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Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,1652811,712 (3.94)189
The most popular novel by Gothic mystery and thriller writer Sheridan Le Fanu, Uncle Silas is one of the first of the "locked room" mystery genre, and served as the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's The Firm of Girdlestone. Teenage heiress Maud Ruthyn lives in a mansion with her withdrawn father. She slowly finds out that a man named Silas Ruthyn, a reprobate with a dark mysterious past, is her uncle, although he is now apparently a good Christian. Her uncle's mansion holds a locked room where a man to whom Silas owed a great deal of money allegedly took his own life. Maud's father is steadfast in upholding his brother's innocence, but Maud herself grows increasingly fearful and unsure.… (more)

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» See also 189 mentions

English (27)  Swedish (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
Started as a 2, bounced up to a 4, ended on a 3. Le Fanu is an excellent storyteller but at novel-length, he seems to falter, at least for me. I still say that 'In a Glass, Darkly' is his best work, a collection of five fantastic stories. ( )
  drew_asson | Mar 22, 2020 |
This is 19th century Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu's most well known full length novel, a mystery and "sensation" novel sometimes compared to Wilkie Collins's Woman in White. I must say, though, I didn't think this was in the same class as the Collins classic. While there are some interesting scenes and characters and a reasonable air of mystery was built up around the title character, I thought the novel lacked colour and depth. For me, not really a patch on the author's novella Carmilla, the original vampire story that inspired Bram Stoker. ( )
  john257hopper | Feb 18, 2020 |
I don't know why the Guardian's list of 1000 Novels has this book under 'Science Fiction and Fantasy'. There is nothing fantastical about it - it would more properly be described as a Gothic horror story, though the horror is very Victorian (not at all like the gruesome modern day horror stories). I would call it a suspense.

The atmosphere of terror and the plots laid for Maud Ruthyns, the heroine narrator, were very well done but Maud herself annoyed me. She was constantly referring to her timid nature which led her into some behaviors that were - to her - silly. That was okay - not my preference for a heroine but acceptable. It was her obstinate holding to the conviction that her Uncle Silas was a good man despite the history, the hints and worries from others, and even his own actions towards her that annoyed. Even after he had connived with Madame to separate her from her trusted maid Mary Quince and have her brought back to Bartram-Haugh secretly in the middle of the night and locked into a room with barred windows, she still believed that it was all Madame and her Uncle Silas would save her! If it wasn't for that, I would have given this 4*. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 17, 2020 |
Maud Ruthyn, the narrator, is a young woman not quite of age. Early in the book, her father places her under the care of a devious governess, Madame de la Rougierre, with unknown motivations. Madame torments Maud and her father doesn't appear to believe her when she begs for help. He does eventually discover the treachery and dismisses Madame. Shortly afterwards, Maud's father dies and her Uncle Silas, a marginalized member of the family, is made her sole guardian at the protest of her cousin. Maud is warned to guard herself. "But take it that you happen to die, Miss, during your minority. We are all mortal, and there are three years and some months to go."

Maud is essentially imprisoned at Bartram-Haugh by her uncle and cut off from family and friends. Madame de la Rougierre reappears locked away in Silas' home and Maud is told she was commissioned to "take Maud to France." Because of the duplicitous nature of the characters, we're never quite sure if they intend Maud harm. A sense of alarm and foreboding is protracted through the entire story with the final resolution waiting for the last few pages.

This is a great example of gothic horror and plays heavily on the themes of imprisonment and mental illness. Maud even begins to question whether she is sane. The novel is very similar in feel to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre but this book is more suspenseful as the reader is always waiting for the shoe to drop and an attempt to be made on Maud's life.

Le Fanu never fails to provide a creepy tale. This is now one of my favorites. ( )
  pmtracy | Dec 17, 2019 |
Fine gothic horror. Le Fanu promoted his novels as romances, in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott, but with 'Uncle Silas' he created a sly and suspenseful gothic horror. The novel was originally published in three volumes, but it is tightly written - with every scene and every observation of the characters vital to the atmosphere of the story and to the needs of the plot. That is something his contemporaries can rarely boast.

The novel is also a mixture, full of social commentary on county life in the 1840s, the widely different comedic stylings of Cousin Millie and Madame, and the fierce debates between Anglicanism and the increasing number of Protestant sects. The novel has layers that make it work on the highest levels.

Maud Ruthvyn has a lonely childhood with her father and a succession of governesses on their remote estate. Visitors are few and when she becomes curious about her father's estranged brother, Silas, she receives few answers. Her situation begins to change when her father hires a 'finishing' governess, but this woman is different than those who came before. Madame de la Rougierre is sinister and abusive, full of prying questions and after a series of unsavory incidents is finally dismissed.

On her father's death, Maud learns she is to spend the next few years as the ward of her mysterious Uncle Silas. Those she trusts have objections to the situation, but she again receives no information. As a young heiress going to live with strange relations, the reader can guess what is coming Maud's way, but Le Fanu skillfully spreads doubt and conjures suspense. 'Uncle Silas' is not merely a succession of dark nights and terror, Maud and her cousin Millie have many pleasant afternoons, but is a sharply written description of a place and situation that was and is terrifying because of its reality. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 27 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bowen, ElizabethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Longford, ChristineEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sage, VictorIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stewart, Charles WIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Varma, Devendra P.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This Tale
First words
It was winter - that is, about the second week of November - and great gusts were rattling at the windows, and wailing and thundering among our tall trees and ivied chimneys - a very dark night, and a cheerful fire blazing, a pleasant mixture of good round coal and spluttering dry wood, in a genuine old fireplace, in a sombre old room.
One of the terrible dislocations of our habits of mind respecting the dead is that our earthly future is robbed of them, and we thrown exclusively upon retrospect. From the long look forward they are removed, and every plan, imagination, and hope henceforth a silent and empty perspective. But in the past they are all they ever were.
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Menace, mystery,
dread – Victorian Gothic
high melodrama.

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Average: (3.94)
1.5 1
2 7
2.5 1
3 35
3.5 16
4 84
4.5 13
5 43

Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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