General Introduction

Edward Jacobs

1. Contexts of Our Edition

2. Le Fanu’s Life and Family

3. Le Fanu’s Literary Career

4. A Critical History of “Schalken the Painter” and its Role in Le Fanu’s Career"

Contexts of Our Edition

            Over the last several decades, scholars have renewed their attention to the Irish novelist, short story writer, and journalist Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) as a major innovator in both the Gothic and Anglo-Irish literary traditions (Crawford; Crawford and Showers; Crawford, Rockhill, and Showers; McCormack Sheridan and Dissolute; Melada; Tilley). From Le Fanu’s own time through to this recent upsurge in scholarship on Le Fanu, critics have broadly agreed that the first of his masterpieces was the short story originally published as “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter. Being a Seventh Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P.P. of Drumcoolagh” in Dublin University Magazine (May 1839) (Crawford: Coughlan; Haslam; James; McCormack Dissolute 110-38; Roop; Swafford). Several critics specifically argue that “Schalken the Painter” and its ekphrastic inspiration by the works of the Dutch painter Godefridus Schalcken (1643-1706) is the origin of the descriptive mastery of uncanny settings and the themes of guilt and doubling that are the signature traits of all of Le Fanu’s best work (Coughlan; McCormack Dissolute; Roop; Swafford). Most critics also follow Le Fanu’s bibliographer and biographer William Crawford in contending more broadly that the tale also “is the first [of a] new kind of Gothic fiction to appear in English literature in that it brings the Gothic to a much more personal and intimate level with an attention to character and motivation” (Crawford 17) that is a hallmark of Victorian Gothic fiction from Le Fanu’s own work to that of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.[1] The story is also one of a handful of Le Fanu’s works that have been adapted for the screen. In 1979, the BBC broadcast Leslie Megahey’s seventy minute television film Schalcken the Painter as part of its Omnibus series. The film has been much praised for its moody visual style and Gothic eroticism, and it was so sought after that in 2013 the British Film Institute (BFI) digitally remastered the film and issued it as a dual format DVD as part of its Flipside series recovering obscure British film classics (Collins).[2]

            Even though the tale has been widely appreciated ever since it first appeared, few interpretations of “Schalken the Painter” have confronted the fact that the tale exists in two significantly different versions—with one version being published in two different editions—reflecting Le Fanu’s lifelong habit of rewriting and recycling material. “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter. Being a Seventh Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P[arish].P[riest]. of Drumcoolagh” first appeared in Dublin University Magazine (May 1839), a textual witness hereafter abbreviated DUM. As its subtitle indicates, it was the seventh of twelve tales purportedly collected by an Irish Catholic priest and antiquarian named Francis Purcell and published after his death by an unnamed friend in Dublin University Magazine between January 1838 and October 1840 (Crawford and Showers 3-5; Crawford 15-18). This version was reprinted seven years after Le Fanu’s death in The Purcell Papers (London: Bentley, 1880), which was edited by the Le Fanu family friend, Alfred Perceval Graves, with the help of Le Fanu’s younger brother William, and included Graves’s “Memoir” of Le Fanu. This witness we hereafter abbreviate PP. Between these two texts of the original version, Le Fanu revised and retitled the tale “Schalken the Painter” for his collection Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (Dublin: McGlashan, 1851), published by James McGlashan, one of the major Irish publishers of the nineteenth century.[3] Most notably, in this version Le Fanu removed the frame narrative related to Francis Purcell, added a Biblical epigraph,[4] and included an illustration entitled “The Rivals,” by “Phiz” (Hablot K. Browne), who illustrated many of the early works of Charles Dickens, among others. This version and witness we hereafter abbreviate GSTM. Unless there is a reason to distinguish the different versions and editions by these sigla abbreviations, we will hereafter refer to the story as “Schalken the Painter.”

            As Haslam details, the lack of an accurate, critical edition of the story—and even of critical awareness of and engagement with its versional textuality—has compromised the validity of many interpretations.[5] This edition contributes to a full critical and readerly appreciation of the art and history of “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” / “Schalken the Painter” by for the first time offering a critical edition of the tale that not only makes fully visible to readers the differences between its textual versions, but also annotates its substance with a focus on informing readers about contexts they may not at first glance be aware this tale contacts.


Le Fanu’s Life and Family

            There are several excellent biographies of Le Fanu, the most authoritative being W. J. McCormack’s Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland and William J. Crawford’s J. Sheridan Le Fanu: A Bio-Bibliography. Elizabeth Tilley’s introduction to her recent edition of Le Fanu’s collection In A Glass Darkly (2018; orig. 1872) is the best short summary of Le Fanu’s life and includes an excellent timeline that correlates Le Fanu’s life with major historical and literary events. Although somewhat dated, S. M. Ellis’s Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu, and Others is also useful.

            Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was born in Dublin on August 28, 1814, to Emma and Thomas Philip Sheridan Le Fanu. The Le Fanu family descended from French Huguenots who fled France after Louis XIV in 1685 revoked the Edict of Nantes, by which Henry IV had in 1598 granted the Calvinist Huguenots effective civil equality with France’s Catholic majority. The Le Fanu family settled in Ireland after two brothers, John Le Fanu de Secqueville and Charles Le Fanu de Cresson, fought for William of Orange (William III) at the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, where William defeated the deposed English King James II and put Ireland under the British rule that would last throughout J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s lifetime. The “Sheridan” part of his name, of which he was “very proud” (Crawford 4), came from the marriage of his grandfather Joseph Le Fanu to Alicia Sheridan, “daughter of Thomas Sheridan and the sister of Richard Brinsley Sheridan” (Graves vi; Crawford 3), author of School for Scandal (1777), among other classic comedies. From childhood, Le Fanu remained very close to his only brother William Richard Le Fanu (1816-1894), who was only two years his junior.

Le Fanu’s father, Thomas Philip, was a Church of England clergyman who in 1815 became chaplain to the Royal Hibernian Military School in Dublin. He was appointed absentee rector of Ardnageehy in County Cork in 1817 and of Abington in County Limerick in 1823. In 1826, upon being appointed Dean of the parish town of Emly in County Tipperary, he moved the family to Abington in County Limerick, a locale that made it easier for him to fulfill all of his duties, since he was already (absentee) rector of Abington, Ardnageehy was just to the south in County Cork, and Emly was just to the east in County Tipperary (Crawford 4; Gallagher 89). Le Fanu’s father was an avid book collector, and as a shy youth, Le Fanu read widely from his father’s eclectic library, which included works by and about the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) (McCormack Sheridan 24-25; Ellis 56-57). Several of Le Fanu’s later works overtly refer to Swedenborg, and McCormack and Walton persuasively argue that Swedenborg’s doctrine of “correspondences” between the earthly and the spiritual realms influenced Le Fanu’s fiction (including “Schalken the Painter”) from very early on (McCormack Dissolute, esp. 21-31; Walton Vision, esp. 10-30).

The so-called Protestant Ascendancy, of which the Le Fanus were a part, was deeply fraught over the course of Le Fanu’s lifetime, during which he witnessed, among other crises, the bloody Tithe Wars of the 1830s (when Irish subsistence farmers violently resisted the requirement to pay tithes to the Church of England even if they were Catholics), the Irish famine of the 1840s, and the Young Ireland rebellion of 1848 as well as the Fenian movement that grew from it during the 1850s and 1860s (Tilley 11-13). Le Fanu witnessed the violence of the early Tithe Wars during his time in Abington, when, as Crawford puts it, “the Le Fanus were largely prisoners in their own home” (5). Crawford adds that Le Fanu “hardly ever spoke about” the Tithe Wars, “but his early fiction is marked by a sympathy for the Irish rebels, and he hoped all his life that both Protestants and Catholics could live in harmony” (5). Crawford indeed joins many other critics in arguing that Le Fanu “no doubt felt some sense of guilt for [his family] having conquered Ireland and reduced Catholics to a peasant status” (Crawford 4; McCormack Dissolute 34-44 and Sheridan 71-80; Melada 24; Swafford 49).

            In 1832, Le Fanu returned to Dublin to attend Trinity College, where he earned “honors in Classics, and was active as debater and outspoken about politics” (Crawford 5). He thereafter studied law, travelling in the process to King’s Inns, one of the major London law inns, and was called to the Irish Bar in 1839. However, instead of practicing law, Le Fanu in 1841 chose a career in journalism, buying and editing The Warder, “a leading Protestant newspaper, which he owned until 1870” (Crawford 5). Le Fanu’s journalistic work is a bibliographical morass, leading Crawford to opine that the “no doubt countless articles Le Fanu wrote for the newspapers…will probably never be identified since they were published anonymously” (5). However, Le Fanu’s lifelong engagement with the journalistic periodical press in both Ireland and England surely facilitated his career as a writer of poetry and fiction, since the majority of Le Fanu’s literary output was published serially in periodicals.

            In 1843, Le Fanu married Susanna Bennett, the daughter of an eminent Dublin lawyer. By all accounts, their marriage was a mostly happy one, during which they bore and raised two daughters and two sons. However, following the death of her father in 1856, after which the family inherited and moved into his house at 18 Merrion Square in Dublin, Susanna entered into a crisis of faith in a loving God that clearly troubled Le Fanu’s own faith. Susanna died in 1858, and an aggrieved Le Fanu wrote no fiction or poetry until 1861, after which his literary output quickly returned to previous levels, although most critics judge that its quality became increasingly uneven during his final years (McCormack Sheridan 208 and Dissolute 160). Le Fanu died on February 10, 1873 of a heart condition that had plagued him since at least the death of his wife.

            Much to the chagrin of Le Fanu scholars, shortly “after February 1873, Sheridan Le Fanu’s papers were put on the market” by his dissolute and estranged eldest son Thomas Philip, who himself died in poverty on 19 December 1879, aged only thirty-two (McCormack Sheridan 271-72; cf. 115). Although “[p]aintings and other family heirlooms were preserved” from Philip’s attempts to raise money after his father’s death “by the intervention of William Le Fanu himself, who bought back his brother’s property for the family” as best he could, “[n]one of Le Fanu’s literary papers sold at this time have been traced” or appear to be extant (McCormack Sheridan 271). As Crawford and Showers remark in the headnote to their bibliography of the five archives of extant manuscript material, “the largest part of Le Fanu’s private papers were [also] lost shortly after his death” (Crawford and Showers 33; cf. McCormack “J. Sheridan Le Fanu: Letters” 29).


