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Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh by…

Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh

by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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 Dickens and Collins 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 - especially interesting after reading Adam Bede. It makes we wonder why these theological problems don't come up in Trollope's Barchester novels whose plots all revolve, to some extant, around Anglican clergy. The novel has layers that make it work on a level that, as fine as they can be, works like The Woman in White can't compete with.

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 |
I've read Le Fanu before: I read the Carmilla novella a bunch of years ago, which wasn't bad but didn't bowl me over, and then last year read In a glass darkly, which also contains Carmilla, along with several other short stories. I was not overly impressed by this collection. In fact, I was rather underwhelmed by it. This guy was one of the three who inspired Dracula, one of the initial writers of the vampire story, he has a few that are still Big Deals ~160 years later, he is meant to be impressive, no?? But I was not. MR James, however, said that Uncle Silas was his masterpiece, and MR James is a man who knew what he was talking about.

Uncle Silas did not disappoint. Uncle Silas was everything I could have wanted it to be. I was on the edge of my seat practically the whole time, wondering if this sweet, utterly naïve young girl would manage to ever stop being so dang gullible, and manage to come out on top. Because it is quite common for Gothic tales to end rather tragically, and, though I was much reminded of Jane Austen, what with the sweet young innocent utterly-naïve girl with the standard group of kind gentleman, playboy, and thug surrounding her, there was certainly no Jane Austen guarantee of going off happily into the sunset for poor young Maud! Who knew what the result would be?!

I had trouble putting the book down by the time I hit halfway, and I was kept in eager anticipation until just about the very last page. This is certainly the Le Fanu that everyone should read! ( )
  .Monkey. | Feb 20, 2018 |
This took a long time to finish, but it is a long book. And one that you certainly have to be in a specific mindset to read; like any good Victorian gothic, the plot is complex and the journey winding. But it's still entertaining.

(An aside: I refuse to believe this book wasn't at least partial inspiration for Sarah Waters' "Fingersmith".) ( )
  majesdane | Aug 8, 2017 |
Maud Ruthyn has led a secluded and sheltered life: living alone with her father at Knowl, she hasn't seen anything of the world or spent time in polite society, as an heiress with an ancient name and fortune should. On the death of her father she is sent to her uncle Silas in Derbyshire, who has taken on her guardianship until Maud becomes of age. From the first Maud finds her uncle strange and unsettling, and her stay at Bartram-Haugh will turn out to be far from happy.

Hailed as classic of the Victorian Gothic, Uncle Silas was initially published in serial form, and it really shows: the writing is long and protracted, virtually eroding any tension that might otherwise have arisen, interesting plot twists are hinted at and then never again taken up, and there are plot holes one can drive a carriage through. The novel takes the shape of a memoir penned by an older Maud, as she reflects on her youth; Maud is very highly strung, being seemingly forever in a state of weeping, despair, horror or vexation – only occasionally does she show a little bit of spine and resolution – and for the most part I could have shaken her to get a grip on herself.

Le Fanu describes two very different villains in the novel: Madame de la Rougierre, a rather vulgar and brash Frenchwoman who is engaged to be Maud's governess, and whose characterisation is so unsubtle it appears occasionally farcical, and the titular Uncle Silas, whose personality is described in such subtle terms that I often wondered what the fuss was about when Maud details an encounter with him which has left her frightened out of her wits. At no stage did I ever feel engaged with Maud's plight, hoping (in vain) that the narrative would take a turn for the better and plotting become more taut and tense – the style may have gone down well with Victorian readers but it left me completely cold.

Reader, heed my advice and don't waste your time on this leftover of Victorian melodrama. ( )
  passion4reading | Jan 1, 2017 |
Uncle Silas by J. Sheridan Le Fanu; {acquired prior to L/T}; (5*)

Uncle Silas is both J. Sheridan Le Fanu's greatest novel and also his most celebrated and widely known which is a rare combination. It is a thorough reworking of the Radcliffean mode and of the Female Gothic in general, but it is also something entirely fresh, at least for a novel published in 1864, concerning as it does elements as diverse as Swedenborgian mysticism, Collins-esque sensationalism, and .. a rarity for its time and genre the first person retrospective narration of a young female protagonist. A classic work of 19th century Gothic, it is also generally considered one of the first examples of the 'locked room mystery' and it contains many motifs that have now become common stock of detective fiction and of the mystery genre in general.

