project Gutenberg Sheridan Le Fanu titles

complete le fanu

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The Complete Sheridan Le Fanu – Delphi

Many Sheridan Le Fanu titles are available on Gutenberg, and some in free ebooks, but for convenience this is a great addition to your e-library!

Sheridan Le Fanu Locked Room Novels

uncle silasUncle Silas (1864)
Detective: Maud Ruthyn

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Available in paperback and ebook editions.

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Gutenberg  Librivox

Note: Was this the first locked room mystery?

Robert Adey in Locked Room Mysteries makes the argument that “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess”, the original story behind this novel, is really the first locked room mystery, which gave the idea to Edgar Allan Poe – and it seems to make sense! Read the original or this longer Anglicized version of Uncle Silas.

The novel is a first person narrative told from the point of view of the teenaged Maud Ruthyn, an heiress living with her sombre, reclusive father Austyn Ruthyn in their mansion at Knowl. She gradually becomes aware of the existence of Silas Ruthyn, a black sheep uncle whom she has never met, who was once an infamous rake and gambler but is now apparently a fervently reformed Christian. Silas’s past holds a dark mystery, which she gradually learns from her father and from her worldly, cheerful cousin Lady Monica: the suspicious suicide of a man to whom Silas owed an enormous gambling debt, which took place within a locked, apparently impenetrable room in Silas’s mansion at Bartram-Haugh. Austyn is firmly convinced of his brother’s innocence; Maud’s attitude to Uncle Silas (whom we do not meet for the first 200 pages of the book) wavers repeatedly between trusting in her father’s judgment, and growing fear and uncertainty.

A macabre mystery novel and classic of gothic horror. It is a much extended adaptation of his earlier short story “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess”, with the setting changed from Ireland to England. A film version under the same name was made by Gainsborough Studios in 1947, and a remake entitled The Dark Angel, starring Peter O’Toole as the title character, was made in 1987. The case involves a man who has been bludgeoned to death inside a locked room.

More on Uncle Silas

complete le fanuA Lost Name (1868) 
Detective: None

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Available in paperback and ebook editions.


Note: Novel developed from “Richard Marston”!

Sir Roke Wycherly is found cruelly murdered with his throat cut inside his locked chamber. An old family prophesy seems to fulfil itself, namely that the curse on the Shadwell family, which was brought about by a jealous wife’s suicide, is going to take its toll.

A novel developed from “Some Account of the Latter Days of Richard Marston, of Dunoran,” which was reprinted as the novelette “The Evil Guest” in Le Fanu’s ‘Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery’. 

Sheridan Le Fanu Locked Room Short Stories

purcell 2A Passage in The Secret History of An Irish Countess (1838)
Detective: Maud Ruthyn

Collection: The Purcell Papers Volume 2 (1880)

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Free eBook  Free eBook  Gutenberg

Note: The first locked room story in 1838? Three years before Poe!

Robert Adey in Locked Room Mysteries makes the argument that “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess”, first published in Dublin University Magazine in 1838, is the first locked room mystery, which gave the idea to Edgar Allan Poe – and it seems to make sense! Read this original or the longer Anglicized version in Uncle Silas. See Uncle Silas for further information.

complete le fanuSome Accounts of the Latter Days of the Honourable Richard Marston of Dunoran (1848)
Detective: None

Collection: Complete Sheridan Le Fanu

Available only in ebook editions .


Note: The original short story behind ‘A Lost Name’ & ‘The Evil Guest’

See ‘A lost Name’ for further information. This original version is only available in eBook collected works, and in print in large collected works formats.

2 ghostlyThe Murdered Cousin (1851)
Detective: Maud Ruthyn

Collection: Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851); Two Ghostly Mysteries

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Free eBook  eBook  Free eBook  Gutenberg

Note: A novelette version of “Irish Countess”!

“The Murdered Cousin” is a reprint of “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess” in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery, lengthened and with some alterations.

evil guestThe Evil Guest (1851)
Detective: None

Best Review

Available in paperback and ebook editions.

Book  eBook  Free eBook  eBook  Free eBook 

Gutenberg  LibriVox

Note: Novelette developed from “Richard Marston”!

A novelette from ‘Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery,’ developed from the original short story “Some Account of the Latter Days of Richard Marston, of Dunoran” – shorter than ‘A Lost Name’, with some plot alterations.  The case involves a man who has his throat cut inside a locked room. The Evil Guest is about 130 pages.

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Sheridan Le Fanu Bibliography

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