Le Fanu’s Literary Career

            As a writer of fiction and poetry, Le Fanu’s career falls roughly into what we might call an Irish period” (1838-1853) and an “English period” (1861-1873), separated by the eight-year period during which he published no fiction or poetry, because of the illnesses and deaths of his father-in-law in 1856 and of his wife in 1858 (Crawford 7).[6] During his Irish period, Le Fanu wrote fiction and poetry set for the most part in Ireland and he published those works for the most part in Irish periodicals, principally the Dublin University Magazine, by most accounts the most important monthly magazine in Ireland, which aspired but never quite managed to unite both Protestant and Catholic readers in Ireland and Irish and English readers (Hall 174-75). Most of Le Fanu’s poetry was written during his Irish period, and most of it adopts the oral style of the Irish ballad tradition. His most famous poem is “Shamus O’Brien—A Ballad” (1850), a rousing nationalist song set during the 1798 Irish uprising that became something of a craze among Irish immigrants to the United States (Crawford 20; Crawford and Showers 7). During this period Le Fanu published only three full-length novels: the historical novels The Cock and Anchor—Being a Chronicle of Old Dublin (Dublin: Curry; London: Longmans; Edinburgh: Fraser, 1845), The Fortunes of Colonel Torlogh O’Brien—A Tale of the Wars of King James (Dublin: McGlashan, 1847), and The House by the Church-yard, his last novel to be set in Ireland, which was originally serialized in Dublin University Magazine (1861-63) but then published in three volumes in London (Tinsley Brothers, 1863). During his Irish period, Le Fanu wrote mainly short fiction published in one (or occasionally two or three) numbers of Dublin University Magazine. The vast majority of this short fiction—like Le Fanu’s poetry and novels of the Irish period—is set in Ireland, although in a few instances—such as “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” (1839), set in Holland, and “Spalatro” (1843), set in Italy—Le Fanu chooses continental settings. As Crawford and many others emphasize, much of Le Fanu’s Irish short fiction and poetry is linked paratextually as part of the collection of thirteen tales collected by a friend after the death of Francis Purcell, who “for nearly fifty years discharged the arduous duties of a parish priest in the south of Ireland” and who was “a curious and industrious collector of old local traditions—a commodity in which the quarter where he resided mightily abounded” (Purcell Papers 1.1; Crawford 5). This paratextual framing that pervades Le Fanu’s writings during his Irish period notably anchors even a continental narrative like “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” in Ireland and implicitly in the history of Le Fanu’s family in Ireland, since Purcell says he heard the story of Schalken from a Dutch “Captain Vandael, whose father had served King William [III] in the Low Countries, and also in my own unhappy land during the Irish campaigns” of William (DUM 579) that brought Le Fanu’s own Huguenot forebears to settle in Ireland.

             During Le Fanu’s English period, he wrote and published far more novels than during his Irish period—twelve, excluding Morley Court (London: Chapman and Hall, 1873), which was “virtually a reissue” (McCormack Sheridan 138 cf. 140, 203, 208) of Le Fanu’s first novel, The Cock and the Anchor (Dublin: Curry, 1845), and Loved and Lost (Dublin University Magazine September 1868-May 1869), which McCormack persuasively attributes to Le Fanu, but unlike all of his other novels never appeared in book form (McCormack Sheridan 279-89; Crawford 27; Crawford and Showers 14). All of these novels were first serialized in periodicals (eight in Dublin University Magazine) and then published in two or three volumes in London, five by Richard Bentley, four by the Tinsley Brothers, two by Hurst and Blackett, and one by Chapman and Hall (Crawford 38-41; Crawford and Showers 22-25). Ironically, the transition from Le Fanu’s Irish period into his English one pivoted around The House by the Church-yard (1863), which was his last novel to be set in Ireland and which was originally serialized in Dublin University Magazine (October 1861-February 1863), just after Le Fanu had in July 1861 bought that magazine, which he owned and edited until 1869 (Crawford 21; Crawford and Showers 8-9; McCormack Sheridan 138; Hall 175). Le Fanu adventurously “spent  £78 on printing a thousand copies” in three volumes of this “his first serial novel” with an unknown Dublin printer, plus “£62 on paper” and “£21 on binding” part of the edition, but he struggled to distribute it in Ireland, and he “was lucky to sell five hundred copies to the London publisher Tinsley,” who issued” it “in a new [and better] binding it 1863” (McCormack Sheridan 140; cf. Crawford 8; see Sadleir 1.200-203 for the fullest account of the novel’s complex publication history). This London edition caught the eye of Richard Bentley, one of the most important British publishers of the nineteenth century, who in a 26 February 1863 letter to Le Fanu contracted with Le Fanu to publish “the new work from your pen to follow” The House by the Church-yard on the terms that it be a “story of an English subject and in modern times; and sufficient in extent to form 3 vols. post 8 vo. of the usual size,” for which Bentley offered “to purchase the copyright” for “Two Hundred Pounds in cash one month after publication and a final sum of One Hundred Pounds on the sale reaching 1,500 copies” (qtd. in Edens 164; cf. Hall 174-88, esp. 183-85 and McCormack Sheridan 140-41). Bentley in this letter said that “I have no objection to the new work from your pen…appearing first in Dublin University Magazine, and being published in a substantial form simultaneously with the last published in that Magazine” (qtd. in Edens 164).  This arrangement was in keeping with standard practice of the time—especially in England—whereby novels were first serialized in magazines and issued in three volumes either “simultaneously” with the last serial installment or one to two months before (Erickson 161-62; Altick 279 ff.). This “new work” was Wylder’s Hand (Bentley, 1864). Even though it did not quite match Bentley’s hopes, losing sixteen pounds (Edens 170), for Le Fanu’s next “new novel in 3 vols.,” Bentley offered “250 for a thousand copies, leaving it open to make terms for future copies” (qtd. in Edens 170). This “new novel” was Uncle Silas (Bentley, 1864), which sold well and consolidated Le Fanu’s connection with Bentley, who thereafter published the majority (eight) of Le Fanu’s book-length works, totaling five novels—the two above plus Guy Deverell (1865), All in the Dark (1866), and A Lost Name (1868)—and three collections of tales (many revised) previously published in periodicals: Chronicles of Golden Friars (1871), In A Glass Darkly (1871), and the posthumously published Purcell Papers (1880). Between January and March of 1866, Le Fanu parted ways with Bentley as the primary publisher in England of his new fiction, after polite but fraught negotiations over whether Bentley would offer better terms for publishing All in the Dark (Bentley, 1866) and A Lost Name (Bentley, 1868) than those offered by other London publishers with whom Le Fanu had communicated (Edens 208-13; cf. 247-48). What Bentley regretted as “our separation” (Bentley to Le Fanu 18 February 1866, qtd. in Edens 211) was amicable enough that Bentley in the end not only contracted both to serialize A Lost Name in his newly-acquired London monthly Temple Bar (May 1867-May 1868) and to publish it in three volumes (Edens 247-48), but that he also later contracted to publish the three collections of tales listed above (Edens 249, 253; cf. Crawford 28, 40-41 and Crawford and Showers 13, 24), including the posthumously published Purcell Papers (1880), which Bentley published despite rather tense negotiations with Graves about which “Irish Stories & poems” to include and about the difficulty Graves confessed he had encountered in ascertaining whether or not Le Fanu’s dissipated son Philip held copyright to any of the material that Graves proposed to include (Graves to Bentley 20 October 1879 qtd. in Edens 253).[7] However, after 1866, Le Fanu turned to other publishers for the three-volume London editions of his novels (Crawford 40-41; Crawford and Showers 24-26), and after 1869—when he sold Dublin University Magazine—Le Fanu also published the serial versions of his new novels in weekly London magazines that competed with Bentley’s Temple Bar: Checkmate in Cassell’s Magazine (2 August 1870-25 February 1871) and The Rose and the Key (21 January 1871-23 September 1871) and Willing to Die (21 September 1871-14 December 1872) in Charles Dickens’s All Year Round (Crawford 28-35; Crawford and Showers 16-19; cf. Bassett 71-75 and Brake and Demoor 11, 101).

            Hall argues that Le Fanu never attained the same level of popularity in Britain as his contemporaries Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Braddon in large part because only his last three novels were serialized in England, such that Le Fanu never established with English readers “the sense of rapport” and “familiarity and community between author and reader” that serial publication over a year or more afforded (Hall 188). A major reason why Le Fanu never fully entered the English novel market until the last years of his life was that his ownership of the Dublin University Magazine (1861-69) roughly overlapped with his relationship to Bentley as his main London publisher. Le Fanu had an obvious interest in serializing his own work in the magazine he owned and edited, especially given his commitment to “one of its central aims from the start, the creation of a truly national Irish literature” (Hall 173). Yet Le Fanu also recognized the dilemma posed by using the magazine “to create a literature that was uniquely Irish while remaining attractive and marketable to its most likely audience, the English reader” (Hall 173). His recognition of this dilemma helps to explain why, from 1861 when he bought Dublin University Magazine until 1869 when he sold it, all but one of the eight novels he wrote (nine if one counts the attributed Loved and Lost) were serialized in that magazine, even though all of them except The House by the Church-yard (like their London book editions) were set in England, in ongoing agreement with Bentley’s 26 February 1863 contract stipulation that Wylder’s Hand be a “story of an English subject and in modern times” (qtd. in Edens 164; Crawford 21-28; Crawford and Showers 8-14). As McCormack stresses, during Le Fanu’s tenure as owner of Dublin University Magazine, he did several times try to serialize new novels in London periodicals. In May and June 1864, he offered what was probably Uncle Silas to the Cornhill Magazine (1860-1975), one of the most popular shilling monthlies of the time, and in October 1868 he offered what was likely The Wyvern Mystery to the prestigious Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1817-1980), but both offers were declined (McCormack Sheridan 203; McCormack “J. Sheridan Le Fanu: Letters”; cf. Brake and Demoor 60, 145). In the end, between 1861 and 1869, the only time Le Fanu managed to break from what we might call his “Anglo-Irish compromise formula” of serializing novels set in England in Dublin University Magazine and then publishing them in three volumes in London was when Bentley himself agreed to serialize A Lost Name (May 1867-May 1868) in his newly-acquired London monthly Temple Bar (Edens 247-48; Crawford 28; Crawford and Showers 13). Although Le Fanu manifestly was not wholly content with this “Anglo-Irish compromise formula,” evidence indicates that Bentley had “no objection to the new work[s] from your pen…appearing first in Dublin University Magazine” (Bentley to Le Fanu 26 February 1863, qtd. in Edens 164) precisely because Bentley was worried that Le Fanu might instead serialize his new work in the London shilling monthlies and the weekly magazines (priced between sixpence and one penny) that from 1859 began seriously to compete with the pioneering half-crown (i.e., two shillings and sixpence) illustrated monthlies—primarily Bentley’s Miscellany (1837-1868), Dublin University Magazine (1833-1877), Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1817-1980) and the New Monthly Magazine (1814-1884)—that in the 1830s had established the formula of illustrated serialization followed by three-volume book publication (Bassett 19-100, esp. 69-94; Erickson 161-62; cf. Brake and Demoor 50-51, 60, 183-84, 443-44). Thus, on 6 March 1863 Bentley wrote to Le Fanu with a “modification in the terms” to the 26 February agreement for Wylder’s Hand, now setting the copyright at “two years giving me the right to publish the work in any form I may think fit, but not under 5/£” and further stipulating “with regard to the serial in which the work would first appear that it should not be either “Temple Bar” St. James’ Magazine or Sixpenny Magazine nor in any penny Journal which would certainly affect the sale in the form of 3 vols afterwards adversely” (qtd. in Edens 164-65).[8] The first two titles Bentley forbade were major shilling monthlies and the latter a weekly magazine in which Elizabeth Braddon’s best-selling sensation novel Lady Audley’s Secret (London: Tinsley, 1862) appeared (Bassett 71-74; Edens 164, n. 2; Brake and Demoor 403, 551-52, 573-74, 618-19, 666-67). In 1866, Bentley in fact bought Temple Bar and absorbed the failing Bentley’s Miscellany into it, in keeping with a down market move by all of the half-crown monthlies except for the unflappable Blackwoods (Bassett 85; Brake and Demoor 50-51, 618-19). It would be unfair to blame Bentley alone for Le Fanu’s late move to both serialize and book-publish his novels in London, since Le Fanu obviously consented to “the Anglo-Irish compromise formula” he and Bentley developed, but Hall is surely right that this compromise diminished the popularity and reputation of Le Fanu’s novels among English readers (Hall 188; cf. McCormack Sheridan 203).

