Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu is best known for his gothic works Carmilla (a literary descendant of Coleridge's Christabel) and the classic gothic novel Uncle Silas. Miss Wade in Dickens' Little Dorrit may also have influenced the characterization of Carmilla.

After the death of his wife, Le Fanu became a recluse, absenting himself from society to such a degree his friends named him The Invisible Prince. He was an admirer of Sir Walter Scott and an influence on such writers as Bram Stoker and Henry James. Oscar Wilde was a friend of the family.

Le Fanu was a follower of Emanuel Swedenborg, also an influence on Henry James, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe (Roderick Usher pores over his Heaven and Hell).

There is speculation that Charlotte Brontë adapted the plot of Le Fanu's story A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family (1839) for Jane Eyre. In the original, a nobleman conceals his insane first wife in order to marry another and, like Bluebeard, forbids his new bride certain well-defined parts of the manor. In spite of his precautions, his razor-wielding first wife finds a way to attack her rival.

Le Fanu may have based his terrifying coach journey in Uncle Silas on an actual one that happened to Mme de Genlis, a prominent French writer, educator, and friend of many 18th century literary figures including the Burney and Edgeworth families. The abduction was very likely staged by Le Fanu's great-uncle, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan (lover of Lady Bessborough, Caroline Lamb's mother). Sheridan was hoping to marry de Genlis' daughter Pamela. De Genlis' work Adèle et Théodore ou Lettres sur l'éducation was an influence on Radcliffe's Romance of the Forest and Austen's Emma.



Mme de Genlis' own account of the experience:

When we were about a quarter of a league from London, the French servant, who had never made the journey from Dover to London but once before, thought he perceived that we were not in the right road, and on his making the remark to me, I perceived it also. The postillions, on being questioned, said that they had only wished to avoid a small hill, and that they would soon return into the high road again.

After an interval of three quarters of an hour, seeing that we still continued our way through a country that was entirely new to me, I again interrogated both the footman and the postillions, and they repeated their assurance that we should soon regain the usual road. Notwithstanding this, however, we still pursued our course with extreme rapidity, in the same unknown route; and as I had remarked that the post-boys and footman always answered me in a strange sort of laconic manner, and appeared as if they were afraid to stop, my companions and I began to look at each other with a mixture of surprise and uneasiness.

We renewed our inquiries, and at last they answered that it was indeed true they had lost their way, but that they had wished to conceal it from us till they had found the cross-road to Dartford (our first stage,) and that now, having been for an hour and a half in that road, we had but two miles to go before we should reach Dartford. It appeared to us very strange that people should lose their way between London and Dover, but the assurance that we were only half a league from Dartford dispelled the sort of vague fear that had for a moment agitated us.

At last...our uneasiness increased to a degree which amounted even to terror. It was with much difficulty that I made the post-boys stop opposite a small spite of my shouts they still went on, till at last the French servant...compelled them to stop. I then sent to the village to ask how far we were from Dartford, and my surprise may be guessed when I received for answer that we were now 22 miles...distant from that place....we did not reach London before nightfall, when I immediately drove to Mr. Sheridan's house. He was extremely surprised...and...agreed with us that it could not have been the result of mere chance....The post-boys being examined...confessed that an unknown gentleman had come in the morning to their masters, and carrying them from thence to a public-house, had, by giving them something to drink, persuaded them to take the road by which we had gone.

Gothic Labyrinth
Gothic Labyrinth