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In a Glass Darkly - Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu "What a fool I was! and yet, in the sight of angels, are we any wiser as we grow older? It seems to me, only, that our illusions change as we go on; but, still, we are madmen all the same."


I read the Folio Society edition of this book and that red-eyed demon monkey was on the front cover. It was disconcerting to me and to my daughter who every time she saw it would ask me to turn the book over, so she wouldn't feel the intensity of the monkey's gaze.

I read this book predominately in the middle of the night. I go through restless sleeping patterns that wake me up sometime between 1:30 and 2:30AM. The only way I can get back to sleep is to sit and read in the antique rocking chair under the glass balled chandelier in what was once my dining area, but has been converted to a reading nook. (I guess you know where our priorities are.) Victorian Gothic horror, in my humble opinion, is best read after midnight.

The book contains five stories all based around the posthumous papers of Dr. Martin Hesselius. It turns out the Doctor has a strong belief in the occult and in this time period provided an unusually sympathetic ear to those with diabolic tales of terror.

Green Tea
An English clergyman named Jennings confides to Hesselius that he is being followed by a demon in the form of an ethereal monkey, invisible to everyone else, which is trying to invade his mind and destroy his life. The creature escalates the level of it's attacks and exponentially increases the level of terror experienced by Jennings.

The Familiar
A sea captain, living in Dublin, is stalked by a sinister dwarf who reminds him of the nefarious parts of his past he'd best left forgotten. To escape his stalker he becomes housebound, but the stress of the presence of the dwarf is replaced with voices accusing him of deeds most foul.

Mr Justice Harbottle
You can condemn them, but they don't stay gone. Judge Harbottle finds out that karma is landing on his sanctimonious ass in the form of vengeful spirits. His dreams are dominated by the condemnations of a murderous doppelgänger.

The Room in the Dragon Volant
A naive young Englishman, the recent recipient of a large inheritance, finds himself enamored with a lovely and mysterious Countess. She is married to a bastard of a Count and makes it clear to our young hero that she wishes to be saved. With a few swishes of her tail feathers and a few words of endearment the Countess weaves a bit of spellbound madness into our young hero who finds himself in dire straits about to be buried ALIVE. One of my favorites of the five.


As I was reading this tale I kept noticing elements of the story that reminded me of [b:Dracula|17245|Dracula|Bram Stoker|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1347251549s/17245.jpg|3165724]. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this was not only one of the earliest vampire stories, but was also published 25 years before Bram Stoker's classic. Stoker, must have read it, and used some of the atmosphere of this tale in his own work. I was also shocked to read a story from 1872 involving some fairly explicit allusions to lesbian vampire desires. I would highly recommend reading this story if you don't have time to read the whole collection. The story served as the basis for several films including Hammer's The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr (1932).

ADDENDUM APRIL 24th, 2013: Recently during a night of hell fighting a pinched nerve under the left scapula. I found I could not concentrate enough to read between rolling waves of pain, so I queued up The Vampire Lovers on Netflix Instant. I wanted something I did not have to pay much attention to and this fit the bill. Bonus: Ingrid Pitt is starkers at several points in the movie. She was almost a Bond Girl. To quote from the book Ingrid Pitt, Queen of Horror: The Complete Career..."Alas, Ingrid Pitt is only heard as the voice of the 'Galley Mistress' in Roger Moore's next-to-last cinematic fling as James Bond (exhorting, 'in, out, in out' to the all-female crew), which only makes her a Bond girl in the loosest sense of the term." I'm afraid that Ingrid Pitt and her lesbian encounters with several young victims were the highlights of the film. My hopes of seeing some real connections to the Le Fanu plot were dashed. I was at times laughing out loud despite being dazed with pain at the number of times the director Roy Ward Baker tried to slip a loose breast(s) into the plot. Best watched stoned (on pain of course not any of that other stuff you youngsters are into).


It has been said that besides Bram Stoker that Le Fanu also influenced Henry James, Charlotte Bronte, James Joyce, and Charles Dickens. His writing style reminded me of one of my favorite writers Robert Louis Stevenson. These tales are lit with a slow burning fuse. Le Fanu has a real easy writing style that carries you along, and before you know it your pulse rate is creeping upward, and you feel the itchy need to take a quick look over your shoulder. Reading these tales at night, in a quiet house, really helped create the right ambiance to appreciate them. One night I heard a sharp rapping on glass that sounded like a bony fingernail. I went to the glass doors to the backyard half expecting to see some spectral demon. I then heard the noise again and discovered a thermometer had come loose in the fish tank and became trapped in the filter and the bubbles were knocking it against the glass.

Bony fingernail was my first thought?

It gives you an idea of how these old Gothic tales still have the juice to get the mind stirring.