            Given Le Fanu’s more or less yearly production of three-volume serialized novels during his twelve-year English period, during that time he understandably wrote fewer tales and poems than during his Irish period, when he wrote only three novels over fifteen years. Between December 1861 and January 1866, he published five stories, three poems, and a verse drama in Dublin University Magazine, plus a host of reviews and political articles (Crawford 22-28; Crawford and Showers 9-12). All but a few of the works published there—e.g. “Borrhomeo the Astrologer” (January 1862), set in Italy—were set in Ireland. After January 1866—just as Le Fanu was separating from Richard Bentley as his main London novel publisher—Le Fanu ceased writing new poetry, and, more importantly, all of his short fiction (sixteen works, including persuasive attributions) appeared in periodicals and collections published in London: seven were published in Charles Dickens’s All Year Round, three in Belgravia, two in Temple Bar (by then owned by Bentley), one in Cassell’s Magazine, and four in less widely-circulated periodicals, including “The Room in the Dragon Volant” in London Society and “Carmilla” in Dark Blue (Crawford 28-35; Crawford and Showers 14-19; cf. 37).

            Most critics agree with McCormack that in “quality of writing, the contrast between novels and tales in Le Fanu’s last years was stark” (Dissolute 160), with the quality of the novels after Uncle Silas (1864) being quite uneven (cf. Crawford 21, 23, 25-28, 30, 33-35), while the later tales—especially those published in In a Glass Darkly (London: Bentley, 1872)—are among his best, most notably “Green Tea,” “The Familiar,” “The Room in the Dragon Volant,” and “Carmilla.” However, as McCormack forcefully argues, the most consistent and distinguishing feature of all of Le Fanu’s fiction during his English period is what McCormack calls its “serialism,” whereby both the tales and the novels obsessively rework, resituate, and expand plots and characters from the earlier fiction written during Le Fanu’s Irish period (Dissolute 160-80, 60-75; cf. Crawford 15-35 and Crawford and Showers 3-26). Thus “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess” (Dublin University Magazine November 1838) was retitled “The Murdered Cousin” in the collection Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (Dublin: McGlashan, 1851) and later expanded into Le Fanu’s most famous novel, Uncle Silas (London: Bentley, 1864); the basic plot, setting, and many names in The House by Church-yard (London: Tinsleys, 1863) were adapted to England in Wylder’s Hand (London: Bentley, 1864) (McCormack Dissolute 60-66);  “Some Account of the Latter Days of Richard Marston, of Dunoran” (Dublin University Magazine April-June 1848) was retitled “The Evil Guest” in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (Dublin: McGlashan, 1851) and later expanded into the novel A Lost Name (London: Bentley, 1868); “A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family” (Dublin University Magazine October 1839) was expanded into The Wyvern Mystery (London: Tinsleys, 1869) (Crawford 27-28; Crawford and Showers 5, 24; McCormack Sheridan 208); the “basic plot” of Le Fanu’s first novel The Cock and the Anchor (Dublin: Curry, 1845) was transferred to England in Checkmate (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1871) (McCormack Sheridan 208 and Dissolute 163-80); Le Fanu’s first short story, “The Fortunes of Sir Robert Ardagh” (Dublin University Magazine March 1838) was adapted both in ”The Haunted Baronet” (Belgravia July-November 1870) and “Sir Dominick’s Bargain” (All Year Round 6 July 1872) (McCormack Sheridan 208; Crawford 29, 34; Crawford and Showers 16); “The Watcher” (Dublin University Magazine November 1847), also published under that title in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (Dublin: McGlashan, 1851), was rewritten as “The Familiar” for In A Glass Darkly (Bentley, 1872) (Crawford 18; Crawford and Showers 6); “An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in an Old House on Aungier-street” (Dublin University Magazine December 1853) was revised as “The Haunted House in Westminster” (Belgravia January 1872) and then supplemented with a prologue and retitled “Mr. Justice Harbottle” (1872) for In A Glass Darkly (Bentley, 1872) (Crawford 20, 29; Crawford and Showers 8, 18). Given such a staggering list of reworkings of the Irish fiction during the English period, it is hard to disagree with McCormack’s argument that Le Fanu’s fiction in fact never wholly left Ireland; rather, the English fictions persistently “smuggled into their ostensibly English setting[s] a homeopathic dose of Irish history” expressed in the tortured socio-political and personal identities of Le Fanu’s characters and the themes of haunting, dissolution, and internal contradiction that pervade his fiction and Irish history alike (Dissolute 74).


A Critical History of “Schalken the Painter” and its Role in Le Fanu’s Career

            As the above history of Le Fanu’s career suggests, scholarship on Le Fanu has centered around how and in what ways his unique approaches to the Gothic/terror traditions express his troubled, hybrid identity as a Protestant Anglo-Irish writer during a period when the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland was in crisis. Criticism primarily focused on “Schalken the Painter” itself has for the most part probed how the tale’s seventeenth-century Dutch historical setting obliquely comments on Le Fanu’s anxious relation to Ireland and to his family. Criticism concerned more broadly with the role of this early masterpiece in Le Fanu’s career has emphasized how its fictionalization of the historical painters Gerrit Dou (1613-1675)—spelled Gerard Douw in the tale—and Gottfried Schalcken (1643-1706)—Godfrey Schalken in the tale—inaugurated the ways that Le Fanu’s fiction thereafter obsessively alludes to and ekphrastically describes paintings—especially the seventeenth-century Dutch genre painting associated with Dou and Schalcken—and the ways that Dutch genre painting visually parallels and inspired the ways that, throughout Le Fanu’s fiction, both supernatural menace and histories of cultural conflict haunt private spaces. In relating “Schalken the Painter” to these contexts, critics have for the most part used the four methodologies that pervade and intertwine in most all scholarship on Le Fanu: historicism, comparativism, psychoanalysis, and—less pervasively but crucially to this edition—textual and bibliographical scholarship.

            Roop, Swafford, and McCormack are the major figures in historicist readings of how the paintings of the actual Dou and Schalcken influenced the tale and Le Fanu’s lifelong obsession with painting and, through painting, with framing, doubling and the liminal play of light and dark both visually and morally. Roop, the first scholar to fully investigate the relations of the story to the art of the historical Schalcken, stresses that the painter’s stylistic signature was a chiaroscuro treatment of candlelight throwing shadows and that Schalcken excelled his master Dou in the complexity and depth of his pictorial framing, for example by placing different candlelight sources within different visual frames, as in Girl with a Candle, Drawing a Curtain, one of the closest parallels to the fictional Schalken painting described in “Schalken the Painter” (Roop 164-65; Swafford 50 and 58, n. 2). Swafford, working from Roop, makes the important historical-biographical point that Girl with a Candle, Drawing a Curtain was one of three Schalcken works bought by the Prince of Wales from 1803 to 1819 and “was (and still is) in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace,” where “Le Fanu could have viewed it when he was in London in May and June 1838,” roughly a year before “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” appeared in May 1839 (Swafford 58, n. 2; McCormack Sheridan 54). As indicated by the Prince of Wales’s purchases, Schalcken was undergoing something of a revival in Britain during the early nineteenth century, and Swafford stresses that in particular the above “painting was much admired in the 1830s,” being praised for its use of light and shade in such works as John Smith’s A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters (London: Smith & Sons, 1833) and Gustave Friederich Waagen’s Works of Art and Artists in England (London: John Murray, 1838) (Swafford 58, n. 2). Whether or not Le Fanu followed this vogue for the painting and went to see it while in London, he clearly had researched Schalcken and Douw (McCormack Sheridan 71-80 and Dissolute 128-38, esp. 131-34; Swafford 49-51, 57-58). For example, as Swafford notes, in “Schalken the Painter,” the narrator repeatedly paraphrases opinions from Michael Bryan’s Dictionary of Painters and Engravers (London: G. Bell, 1816), “a standard reference work which Le Fanu had apparently consulted” (Swafford 50; cf. quotations from Bryan in Haslam 51 and phrasings in DUM 580 and GSTM 108). McCormack, the scholar who has most exhaustively traced the allusion to and description of painting in Le Fanu’s work observes that  another distinguishing feature of Dutch genre painting (especially that of Dou and Schalcken) was that it represented everyday people in domestic scenes, most often in a chiaroscuro lighting that subtly sacralized—or demonized—those domestic scenes (Dissolute 121-22, 110-16). In the “Foreword” to Dissolute Characters, McCormack remarks that Le Fanu “seems to have grasped instinctively something of the moral duplicity, the coded ambiguity and vestigial emblematism which latter-day art historians have rediscovered in genre painting” (Dissolute ix). Thereafter, McCormack persuasively argues that, from “Schalken the Painter” onwards, Le Fanu used Dutch genre painting—often explicitly through allusion or ekphrastic description—as an artistic model for how to place characters in domestic scenes in ways that malevolently intruded culture, history, and the supernatural into those seemingly “safe” and benign private scenes (Dissolute 107-36).[9]