Written with the kind of lush and yet curiously straight forward prose that characterizes all of Le Fanu's fictionUncle Silas concerns for the most part three extremely well written characters. The first, its titular hero/villain is an impressive revision of the Byronic hero in all its complexity of characterization and is one of the most successful of these 'stock types' in all of Gothic literature; the second our narrator Maud Ruthyn is fleshed out to a degree that is much more three dimensional than the typical 'Emily St Aubert' of most of these kinds of fictions; and the third and perhaps most remarkable of Uncle Silas's cast, is the insidious, revolting and utterly outrageous Madame de la Rougierre who is worth the price in and of herself. With these characters Le Fanu takes the familiar mechanisms of the gothic novel and twists and turns them about into fabulously crisp and colorful new shapes that are as enjoyable and darkly fascinating today as they were to Victorian audiences one hundred and fifty years ago.

The plot itself concerns the isolation of our young protagonist at the decaying rural estate of her rumour haunted Uncle Silas after the death of her father. She may or may not be the target of a plot that is still capable of chilling the blood. Silas whose decades old association with a ghastly crime which he may or may not have committed and which continues to plague him has been entrusted with Maud's guardianship. It becomes apparent however that this circumstance contains more of self interest than devotion to his late brother. Madame de la Rougierre whose early appearance in the novel is interrupted by the shift in action from Maud's ancestral home to Silas's Bartram Haugh reappears as the novel begins to plunge towards its shockingly violent climax and brings with her a final word on the mysteries of Uncle Silas and its brilliant compelling expansion of Mrs. Radcliffe's tropes. I won't reveal much more in the way of story but Le Fanu is successful in that many times we can see exactly where Uncle Silas is heading and yet we are still surprised with exactly where we have wound up.

Of all the foundational works of the gothic, Uncle Silas remains one of the most accessible for modern audiences and one of the most intriguing. One can see its influence on everything from The Turn of the Screw to Rebecca and it is perhaps fitting that Le Fanu's greatest novel is a variation on a theme and on an entire genre and has itself been reimagined and reworked by modern practitioners of the Gothic tale to this very day. ( )
3 vote rainpebble | Oct 15, 2016 |
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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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Book description
Haiku summary
Menace, mystery,
dread – Victorian Gothic
high melodrama.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140437460, Paperback)

In Uncle Silas, Sheridan Le Fanu's most celebrated novel, Maud Ruthyn, the young, naïve heroine, is plagued by Madame de la Rougierre from the moment the enigmatic older woman is hired as her governess. A liar, bully, and spy, when Madame leaves the house, she takes her dark secret with her. But when Maud is orphaned, she is sent to live with her Uncle Silas, her father's mysterious brother and a man with a scandalous-even murderous-past. And, once again, she encounters Madame, whose sinister role in Maud's destiny becomes all too clear.

With its subversion of reality and illusion, and its exploration of fear through the use of mystery and the supernatural, Uncle Silas shuns the conventions of traditional horror and delivers a chilling psychological thriller.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:51 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Horror fiction. Mystery fiction. This title features an introduction by Kathryn White. 'I thought I saw a human face, about the most terrible my fancy could have called up, looking fixedly into the room. The face gazed towards the bed, and in the imperfect light looked like a livid mask, with chalky eyes'. Master of the ghost story genre M.R. James commented that the, 'final terrific murder-scene and escape can hardly be forgotten' by those who have read Uncle Silas . Neither does the opening disappoint. As the November winds wail in ivied chimneys we are drawn into a Victorian Gothic atmosphere of menacing, sombre gloom and ebony shadows. Sheridan Le Fanu leaves us in no doubt that we are in for a feast of exciting drama, luring us into the intensely claustrophobic world of the nineteenth century sensation- al novel. Le Fanu is amongst the top-notch exponents of the creepy, the criminal and the oppressive. In this tale of the orphaned teenage heiress Maud Ruthyn, fearing for her life at the hands of her sinister uncle, he has created a rattling good plot with the depth of a social novel and the power of high romance.… (more)

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