Wednesday, November 1, 2023

A Century of Madam Crowl’s Ghost -- by Jim Rockhill

 LeFanu, portrait by his son
Although most of his novels were properly attributed upon publication between hardcovers[i] within a year of their serialization, only a few of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s many short stories and novellas were credited to him upon his death on 7 February 1873,  leaving the majority languishing anonymously in a variety of magazines. 

Until his friend Arthur Perceval Graves (1846-1933) gathered thirteen pieces from the Dublin University Magazine [D.U.M.] as The Purcell Papers (London: Richard Bentley) in 1880, and followed that up with The Poems of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (London: Downey & Co.) in 1896, the only works of less than novel length by Le Fanu known to the public were “The Haunted Baronet” and two other Chronicles of Golden Friars (London: Richard Bentley, 1871), “The Dead Sexton” in Across the Bridge (the Christmas Number of Once a Week, December 1871), the five longish tales of In a Glass Darkly (London: Richard Bentley, 1872), and “Dickon the Devil” (London Society, Christmas 1872).

George Brinsley Le Fanu (1855-1935) sent the story fragment “Hyacinth O’Toole” to Temple Bar in 1884, and illustrated a few editions of his father’s work during his association with the London publisher Edmund Downey (1856-1937), but his reprinting of previously unattributed works is limited to “The Watcher” in (The Watcher and Other Weird Stories, 1894),[ii] The Cock and Anchor and The Evil Guest (both 1895).

This situation began to change in 1916 when S[tewart] M[arsh] Ellis (1845-1933) published the first bibliography of Le Fanu’s work in The Irish Book Lover (Vol. VIII, Nos. 3-4, October-November 1916, pp. 30-33) to complement his illustrated essay “Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu” in The Bookman (Volume 51, No. 301, October 1916,  pp. 15-21), an essay he later reworked for inclusion in Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu and Others (London: Constable & Co., Ltd., 1931). Ellis lists not only the novels, stories, and verse previously known, citing both serialization and book publication, but also journalism, and—mirabile dictu—the first acknowledgement of the author’s first collection, Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (Dublin: James McGlashan, 1851), “Some Account of the Latter Days of Sir Richard Marston, of Dunoran” D.U.M., April-June 1848), “The Mysterious Lodger” (D.U.M.,. January-February 1850), and “Ghost Stories of Chapelizod” (D.U.M., January 1851).

This laid the groundwork for M[ontague] R[hodes] James (1862-1936) to search the wide field of Victorian publications in full antiquarian mode for further specimens of Le Fanu’s work:  

stories which have not been reprinted or collected up to the present time . . . are only discoverable by research, and research of this particular kind into the files of more or less forgotten periodicals of the sixties and early seventies is not very easily carried out. I am convinced that I have missed some stories; yet I have done a good deal of ransacking, as occasion offered

This worthy endeavour yielded Madam Crowl’s Ghost, and Other Tales of Mystery (London: G. Bell), published one hundred years ago this month: November 1923. Here at last was not only a fuller and more detailed list of the author’s works gleaned through careful reading and comparison of who knows how many hundred pages of Victorian magazines and other ephemera, and an assessment of Le Fanu as novelist and story-teller. From the D.U.M. he identifies four hitherto unattributed stories, one more from Temple Bar, and six from All the Year Round

Dust-wrapper to the Oct 1925 Cheap Ed.
Better still, he offers a generous sampling of the stories he and Ellis had recovered. And what stories they are! In addition to rescuing the title story embedded in the short novel “A Strange Adventure in the Life of Miss Laura Mildmay” in Chronicles of Golden Friars, James reprints the known but difficult to obtain “Dickon the Devil”, and ten other stories fully exploring Le Fanu’s range from the grotesquely comical—“Some Strange Disturbances in an Old House in Aungier Street” (D.U.M., December 1853) and “Wicked Captain Walshawe of Wauling” (D.U.M., April 1864), to tragedy focusing on the dynamics in folkloric—“The Child that Went with the Fairies” (All the Year Round, 5 February 1870) —historical “Ultor de Lacy” (D.U.M., December 1861)  and  family settings—“Squire Toby’s Will” (Temple Bar, January 1868).