            Other historicist interpretations more broadly explore how Le Fanu uses the Protestant Dutch Republic (1579-1795) in which the tale is set to displace guilty recognition of the Protestant Ascendancy as violence in the name of profit. As McCormack and Swafford detail, Le Fanu substantially researched Schalcken and Dou before writing his tale, so in choosing the Dutch Republic as the first continental setting in his fiction (McCormack Sheridan 71-80 and Dissolute 128-38, esp.131-34; Swafford 49-51, 57-58), Le Fanu knew very well that both his family lineage and militant Predestiny linked the Dutch Republic to the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland of which he was an heir: the Le Fanu family settled in Ireland after Le Fanu’s Huguenot forebears emigrated from France to fight for King William III (1650-1702)—who was both King of England and Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic—at the 1690 Battle of the Boyne that secured the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland, while William III and his forebears from the French principality of Orange founded and maintained the Protestant Dutch Republic (1579-1795) in which “Schalken the Painter” is set by armed rebellion.[10] As McCormack and Swafford especially stress, the original DUM (and PP) version of the tale overtly foregrounds the fact that militant Protestantism links the Dutch Republic and the Protestant Ascendancy, since in the first paragraph, father Purcell tells his interlocutor and eventual executor that he heard the tale “in my early days” from his acquaintance, “a Captain Vandael, whose father had served King William in the Low Countries, and also in my own unhappy land during the Irish Campaigns” (DUM 579; McCormack Sheridan 75-76; Swafford 48-49). McCormack argues that by framing his early tales as antiquarian curiosities collected by the now-dead Catholic priest Francis Purcell, Le Fanu historically distanced their content from Victorian Ireland in ways that enabled Le Fanu to explore the possibility that recent violent Catholic resistance like the Tithe Wars was just retribution for the injustice of the Protestant Ascendancy which his Huguenot ancestors had helped to establish (Sheridan 76-78; cf. Hall 178-79). However, besides judging “Schalken the Painter” to be aesthetically “the most successful of The Purcell Papers, being less crudely death-focused than its companions” (75-76), McCormack recognizes that, ironically, it is less distanced than the other Purcell tales from Le Fanu’s own history because, even though “the Dutch setting seems out of place in The Purcell Papers [otherwise set in Ireland], Le Fanu provides a provenance for the Schalken painting which involves a supporter of the House of Orange, a settler in Ireland” (76) very like Le Fanu’s Huguenot ancestors (Sheridan 75-76; cf. Dissolute 111). Aside from being the earliest European state originally founded by militant Protestantism, the Dutch Republic quickly became one of Europe’s major financial centers (for example inventing stock markets) and many critics, including McCormack, emphasize that in both the DUM/PP and GSTM versions, the basic plot indicts and punishes Douw and Schalken primarily for putting greed before duty to a vulnerable dependent in ways that tacitly echo England’s attitude to Ireland. In particular, such interpretations stress how Le Fanu registers his guilt for the commercial profit (and swindle) innate to the Protestant Ascendancy by not having the demon Vanderhausen supernaturally kidnap or seduce Douw’s niece Rose (whom Schalken secretly loves); instead, Le Fanu foregrounds how easily Vanderhausen bribes and defrauds Douw and Schalken into selling Rose to him by ostentatiously flaunting his wealth. Swafford, for example, argues that, by exposing Douw’s greed and Schalken’s stupidity in jointly signing a contract to marry Rose to Vanderhausen for a fortune despite his obvious malevolence and the bizarre terms of the contract,“ Le Fanu is obliquely charging his forebears with acquisitiveness and abuses of power, which, though meant to secure the world for their children, have in fact brought those children disaster” (49; cf. Coughlan 146-48; McCormack Sheridan 75-76 and Dissolute 131-34). McCormack adds to this widespread argument for how the greed of Douw and dereliction of Schalken tacitly indict the Protestant Ascendancy the crucial historical fact that Le Fanu makes his character Douw much more greedy than the historical Dou, whose will was in fact very generous to Antonia von Tol, the niece who lived with and kept household for him, much as Rose does for Douw in the tale (Dissolute 127-28).

            Although most historicist scholarship has contextualized “Schalken the Painter” and Le Fanu primarily in terms of Anglo-Irish history and literary traditions, an influential handful of scholars have pursued a comparativist approach that situates Le Fanu in a broader European literary tradition that links his work especially to Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), E.T.A. Hoffmann, and Emanuel Swedenborg (McCormack Dissolute; Walton Vision; Swafford; Coughlan). The leading figure in this comparativist approach is McCormack in Dissolute Characters, which early on declares its intention of “liberating Le Fanu from the claims” (7) of the “so-called Irish gothic tradition, inaugurated by Charles Robert Maturin (another Dublin Huguenot) and rendered notorious by Bram Stoker” and with which “Le Fanu has been persistently aligned”; instead, McCormack’s “objective is to observe the historical forces inscribed in Le Fanu’s distinctive non-affiliation to this doubtful tradition” (3). The book advances a complex argument that Le Fanu was a central, mediating figure in a nineteenth century European “area of literary activity in which painting [especially the Dutch genre painting of Dou and Schalcken] and spiritualism [especially Swedenborg’s] are discussed and dramatised—an area wider than that in which Le Fanu is usually considered” (162) and that reaches from Blake through Balzac and Le Fanu to Yeats, Bowen, the French symbolistes and even Joyce (162-63; cf. 179). More specifically, McCormack argues that this literary “area” or tradition in which writers persistently engaged with both painting and mysticism played a key role in the ways that from “romantic realists” like Balzac to modernists like Yeats and Bowen, “character itself” as a viable representation of the relations of individual identity to “the ideological nature of the state and the operations of civil society” was in “a process of dissolving, of  being disjointed or disunited….at both the psychic and political levels” (ix). McCormack focuses on Le Fanu for most of the book (2-192) in part because he argues that Le Fanu was the central mediator in this tradition between Balzac’s realism and the modernism of Yeats and Bowen (8-10, 26-31, 134-38, 161-63, 188-90). Yet McCormack also exhaustively surveys and compares Le Fanu’s fiction from early tales like “Schalken the Painter” through to his last novel because he wants to foreground how extremely Le Fanu’s fiction eventually came to dissolve any mimetic relation of characters to “real” individual psyches or to “real” socio-political contexts. Indeed, McCormack argues, in so extremely dissolving character, Le Fanu is distinctly unlike both Balzac, who despite his nostalgia for the ancien regime and ironic treatment of characters renders them as realistic psyches and relates them to social milieus (8-10, 26-28), and modernists such as Yeats, Bowen, and Joyce who construct characters as living, deep psyches alienated from (if often haunted by) their surrounding societies (208-240). By contrast, Le Fanu develops a “formal nihilism” (179) wherein “the concept of character…crucially bears the burden of language’s inability to sustain a reliable link to the real” (28), as Le Fanu progressively takes both Swedenborg’s theory of correspondences between the earthly and the spiritual and Dutch genre painting as a model for representing a “quiet communion” between an “earthly experience of the self and expectations of salvation” (137)—both of which otherwise link Le Fanu to Balzac and Irish Modernism—on “a bad trip” (28). Specifically, through an obsessive recycling of characters, names, plots, and settings that McCormack calls “serialism” (160-80), increasingly “Le Fanu’s fictional characters relate to each other by linguistic proximity rather than social or familial intercourse” (176) and his fiction registers “the mutual ruination of past and present, the implosion of character into vacuity, and the undirected automatism of language itself” (19). Overall, Dissolute Characters argues that Le Fanu’s later novels are the clearest examples of such “formal nihilism” (179), which developed progressively over Le Fanu’s life and career. However, McCormack contends that “Schalken the Painter” remains central to liberating Le Fanu from an “Irish gothic” tradition and resituating him at the heart of the European “area of literary activity” (162) where the intersection of painting and spiritualism in fiction progressively dissolved realistic characterization into modernism (162-63) because the tale is the first of Le Fanu’s works to involve not only supernatural characters, but also continental painting and settings (110), and (arguably) the first to show the continental influence of Balzac’s fiction (110; cf. 134-38). With respect to the latter, through intertextual comparison, McCormack persuasively argues that “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” (DUM, published May 1839) so closely parallels various tales by Balzac—especially “Le Chef d’oeuvre Inconnu” [“The Unknown Masterpiece”]—originally published in 1831 and repeatedly revised until final publication in 1837 (162-63)—that there “is good reason, surely, to suppose that ‘A Strange Event’ results from some youthful study both of Dutch painting and of continental literature,” and especially Balzac (134). In keeping with the trajectory of its overall argument, Dissolute Characters interprets “Schalken the Painter” primarily in terms of how the tale historically rewrites and dissolves the historical Dou and Schalcken into shallow caricatures of greed and ethical dereliction. At the political level, the tale thus uses seventeenth-century Dutch painting as “a dexterously evasive” way to expose how “little to admire” there is in the origins of “the régime that commands loyalty” in “Williamite Ireland” (133) and in the Victorian Protestant Ascendancy to which Le Fanu was heir. As historical fiction, the tale uses painting to erode the relation of characters to historical as well as psychological reality in ways that anticipate how Le Fanu’s later fiction dissolves characters into mere names haunted by their tortured linguistic histories. In a quasi-psychoanalytic mode, McCormack argues broadly that “the story can be read as a massive calumny upon Dou’s character” by which “the figure of Schalcken is diminished” through “a generational assault on emergent character—the surrogate father disposing of the young man’s future happiness” out of greed and reducing Schalken to “another middling man or central character” (115; cf. 131). More specifically, he observes that even though “the narrator stresses Schalken’s firm belief in the reality of [the] vision” he recorded in his fictionalized painting, “[s]upernatural figures had no place in genre painting, and even in Schalcken’s work a demon would be inadmissible,” so that there is “a fundamental implaus-ibility [in “subject-matter” if not style] in the picture attributed to him” (125) that erodes the tale’s opening and closing claims of accuracy to historical people and facts. McCormack also argues that because the opening ekphrasis of this (implausibly fictional) Schalken painting does not coincide exactly with any one scene narrated in the story—a presumption Haslam (349-53, 356-58) notably contests, as detailed below—but instead “incorporates” or fuses (132) two different scenes—as Schalken rushes with his sword to rescue the screaming Rose when she returns to Douw’s house after her marriage (DUM 588-89; GSTM 127-32) and the final scene when Rose leads the swordless Schalken to the sight of Vanderhausen in bed in his father’s crypt (DUM 590; GSTM 133-34)—“Schalken the Painter” subtly uses painting to reverse and confuse the referential and causal relations between representation (whether painterly or linguistic) and reality: “[l]ife, so to speak, imitates art but does so in advance. For Le Fanu’s story, the implication surely is that the work of art does not so much derive from the strange event, but that the final paragraphs of the fiction [describing Schalken’s “actual” encounter with Rose and Vanderhausen in his father’s crypt] result from the description of the work given at the outset” (126; cf. 132-33).

