Uncle Silas-Le Fanu   Leave a comment

This is a book from the list ‘*1001 books to read before you die’ *which I am currently attempting to complete as a personal challenge. I had come across the book before; but apart from knowing it to be a Victorian Gothic novel, I knew very little about it.

*Uncle Silas *was published in 1864, by the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu, it grew out of a short story he wrote and based in Ireland. The completed novel however, was transferred to Derbyshire. Le Fanu wrote mainly gothic and ghost stories and was an important contributor in the development of this genre. *Uncle Silas* is his best known work, although another of his novels, *Carmilla*, greatly influenced Stoker in the writing of his novel, *Dracula*. There are often close connections made between Uncle Silas and Wilkie’s, *Woman in White. *

*Uncle Silas * is the ultimate gothic novel, in my opinion. It contains every ingredient necessary for those early versions of a psychological thriller. The main character is an overly neurotic young girl, the story takes place in large neglected mansions with dark corridors and multiple unused rooms where a person can become easily lost. The houses are both on large estates with large forests which can add extra scary passages.

The main character, Maud Ruthyn, is given a cruel enigmatic French governess who often appears to be actively working to cause Maud harm. Maud’s uncle Silas, is only mentioned as a part of a family secret in the first half of the novel, and then enters as a central character who we are never sure if we should be wary of or compassionate towards. Silas is closely connected to a dark family secret, and his innocence has never quite been established.

Other characters enter and leave the story in enigmatic ways, and we are unsure if they are friends or co-conspirators. Maud’s cousin Dudley is a dangerous person, but Maud is forced to question her own memory that she had previously met him in the company of other questionable people and her cruel governess. Maud is often led to question her own feelings and at certain points worries about her fear and anxiety which is causing paranoia. Is she going mad?

At each point in the novel, we have several safe strong supporting characters whom we can trust as helpers for Maud, but often in the tale, she is gradually barred from accessing them, and feels alone. At the end of the novel, this builds to the point that Maud is held captive and prevented from reaching any of her established supporters.

At a central point in the novel, Maud takes a journey and meets a group of gypsies- so often used as a gothic device- and received a dark terrifying prophecy from one female gypsy. Of course, every part of this prophecy is later found to come true. Finally, every thread of the tale, the family secret and the conspiracy are all resolved and everyone lives happily ever after, obligatory in any gothic novel. I really cannot think of a gothic device which Le Fanu missed.

The story is simple, a young lady experiences several adventures as she waits to come of age and take control of her inheritance, whilst a group of shady and apparently trustworthy characters conspire to rob her of this inheritance in one way or another.

The writing is not slow moving, the plot is carefully planned and spaced out. The level of terror waxes and wanes throughout the novel, but builds to a great climax towards the end.
Some of the plot details are somewhat over blown, but that is all part of the fun of the gothic novel.

As a side point, the story also includes a locked room mystery, a murder Silas is accused of many years before, but appears to have been impossible for him to carry out.

Le Fanu includes supernatural references, including the philosophy of Swedenborg – scientist, philosopher and Christian mystic- to add to the mystic atmosphere of the novel.

I enjoyed this novel immensely. It needs to be approached for what it is, and not taken too seriously. A bit of light-hearted fun, on the same level as modern horror films. On those terms it competes well with other famous gothic novels, *Castle of Otranto*, *Mysteries of Udolpho*, *Wuthering Heights,* *Jane Eyre*, and *Frankenstein*. If you enjoyed *Woman in White*, then give this a try.


Posted July 23, 2017 by dianne7 in book review

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