James concludes the note that precedes the list of stories he has discovered with the statement, “Some one will, I hope, supplement my list. It is offered here, with all faults.” Further discoveries have been made since the publication of Madam Crowl’s Ghost, and Other Tales of Mystery, up to W. J. Mc Cormack’s (1947- ) uncovering of “Spalatro” and “Borrhomeo the Astrologer” in “Sheridan Le Fanu and the Authorship of Anonymous Fiction in The Dublin University Magazine(Long Room 14-15, 1976-1977, pp. 32-36). Some of these finds have stood the test of time, others have proven doubtful[iii], and at least one[iv] was an outright fabrication; but one hundred years later this volume’s evidence of James’s devotion to the man he deemed “absolutely in the first rank as a writer of ghost stories” remains exemplary in its combination of scholarship, taste, and sheer diligence. 

(Jim Rockhill) 

[i] His first two novels between hardcovers, The Cock and Anchor – Being a Chronicle of Old Dublin (Dublin: William Curry, 1845) and The Fortunes of Colonel Torlogh O’Brien – A Tale of the Wars of King James (Dublin: James McGlashan, 1847) also premiered anonymously, though they were later published as Le Fanu’s works by Downey & Co. in 1895 and 1896 respectively. I have addressed the complicated story behind the suspected Le Fanu novel first identified by W. J. Mc Cormack, Loved and Lost (D.U.M., September 1868 – May 1869), and the Anonymous The Story of My Love (London: Richard Bentley, 1869) in my introduction to S. T. Joshi’s reprint edition of Loved and Lost for Sarnath Press (2021).

[ii] First published in the D.U.M. (November 1847), but by this time many readers would have been familiar with the later version published in In a Glass Darkly. Cock and Anchor and The Evil Guest would also have been somewhat familiar, since Le Fanu had revised the first novel as Morley Court (London: Chapman & Hall, 1873) and the second as A Lost Name (London: Richard Bentley, 1868). 

[iii] The most frustrating and seemingly inextinguishable of these relates to the American edition of A Stable for Nightmares (New York: New Amsterdam Book Co, 1896), which emblazons Le Fanu’s name on the cover, even though it contains only one story by Le Fanu, and attempts to clarify that on the title page by stating it also contains stories by Sir Charles Young, Bart., and (in much smaller print) others. None of the stories are identified by author, though the book begins with Le Fanu’s “Dickon the Devil” and ends with Fitz-James O’Brien’s “What Was It?”. All the stories but one, which must be the work of Sir Charles Young, traveled overseas from the first British edition from Tinsley Brothers in 1868, which also fails to identify its authors.

[iv] “The Churchyard Yew” appeared in the July 1947 issue of Weird Tales as the work of “J. SHERIDAN LeFANU” was a pastiche by August Derleth (1909-1971), a hoax he perpetuated in Night’s Yawning Peal (Sauk City, WI: Arkham House-Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1952) and the Arkham House edition of The Purcell Papers (1975), though a posthumous note on the first page of the story in the latter volume admits the deception.


  1. Well done, richly researched, interesting, and quite enjoyable!

  2. I'm reminded that in D L Sayers' Gaudy Night, Harriet Vane is researching for a book about le Fanu, looking up references in periodicals in the Bodleian

  3. Isn't it also possible that Derleth perpetuated another literary hoax with Hodgson's "The Hog"?

    1. No. The existence of "The Hog" is attested in Hodgson's lifetime, and the trail of its manuscript going in the 1940s from Hodgson's sister Lissie, to H.C. Koenig, and on to Derleth, is established in their letters.