            Walton in Vision and Vacancy acknowledges his debt to McCormack’s Dissolute Characters as the pioneering comparativist scholarship to relate Le Fanu to continental sources and traditions (2). To McCormack’s focus on Le Fanu’s connections with Balzac, Swedenborg, and Dutch genre painting, Walton adds especially Le Fanu’s relation to German Romantic literature, especially E.T.A. Hoffmann and Goethe, a relation principally mediated by Dublin University Magazine, which as Walton stresses (following Patrick O’Neill’s bibliographical work) extensively reviewed and translated German literature throughout Le Fanu’s life, most prominently by serializing James Clarence Mangan’s Anthologia Germanica between 1835 and 1845 (Vision 5-7, 10-31; O’Neill “German”; cf. Swafford 52-53). And whereas McCormack is pointedly concerned with “liberating” Le Fanu from the Irish gothic tradition and resituating him within the Franco-Anglo-Irish nineteenth century “area of literary activity” wherein painting, spiritualism, and characterization intersect (Dissolute 162), Walton’s central comparativist aim is to place Le Fanu in a European tradition that uses the supernatural ambiguously or uncannily, “enabling the author to assume, at times, a sceptic’s distance from his own mystical leanings, to offer alternative readings of his supernatural incidents” and ultimately to leave readers with “a radical scepticism” about the ontological status of supernatural events (3). Walton compares a wide corpus of Le Fanu’s works to a variety of examples of this tradition of “natural supernaturalism” (3; cf. 31-97) or “uncanny realism” (5; cf. 149-93). These include not only Balzac, Hoffmann, and Goethe, but also Anglo-Irish writers from Daniel Defoe through Ann Radcliffe to the Bronte sisters and Henry James, philosophers like David Hume, and even Victorian “instruments of reflection and refraction” such as “masquerade and pantomime, magic lantern, pan- and diorama, [and] phantasmagoria” (5; cf. 149-93). For Walton, all of these examples “disclose” in nineteenth century Europe a “subversive subtext…of scepticism” (5) about both the nature of reality and the reliability of representation, and thus help to underscore how in Le Fanu that radical scepticism leads to a style that uniquely “draws attention to a silence in the background of even the most resonant discourse, the blankness behind ‘vision,’ exposing language as cover-up, busy text as phantasmagoria” (193) and making ontological and epistemological “vacancy” the “ultimate setting for all his tales of the supernatural and the uncanny” (194; cf. 9). Specifically to “Schalken the Painter,” Walton stresses how Dutch genre painting’s signature chiaroscuro lighting through candlelight is “a pictorial analogue” to Le Fanu’s “art of illusion” because in both the artistic “vision” of characters is persistently “set off against…vacancy” (11; cf. 24-26). Thus, in “Schalken the Painter,” repeatedly “the image of [Rose’s] demon lover is withheld—replaced, in fact, by vacancy (‘No figure was there’; ‘It was empty’)” (13, 14-15; DUM 588, 589; GSTM 129, 132; cf. McCormack Dissolute 132-33). More originally, Walton adds that in “Schalken the Painter,” as in Uncle Silas and a host of Le Fanu’s other fictions, “figures presented in this fashion always vanish or change into something else,” giving them an uncanny power that makes them also “figures of [supernatural] authority, death masquerading as life” (26). Thus, as Walton charts, there are minor but significant variations between the opening description of Schalken’s painting and the two narrated scenes where Schalken, Rose, and Vanderhausen are juxtaposed (14-15), as figures “vanish or change” position across scenes (26). In a related comparativist vein, Walton argues that a shared “Oedipal triangle as structural principle in a fable of an artist’s development” links “Schalken the Painter” to Hoffmann’s “The Sand-Man” (1816-17) and Balzac’s “Le Chef-d’oeuvre inconnu” [“The Unknown Masterpiece”] (1831-37) “in sufficient detail to suggest (on internal evidence alone) a possible influence or at least to indicate a line of succession for fictive treatments of the psychology (and epistemology) of aesthetic representation” (16). Walton focuses in this comparison (16-23) on how in all three tales, the author “splits the Father into two figures, mundane and demonic” (18)—e.g. Douw and Vanderhausen in “Schalken the Painter”—in ways that in each tale confounds the son character who cannot locate a father within the “vanish or change” (26) masquerade of vision and vacancy he inhabits. Intriguingly, Walton also links the three tales because at their ends, the young artist figures “return to the conditions of common life, represented by the domestication of Hoffmann’s Clara and by the release of [Balzac’s] Poussin and Schalken from the order of fiction into the order of history,” a return to the ordinary that he argues manifests the broad consensus (beginning with Freud) that “the uncanny arises from the ordinary, which serves as its matrix or (permeable) containing structure, even as the definition [by Freud “Uncanny”] of unheimlich [translated literally, un-home-like] is contained within that of heimlich” (21).

             Psychoanalytic interpretations of Le Fanu frequently play a role in historicist and comparativist criticism. Thus, Walton uses an “Oedipal triangle as [the] structural principle” (16) that links “Schalken the Painter” to works by Balzac and Hoffmann as well as to other works by Le Fanu, and McCormack reads the story as a quasi-Oedipal “generational assault on emergent character—the surrogate father disposing of the young man’s future happiness” (115). These and other more purely psychoanalytic readings of “Schalken the Painter” largely focus on how the tale dramatizes failures of patriarchal potency and agency in ways that subliminally express not only Le Fanu’s sexual and artistic anxieties but also his anxiety about the (waning) potency of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland. Swafford, Wilkinson and Walton, for example, focus on the fact that in the ekphrasis of the fictional Schalcken painting on which the tale is based (DUM 579-80 and 590-91; GSTM 107-108), Schalken has his hand on the hilt of his sword, while in the description of the scene that most of these critics presume the fictional painting depicts—when Schalken encounters Rose and Vanderhausen in the crypt of the church where his father has been buried (DUM 590; GSTM 133-34; cf. Haslam 350)—Schalken has no sword and faints when Rose shows him the “bolt upright” Vanderhausen in bed (Swafford 53-58; Walton Vision 14; Wilkinson 280). Taking up the phallic overtones of swords, Swafford (rather overheatedly) remarks that from his first appearance, Vanderhausen is “nearly a personified phallus, with his ‘broad-brimmed conical hat’ and ‘firm and upright carriage’,” such that “Schalken’s unwitting signing of the marriage contract represent both his surrender to this mercantile society’s standards and a concession to his sexual weakness” (53, 54). Turning in a quasi-feminist direction, McCormack and Walton perceptively remark how Rose ironically gains agency from her alliance with Vanderhausen and how in the final scene she is the one who, with an “arch smile” (DUM 590; GSTM 134), draws the curtain to the bed and reveals the sight of the “bolt upright” Vanderhausen that makes Schalken faint (McCormack Dissolute 126-32; Walton Vision 13-16).

            Building on the bibliographies of Crawford and Crawford and Showers, Richard Haslam has proven the leader in textual criticism on Le Fanu. As his meticulous scholarship shows, many interpretations of “Schalken the Painter”—and especially ones focused on the relations of the ekphrases of the fictional painting to the narrated scenes that critics presume it to represent—are compromised by their inattention to two interrelated facts about “the contingencies of textual transmission and editorial interpolation” (340) inherent to the “verbal residues [and omissions] left from Le Fanu’s habit of reworking his stories” (356). First, most interpretations of “Schalken the Painter” rely on the the GSTM version of the tale, as egregiously edited by E. F. Bleiler in his widely-distributed 1964 Dover edition, Best Ghost Stories of J. S. Le Fanu. Haslam flags numerous transcription errors in Bleiler’s edition of the GSTM text that critics—including McCormack, whom Haslam rightly praises as “one of Le Fanu’s most knowledgeable readers” (349)—use as central evidence in their arguments (348-51). Second, Haslam shows that, because Le Fanu in revising DUM into GSTM “wished to avoid the redundancy of repeating many phrases and images from the opening ekphrasis” that in the DUM (and PP) version recur in  a closing ekphrasis, Le Fanu in GSTM deleted the closing ekphrasis contained in DUM, but in doing so, deleted “a crucial passage that establishes the actual time and place depicted in the painting” (357). Consequently, Le Fanu’s careless revision of DUM into GSTM itself preceded and fed the ways Bleiler’s careless editing of GSTM “inadvertently triggered the hermeneutical conundrum” (Haslam 357) that has so exercised critics of even accurate editions of GSTM as to why in the opening ekphrasis of the (fictional) painting, Schalken appears “in an attitude of alarm, his hand being placed on the hilt of his sword, which he appears to be in the act of drawing” (GSTM 108; cf. DUM 579-80), whereas in the narrated scene in the crypt that critics assume the painting depicts (GSTM 134; cf. DUM 590), there is no mention of Schalken’s sword (Haslam 350-57). Specifically, Haslam notes that in the closing ekphrasis in DUM (and PP), the phrase “there stands the form of a man apparently aroused from sleep, and by his attitude, his hand being laid upon his sword, exhibiting considerable alarm” (DUM 591; cf. DUM 579-80) clearly indicates that the fictional Schalken painting described in both ekphrases “portrays Schalken’s first encounter with Rose in the church, which takes places in the sexton’s chamber [above the crypt], when Schalken is woken from sleep” by Rose ‘shaking him gently by the shoulder’ (Haslam 357 quoting DUM 590; cf. GSTM 133). By deleting this phrase (and the entire  closing ekphrasis) from GSTM, Le Fanu thus created in the GSTM version the “painting puzzle” that in Haslam’s view—especially given “Le Fanu’s habit of reworking his stories” (356)—too many critics have solved by resorting to a “critical providentialism in which no element of a work is permitted to be accidental” (342) and theory is used to find artistic intention in textual faults resulting from “the contingencies of textual transmission and editorial interpolation” (340) that better textual scholarship would have revealed. Haslam also points out that both the illustration for the GSTM text by Hablot K. Browne (“Phiz”) and the last of the three illustrations made by Le Fanu’s son Brinsley after Le Fanu’s death to the DUM/PP version exhibit what we might call an “artistic providentialism” that anticipated and—especially  in the case of Browne’s illustration to GSTM—arguably contributed to the “critical providentialism” Haslam bemoans in readings of GSTM in our time. For both illustrations represent the “more dramatic confrontation with Vanderhausen in the crypt” that Le Fanu’s deletion of the final ekphrasis from GSTM made plausible as a subject for the fictional painting (359). As Haslam does not notice, Browne’s illustration to GSTM depicts Schalken in the crypt neither swordless as in the narrative (GSTM 134; DUM 590; PP 249-52), nor with hand on hilt as in the opening ekphrasis of the painting (GSTM 108; DUM 579-80; PP 185-87), but instead with his sword fully drawn, if pointing downward. Browne’s illustration to GSTM hence added another twist to the “painting puzzle” that Le Fanu created by deleting the closing ekphrasis in DUM from GSTM (Haslam 356-58), although few critical solutions to that puzzle have even noticed Browne’s illustrative complication of the puzzle. Brinsley more accurately depicts the crypt scene, showing Schalken swordless and alarmed as Rose with an arch smile and lamp in hand has half drawn the curtain of the bed, on which Vanderhausen is noticeably more shadowy than in Browne’s GSTM illustration. However, Brinsley did choose like Browne to depict this “more dramatic confrontation… in the crypt” (Haslam 359; DUM 590; PP 251-52) even though he was illustrating the DUM/PP version that contains the closing ekphrasis that, as Haslam shows, clearly identifies the subject of the fictional painting to be the preceding scene when Rose wakes Schalken in the sexton’s quarters (Haslam 257-58; DUM 590; PP 249-51).[11]

            Swafford is one of the few critics besides Haslam to reflect critically on the differences between the DUM/PP and GSTM versions. Swafford does rely on Bleiler’s flawed edition of the GSTM text, but Bleiler’s errors do not affect Swafford’s key textual point, which is that in GSTM, a “bothersome aspect of the narrator’s introduction” and narration of the story behind the painting “is its manipulative quality, the result of Le Fanu’s revisions” (51) that  remove the Purcell frame and have Vandael directly narrate the tale to the reader. Most pointedly, Swafford argues that in the opening of GSTM, “Father Purcell’s words, assigned to the new narrator [Vandael], become problematical” because, even though the GSTM narrator proudly proclaims both the “story and the picture have become heir-looms in my family” (GSTM 108; cf. Swafford 50), the narrator shows “vagueness in describing it—‘some antique religious building,’ ‘a pretty woman,’ ‘some prankish roguery’—[that] is excessively coy” (51).[12] Swafford contends that the “manipulative quality” Purcell’s words have when reassigned to Vandael in GSTM creates irony on Vandael as someone who “presents family tradition, the version of history that the family preserves, as inevitable truth” (51), in ways that express Le Fanu’s knowledge—which “Le Fanu could not directly assent to”—that his own family attempted to “dismiss” the fact that they settled in Ireland as part of of the Protestant Ascendancy that began with the brutal 1690 conquest of Ireland by the Dutch-born William III (58). However, Swafford’s collation of the DUM and GSTM versions overlooks several key revisions related to the removal of the Purcell frame that complicate this psychoanalytical-historicist interpretation. First, Swafford fails to remark that in revising DUM into GSTM, Le Fanu adds two generations to the time between when Vandael’s forebears “learned” the story behind the painting from “Schalken himself” and “ultimately received the picture itself as a bequest” (GSTM 108; cf. DUM 580).[13] This increased temporal distance narratively justifies the vagueness Swafford interprets as the GSTM narrator being “excessively coy” and “manipulative” (Swafford 51) about the details of a “family heirloom” (Swafford 50; cf. GSTM 108). Second, Swafford fails to remark revised phrasings in GSTM that, far more than in DUM, condition Vandael’s knowledge of the story behind the painting by foregrounding it as an oral “tradition which has descended with the canvass” (GSTM 108) for two generations. In GSTM, Vandael says he will “attempt to relate” (GSTM 108) the “tradition which has descended with the canvass” from his “great grandfather” (GSTM 108). Le Fanu—like most of his Irish readers—understood very well that within oral culture, every narration of a “tradition,” whether intentionally or accidentally, altered the received narration, so these phrasings further justify the vagueness Swafford sees as “manipulative” even as (in keeping with Swafford’s larger argument) they might encourage those readers to suspect the accuracy of the GSTM text to the original narration “from Schalken himself” (GSTM 108). By contrast, in the DUM version, Purcell assures his interlocutor and eventual executor that “I am enabled to submit to you a faithful recital of what I heard myself” from Vandael, who “appeared firmly convinced of its truth” (DUM 380). In DUM, Purcell can so confidently claim to “submit to you a faithful recital of what I heard myself” (380) because, as is stressed in the opening of the first of the Purcell Papers—“The Ghost and the Bone-Setter” (January 1838)—Purcell’s “love of the marvellous and whimsical” oral traditions he collected “had carried him so far as to prompt him to commit the results of his enquiries to writing.”[14] Hence, especially in context of the serialization of the Purcell Papers in Dublin University Magazine, in the DUM version, Purcell is implicitly reading to his executor his written transcription of the story as Vandael remembered hearing it from his father, whereas in GSTM, Vandael is making the first “attempt” to write down an oral tradition passed down for two generations within his family. In the end, Swafford shrewdly foregrounds the ways that the removal of the Purcell frame and other more local revisions can make the GSTM Vandael seem more “manipulative” as a narrator than Purcell in DUM, but fuller collation of the two versions makes it very hard to say whether that effect is (subliminally) intentional—as Swafford would have it—or just another accidental result of Le Fanu’s carelessness in revising DUM into GSTM beyond those that Haslam points out in the openings and closings of the two versions.

            In context of our edition of “Schalken the Painter,” the most salient implication of the above critical history is that neither the DUM/PP nor the GSTM version is intrinsically superior to the other as a unified aesthetic/ideological text or expression of authorial intentions. Removing the Purcell frame not only gives the Vandael narrator in GSTM the “bothersome” and “problematical” (Swafford 51) shifts in voice and tone that Swafford foregrounds; it also elides the historical and cultural links between the Dutch setting of the narrative and the vexed position of the Le Fanu family in Ireland that nearly all critics see as central to the tale but, without the opening of the Purcell frame, are forced to find (often gymnastically) sublimated in GSTM, at times deploying what Haslam decries as “critical providentialism” (342). The aesthetic and ideological unity of GSTM is further strained by the fact (detailed above in our summary of Haslam) that Hablot Browne’s illustration to GSTM depicts Schalken encountering Rose and Vanderhausen in the crypt of the church where Schalken’s father is buried with his sword drawn, a detail that directly contradicts the facing page’s narration of the scene—in which Schalken has no sword (GSTM 134)—as well as the opening ekphrasis of the fictional Schalken painting—where Schalken only has his hand on the hilt of his sword—(GSTM 108). As McCormack especially admires, the opening of the Purcell frame not only integrates the DUM/PP version into the other tales (all set in Ireland) that Purcell collected, but in doing so also draws attention to the fact that the seventeenth century Dutch Republic in which the tale is set and the troubled Ireland in which Le Fanu and his original readers in Dublin University Magazine lived share a history of militant Protestant nationalism exerted by three generations of Williams of Orange (Sheridan 75-79): in the first paragraph, Purcell says he heard the story in his “early days” from his friend “Captain Vandael, whose father had served King William in the Low Countries, and also in my own unhappy land during the Irish campaigns” (DUM 579; PP 185) that culminated at the 1690 Battle of the Boyne that established the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland and in which Le Fanu’s French Huguenot ancestors also “served” William III and thereafter settled in Ireland, just as Vandael evidently also did. However, even though the opening of the Purcell frame makes DUM and PP more textually and ideologically coherent than GSTM, towards the end of DUM and PP, as our edition for the first time remarks, Le Fanu seems to forget about the Purcell frame and addresses the reader of Dublin University Magazine directly. As our textual notes detail, in nine instances, the DUM narrator—i.e., Francis Purcell telling his friend and eventual executor the story he learned in his youth from the Captain Vandael who owned the fictional Schalken painting—shifts from the first person singular forms (e.g. “I,” “me”) in which Purcell in the frame otherwise addresses his unnamed friend to various first person plural forms of address (e.g., “we,” “our”), and in several instances he moreover addresses “readers” or “the reader.”[15] It was not uncommon during the nineteenth century for public speakers—from Members of Parliament to the editors of periodicals to the narrators of fiction —to adopt the first person plural or “editorial we” (OED “editorial”; cf. “we”), but previously the DUM/PP narrator always uses the first person singular, in keeping with the frame wherein Purcell is talking privately to a friend. The references to “readers” in several of these instances further violates the frame in which Purcell is telling his eventual executor the story he heard from Captain Vandael because, even though that executor did eventually publish Purcell’s papers in Dublin University Magazine, in none of these instances or elsewhere in DUM or PP does the executor narratively intervene to claim editorial responsibility that might justify his being the author of the shifts in address to phrases like “our readers.” One can therefore only conclude that Le Fanu simply forgot about the Purcell frame towards the end of DUM, especially since Le Fanu in other works also struggles to adhere to the paratextual frames he himself constructs. For instance, as Haslam notes, in adding the Dr. Hesselius frame to the original serial version of Carmilla (1871-72) to make it consistent with In A Glass Darkly (1872) as the case studies of a “psychic doctor” that were posthumously collected and published by his longstanding “medical secretary” (Tilley 45), Le Fanu “overlooked the contradiction…between the ‘town lady’ as the explicit narratee of The Dark Blue [original, serialized] version of Carmilla and Hesselius as the implicit narratee of the In A Glass Darkly version” and thereby triggered a stream of “critical providentialism” like that triggered by Le Fanu’s careless deletion of the final DUM ekphrasis from GSTM (Haslam 342, 340-47; cf. 347-59) .

            Given that both the original DUM/PP version and the revised GSTM version are flawed as textually and ideologically unified artifacts of Le Fanu’s intentions, one must wonder why Le Fanu revised the DUM version into the GSTM version as he did, i.e., by not only removing the Purcell frame and having Vandael narrate directly to the public, but also adding a Biblical epigraph that effectively replaced Purcell as a framing device. Evidence strongly suggests that Le Fanu (carelessly) replaced the DUM Purcell frame with a biblical epigraph in GSTM because during the late 1840s and early 1850s, he was undergoing both unusual financial and writing pressure and a crisis of faith, the latter driven by a series of deaths in his extended family that intensified the longstanding spiritual and physical torments of his wife Susanna and that therefore understandably troubled Le Fanu’s own faith (McCormack Sheridan 61-71, 122-35). Besides “Schalken the Painter,” there are three other stories in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (Dublin: McGlashan, 1851). All, like “Schalken the Painter,” are revised from their original publication in Dublin University Magazine by replacing whatever paratextual frames or subtitles were attached to them there with biblical epigraphs. “The Murdered Cousin” was originally published as “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess” in Dublin University Magazine (November 1838: 502-29) as the fifth of the Purcell Papers and was later expanded into the novel Uncle Silas. Its Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery version removes the first paragraph of its original version in which Purcell’s executor identifies it as a “paper written in a female hand” that “was no doubt communicated to my much-regretted friend [Purcell] by the lady whose early history it serves to illustrate, the Countess of D—” (“Passage” 502; Purcell Papers 2.1-3). Instead, the retitled Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery version adds an epigraph[16] followed by the unattributed and hence rather awkward statement that “[THIS story of the Irish peerage is written, as nearly as possible, in the very words in which it was related by its ‘heroine,’ the late Countess D—, and is therefore told in the first person.]” (Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery 70). “The Watcher” was originally published in Dublin University Magazine (November 1847: 526-45) with the subtitle “FROM THE REMINISCENCES OF A BACHELOR.” In Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery, this subtitle is replaced with another epigraph,[17] but otherwise the tale is identical to its original version. “The Watcher” was, however, later retitled “The Familiar” and revised to remove the 1851 epigraph and to add a paratextual frame linking it to the other case studies of Dr. Hesselius in the collection In A Glass Darkly (1872) (Tilley 24-6). The novella entitled “The Evil Guest” in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery was originally published as “Some Account of the Latter Days of Richard Marston, of Dunoran” in three installments (April 1848: 473-97; May 1848: 585-607; June 1848: 728-56) in Dublin University Magazine (Crawford and Showers 6). The Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery version seems substantively the same as the original serial version, except that, as with all the other tales in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery, Le Fanu adds a Biblical epigraph.[18] Le Fanu later expanded “The Evil Guest” into the novel A Lost Name (London: Bentley, 1868), which Le Fanu at that point told the Bentleys he thought “much the best thing I ever wrote” (Crawford and Showers 6, 24; Edens 234-5). By replacing the original paratexts (and subtitles) with biblical epigraphs, Le Fanu may appear to intend to unify the four tales as cautions against sin and especially the futility of contending with supernatural beings. However, as McCormack convincingly argues, all of the epigraphs added to the revised tales in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery are “drastic misquotations” of their biblical sources that manifest not faith, but instead Le Fanu’s “refusal to accept biblical comfort” and his suspicion, by at least 1851, that even adapted “biblical authority does not meet exactly the circumstances of the human disasters” that Le Fanu had recently experienced and (re)imagined in his fiction (Dissolute 90, 88; cf. Sheridan 61-71, 122-35). Yet even though Le Fanu’s bleak “refusal to accept biblical comfort” during this period of crisis unifies the four tales in Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery, the epigraph to GSTM does not fix the disunities that Le Fanu created in GSTM by carelessly deleting the DUM Purcell frame, and indeed the fact that Le Fanu revised DUM into GSTM during a period of crisis explains his carelessness in doing so.

            Much remains to be investigated and interpreted in Le Fanu’s writings, especially given what we have here (like many other scholars) stressed as his lifelong habit of revising works not simply at the level of phrasing and sentence—which many authors do—but more often by removing and adding paratextual frames, altering settings, and in the case of those works expanded from stories into novels (such as Uncle Silas itself), effectively expanding one work not into another version, but into an entirely new work. “Schalken the Painter” is a classic early example of this distinctive revisionary process, and it is by critical consensus the first masterpiece among his “ghost stories and tales of mystery,” to use his own 1851 titular phrase. We offer this edition as a critically edited and fully annotated doorway into further critical investigation of this fascinating early work and, we hope, into both the unique fascinations and scholarly challenges posed by all of Le Fanu’s works.


Works Cited

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Collins, Frank. “Schalken the Painter: BFI Flipside Dual Format Edition.” Review of BFI 2013 DVD reissue of Leslie Megahey, Dir., Schalcken the Painter (BBC Omnibus 23 December 1979). Cathode Ray Tube.

Coughlan, Patricia. “Doubles, Shadows, Sedan-Chairs, and the Past: The ‘Ghost Stories’ of J. S. Le Fanu.” Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Edited by Gary William Crawford, Jim Rockhill, and Brian J. Showers. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2011: 137-160.

Crawford, Gary William and Brian J. Showers. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: A Concise Bibliography. Dublin: Swan River Press, 2011.

Crawford, Gary William, Jim Rockhill, and Brian J. Showers, Editors. Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2011.

Crawford, Gary William. J. Sheridan Le Fanu: a Bio-Bibliography. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Edens, Walter Eugene. “Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: a Minor Victorian and His Publisher.” PhD Diss. University of Illinois, 1963. For fuller and current context on the Bentley archives that Edens worked from and transcribed in his appendices, see

Ellis. S. M. Wilkie Collins, Le Fanu and Others. London: Constable & Co., 1951.

Erickson, Lee. The Economy of Literary Form: English Literature and the Industrialization of Publishing, 1800-1850. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Edited by James Strachey, Anna Freud, and Carrie Rothgeb. 24 Vols. London: Hogarth Press, 1953-74. Vol. 17: 217-56.

Gallagher, Sharon M. The Irish Vampire: from Folklore to the Imaginations of Charles Robert Maturin, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Press, 2017. 

Graves, Alfred Perceval. “Memoir of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.” The Purcell Papers, by Sheridan Le Fanu. Edited by Alfred Perceval Graves. 3 Vols. London: Bentley, 1880. Vol. 1: v-xxxi. Rprt in Crawford, Rockhill, and Showers: 17-25.

Hall, Wayne. “Le Fanu’s House by the Marketplace.” Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Edited by Gary William Crawford, Jim Rockhill, and Brian J. Showers. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2011: 174-89.

Haslam, Richard. “Theory, Empiricism, and ‘Providential Hermeneutics’: Reading and Misreading Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and ‘Schalken the Painter’.” Papers on Language and Literature 47, 4 (Fall 2011): 339-61.

Hogle, Jerrold, Editor. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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James, M. R. “M. R. James on J. S. Le Fanu.” Reflections in a Glass Darkly: Essays on J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Edited by Gary William Crawford, Jim Rockhill, and Brian J. Showers. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2011: 87-94.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family. Being a Tenth Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P. P. of Drumcoolagh.” Dublin University Magazine 14 (October 1839): 398-415.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family. Being a Tenth Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P. P. of Drumcoolagh.” The Purcell Papers, by Sheridan Le Fanu. Edited by Alfred Perceval Graves. 3 Vols. London: Bentley, 1880. Vol. 3: 29-135.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess. Being the Fifth Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P. P. of Drumcoolagh.” Dublin University Magazine 12 (November 1838): 502-19.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “Passage in the Secret History of an Irish Countess. Being the Fifth Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P. P. of Drumcoolagh.” The Purcell Papers, by Sheridan Le Fanu. Edited by Alfred Perceval Graves. 3 Vols. London: Bentley, 1880. Vol. 2: 1-102.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “Schalken the Painter.” Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery. Dublin: James McGlashan; London and Liverpool: William S. Orr and Co., 1851: 107-135.  [GSTM]

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter. Being a Seventh Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P. P. of Drumcoolagh.” Dublin University Magazine 13 (May 1839): 579-91. [DUM]

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter. Being a Seventh Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P. P. of Drumcoolagh.” The Purcell Papers, by Sheridan Le Fanu. Edited by Alfred Perceval Graves. 3 Vols. London: Bentley, 1880. Vol. 2: 184-254. [PP]

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “Some Account of the Latter Days of Richard Marston, of Dunoran.” Dublin University Magazine 31 (April 1848): 473-97; (May 1848): 585-607; (June 1848): 728-56.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “The Ghost and the Bone-Setter.” Dublin University Magazine 11 (January 1838): 50-54.

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. “The Watcher. From the Reminiscences of a Bachelor.” Dublin University Magazine 30 (November 1847): 526-45.

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Sadleir, Michael. XIX Century Fiction: A Bibliographical Record Based on His Own Collection. 2 Vols. New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1969.

Swafford, James. “Tradition and Guilt in Le Fanu’s ‘Schalken the Painter’.” Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 14, 2 (1989): 48-59.

Tilley, Elizabeth, Editor. In A Glass Darkly, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2018; orig. pub. 1872.

Walton, James. “Vision and Vacancy: ‘Schalken the Painter’ and Le Fanu’s Art of Darkness.” Papers on Language and Literature 40 (2004): 353-83.

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[1] On the Victorian Gothic specifically, see Milbank, Robbins and Wolfreys, and Wolfreys. For broader contexts on the Gothic, see Hogle and Punter. On Le Fanu’s place in the Irish Gothic tradition and the specific centrality of characterization to it, see McCormack Dissolute and Walton Vision.

[2] The most often adapted works by Le Fanu are “Carmilla” (1871) and Uncle Silas (1864). Crawford (137-45) gives a partial filmography, but for a more current filmography of Le Fanu adaptations, see:

[3] McGlashan, along with William Curry and James Duffy, were “the three major figures” during the nineteenth century in “the limited Irish publishing industry”(Hall 184-85). Curry published Dublin University Magazine from 1833 to 1845, McGlashan from 1846 to 1855, and Duffy thereafter. Le Fanu clearly met McGlashan during McGlashan’s period as editor of Dublin University Magazine, during which Le Fanu published ten tales and poems therein, as well as a handful of essays (Crawford 18-20). McGlashan also published Le Fanu’s early historical novel The Fortunes of Colonel Torlogh O’Brien—A Tale of the Wars of Kings James (1847). Their relationship ended after 1855, when McGlashan began to show signs of senile dementia (Hall 184-85).

[4] “For he is not a man as I am that we should come together; neither is there any that might lay his hand upon us both. Let him, therefore, take his rod away from me, and let not his fear terrify me,” based on Job 9: 32-35. See McCormack Dissolute 84-86 and Swafford 55-56 for commentary on how Le Fanu rewrites the biblical passage to make it bear more directly on his intentions in the story.

[5] Haslam most pointedly remarks that, although most critics of “Schalken the Painter” use the text (based on GSTM) in E. F. Bleiler’s Best Ghost Stories of J. S. Le Fanu (New York: Dover, 1964), Bleiler’s edition is rife with transcription errors and erroneous emendations (Haslam 349-51).

[6] The bibliographical details in this section are drawn from Crawford and from Crawford and Showers, which together offer a comprehensive, annotated bibliography of all known works by Le Fanu. Both divide their bibliographies of Le Fanu’s works into sections on those published in periodicals and as books. However, Crawford organizes the periodical publications chronologically within sections for different periodicals, while Crawford and Showers organizes periodical publications strictly chronologically. Both organizations are useful, and Crawford and Showers provides crucial corrections to Crawford, especially on the relations between periodical and book publications of the same works.

[7] In a letter to Bentley of 20 October 1879, Graves contracted with him “to receive £50 for collecting & editing LeFanu’s Irish Stories & poems in three volumes, if they run to that length—£30 if they fill only two volumes” (qtd. in Edens 253). On 1 November 1879, Graves informed Bentley that although he had in “his last” said he had collected material for two volumes, he had since gotten “the following information from Mr. Wm. LeFanu, only brother of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, which puts us in possession of material for a third volume. Perhaps I had better copy this letter.” (qtd. in Edens 253). In Graves’s transcription of William’s 31 October 1879 letter to him, William proposed to fill out a third volume mainly with the “good many poems besides the three which are in The Purcell Papers” (qtd. in Edens 254), all three of which appeared in “Scraps of Hibernian Ballads” (Dublin University Magazine 13 (June 1839): 752-56; Crawford and Showers 4). William’s letter as copied by Graves then cites the five other Irish poems he proposes to include, adding that they “wd. I think nearly make a third volume, as they must run to 400 lines or so” (qtd. in Edens 254). William correctly dates these poems to the month and year when they were published in Dublin University Magazine, but in several cases he garbles or truncates their titles, notably excluding several Irish titles that Le Fanu put before English ones. In Graves’s transcription, William says: “They are ‘The legend of the Glaive,’ which which you will find in The [Dublin] University Magazine February, 63. ‘Doggerell in a dormer Window’ December 1864. ‘Shamus O’Brien, July 1850. ‘Song of the bottle of Whiskey,’ an address of a drunkard to his whiskey, March 63 & Beatrice Novr. 65 & Janry. 1866” (qtd. in Edens 254; cf. Crawford and Showers 7, 10, and 12 for accurate titles, full citations, and commentary on content).

            Probably Graves felt he “had better copy” William’s letter primarily because thereafter William reports that he had unsuccessfully tried to “ask my nephew Philip LeFanu (Joseph’s son) for his consent, as for aught I know he may have the copyright—& I cannot be sure what he might do hereafter.” I asked for this through his solicitor, Mr. Pelham Mayne—as I could hold no communication with Philip himself” (William Le Fanu to Graves qtd. in Edens 254). Graves himself then comments to Bentley:

To sum up…. The son Philip LeFanu may have the copyright to these stories and poems, tho’ this is very unlikely. He is a disgrace to his family, a confirmed scamp. I have lost sight of him, though without a rupture, & as we were friends as lads he will I think give his consent to the publicn of the stories if needful. You will remember that when some years ago you agreed to publish these “Stories” I got the consent of Mr. Dunlop the then Editor of the Univ. Mag. to yr. publishing them. But the magazine has changed hand & it may be needful to get the consent of the present Editor. We certainly shd. be on the safe side. I apprehend no opposition: for it is unlikely that any but ourselves and W. LeFanu wd. know which LeFanu stories & poems are as they don’t bear his name & I have besides the permission of W. LeFanu & indeed his positive support in the matter. Philip LeFanu, if disagreeable, wd. I’m sure take a few pounds as the price of his permission. Pray advise me what you wish me to do in these matters. (qtd. in Edens 254-55)

On 8 November 1879, Graves followed up with Bentley, saying, “I have received a letter from Philip LeFanu, son of Joseph’s, expressing satisfaction at the idea of my editing his father’s Irish stories” (Edens 255). Edens comments that “Philip had died somewhere in Dublin in December of the preceding year. Either Graves had received the letter long before or was leading Bentley on” (Edens 255, n. 2). However, McCormack documents that in fact Philip Le Fanu died on December 19, 1879, shortly after Graves wrote the above letter (Sheridan 272), so probably Graves was telling the truth, although Philip’s letter does not seem to have survived.

            In the end, Bentley included in the contracted edition of “LeFanu’s Irish Stories & poems in three volumes” (Graves qtd. in Edens 253) only the works that were originally published in Dublin University Magazine as extracts “from the Papers of the Late Father Purcell,” with the exception that Bentley did include at the end of volume three the short story “Billy Malowney’s Taste of Love and Glory” (Dublin University Magazine  35 (June 1850): 692-98), presumably so as to bulk out that rather slim third volume. The correspondence in Edens does not clearly indicate why Bentley decided not to include instead the poems that Graves and William Le Fanu proposed. Probably the uncertainty they expressed about copyright played a role in his decision, but probably Bentley also doubted that the poems would help sales as much as another story. Indeed, on 14 January 1882—two years after Bentley published The Purcell Papers—Bentley responded to a proposal from William Le Fanu by saying, “I think the Ballads & Stories of Mr. Sheridan LeFanu worth reproducing, but I doubt whether they would repay expenses. Still, if you will precede the poems by reminiscences of the gifted author of “Uncle Silas,” I shall be happy to take the risk of any publication. After expenses are paid, should there be any profit, I will gladly divide it with you” (qtd. in Edens 257). As Edens notes to this letter, “Regrettably, William Le Fanu did not prepare an edition of his brother’s poems [with the “reminiscences” by William that Bentley requested]. The volume was undertaken instead by A. P. Graves and published by Downey and Co. in 1896” as The Poems of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, with the same preface by Graves included in The Purcell Papers (Edens 257, n. 1; cf. Crawford and Showers 27).

[8] In a postscript Bentley reiterated that “I presume the story will be of modern English life” (qtd. in Edens 165).

[9] More specifically, McCormack argues that the key “distinction in Le Fanu’s…painterly idiom” is that “when an artist’s name can be specified, the effect generally is to control the character or incident in question; when no artist is named, when the painting or allusion is anonymous, the effect is disruptive, sinister, even supernatural in its implication; finally, when neither the artist nor the subject can be named, a supernatural malevolence is explicit” (Dissolute 107).

[10] See our in-text historical note to the phrase “a Captain Vandael, whose father had served King William in the Low Countries, and also in my own unhappy land during the Irish Campaigns” for details of the founding of the Dutch Republic.

[11] Brinsley’s three illustrations to “Schalken the Painter” are among twenty-one illustrations he published in The Watcher and Other Weird Stories (London: Downey, 1894), which also contains a brief “Preface” by Brinsley (see note 14). The first illustration appears just below the title “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter” and is otherwise uncaptioned (Le Fanu Watcher 126 ); it depicts Vanderhausen entering Douw’s studio for the first time, when he encounters Schalken working late (DUM 581-82). The second illustration is captioned “THE WATERS OF THE BROAD CANAL SETTLING RING AFTER RING IN HEAVY CIRCULAR RIPPLES” (Le Fanu Watcher 163) and depicts what Schalken sees after Rose jumps from the window of Douw’s house when she reappears there after her wedding and demands wine, food, and a holy man (DUM 589). The third illustration, to which we and Haslam refer, is captioned “SHE DREW THE CURTAINS” (Le Fanu Watcher 167). We include all three of these illustrations on the homepage for this edition, although there is no evidence that Sheridan Le Fanu saw or approved these illustrations before his death.

[12] Notably, all of the phrasings Swafford flags in GSTM as “excessively coy” (51) are unrevised from DUM, with the exception that DUM’s “some roguish trick” is revised in GSTM to the equally vague “some prankish roguery” (DUM 579; GSTM 107).

[13] In DUM, Vandael tells Purcell, “My father knew the painter well, and from Schalken himself he learned the story of the mysterious drama, one scene of which the picture has embodied” (DUM 580) and that the “painting, which is accounted a fine specimen of Schalken’s style, was bequeathed to my father by the artists’ will” (DUM 580). By contrast, in GSTM, Vandael tells readers, “My great grandfather knew the painter well; from Schalken himself he learned the fearful story of the painting, and from him too he ultimately received the picture itself as a bequest” (GSTM 108).

[14] In “The Ghost and the Bone-Setter,” Purcell’s unnamed executor opens the series by foregrounding the differences between oral and written texts:

            “In looking over the papers of my late valued and respected friend, Francis Purcell, who for nearly fifty years discharged the arduous duties of a parish priest in the south of Ireland, I met with the following document. It is one of many such, for he was a curious and industrious collector of old local traditions—a commodity in which the quarter where he resided mightily abounded. The collection and arrangement of such legends was, as long as I can remember him, his hobby; but I had never learned that his love of the marvellous and whimsical had carried him so far as to prompt him to commit the results of his enquiries to writing, until, in the character of residuary legatee, his will put me in possession of all his manuscript papers. (Dublin University Magazine 11 (January 1838): 50)

            In “A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family, Being a Tenth Extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell, P.P. of Drumcoolagh” (October 1839), Le Fanu inserted a note (in the voice of Purcell’s legatee) reiterating that Purcell wrote down the stories he heard. This note moreover defends both Purcell and his legatee (and implicitly Le Fanu) against accusations that Purcell’s written “legacy” adds supernatural elements to the stories he transcribed so as to pander to low tastes:

            The residuary legatee of the late Frances [sic] Purcell, who has the honour of selecting  such of his lamented old friend’s manuscripts as may appear fit for publication, in order that the lore which they contain may reach the world before scepticism and utility have robbed our species of the precious gift of credulity, and scornfully kicked before them, or trampled into annihilation, those harmless fragments of picturesque superstition, which it is our object to preserve, has been subjected to the charge of dealing too largely in the marvellous; and it has been half insinuated that such is his love for diablerie, that he is content to wander a mile out of his way, in order to meet a fiend or a goblin, and thus to sacrifice all regard for truth and accuracy to the idle hope of affrighting the imagination, and thus pandering to the bad taste of his reader. He begs leave, then, to take this opportunity of asserting his perfect innocence of all the crimes laid to his charge, and to assure his reader that he never pandered to his bad taste, nor went one inch out of his way to introduce witch, fairy, devil, ghost, or any other of the grim fraternity of the redoubted Raw-head and bloody-bones. His province, touching these tales, has been attended with no difficulty and little responsibility; indeed, he is accountable for nothing more than an alteration in the names of persons mentioned therein, when such a step seemed necessary, and for an occasional note, whenever he conceived it possible, innocently, to edge in a word. These tales have been written down, as the heading of each announces, by the Rev. Francis Purcell, P.P. of Drumcoolagh; and in all the instances, which are many, in which the present writer has had an opportunity of comparing the manuscript of his departed friend with the actual traditions which are current amongst the families whose fortunes they pretend to illustrate, he has uniformly found that whatever of supernatural occurred in the story, so far from having been exaggerated by him, had been rather softened down, and whenever it could be attempted, accounted for. (“A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family,” Dublin University Magazine 14 (October 1839): 400; cf.  “A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family” in The Purcell Papers (London: Bentley: 1880): 3.40-41)

The defensive tone of this note and the italicization of the phrase “pandered to his bad taste” both suggest that the note responds to a (bad) review of previous “extracts” from Purcell’s “legacy”—including “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter”—that had been published in Dublin University Magazine. However, despite extensive searching, we have been unable to identify a review or other comment that might have prompted the note. Most of Brinsley Sheridan’s Preface to The Watcher and Other Weird Stories (1894)—his posthumous, illustrated selection of his father’s stories—is devoted to quoting the above note, which he says “my father supplied” “[w]hen ‘The Purcell Papers’ were appearing in The Dublin University Magazine” and “was reproduced by Mr. Graves in his edition of the book.” Presumably Brinsley included the note because it defended his father’s use of the supernatural (and oral tradition) in the Purcell Papers, from which, “with the exception of ‘The Watcher’,” Brinsley selected the stories he wished to republish—with his own illustrations—twenty-one years after his father’s death. See note 11 above on Brinsley’s illustrations, which we include on the homepage for this edition.

            For scholarship on the differences between oral and written cultures, see Ong’s classic Orality and Literacy.

[15] See our textual notes to the following phrases: “our readers” (DUM 589); “we are about imperfectly” (DUM 589); “we have already spoken” (DUM 589); “our rational readers” (DUM 589); “after the events which we have detailed” (DUM 590); “after the event we have narrated” (DUM 590); “we have above attempted to describe” (DUM 590); and “the reader will easily perceive, by our studiously omitting to heighten many points of the narrative, when a little additional colouring might have added effect to the recital, that we have desired to lay before him” (DUM 591).

[16] “And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own live. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of owner thereof,” based on Proverbs 1: 18. See McCormack Dissolute 84-88 on how Le Fanu alters the epigraph.

[17] “How long wilt thou not depart from me? Thou terrifiest me through visions; so that my soul chooseth strangling rather than my life,” based on Job 7: 14-19. See McCormack Dissolute 84-88 and Tilley 25 on how Le Fanu alters the epigraph.

[18] “When Lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth Sin; and Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth Death” (James 1:15). See McCormack Dissolute 84-88 on how Le Fanu alters the epigraph.