Lafcadio Hearn: American Writings: (Library of America #190)

Overview


A singular figure in American letters, Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) had a life as complex as his heritage. Born in the Ionian Islands to a Greek mother and an Irish father, he was abandoned by his parents, raised in boarding schools, and then sent penniless to the United States, where he began a career as a newspaper journalist. After earning a measure of literary fame in his adopted country, he moved permanently to Japan, where he became a leading interpreter of Japanese ways ...
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Overview


A singular figure in American letters, Lafcadio Hearn (1850–1904) had a life as complex as his heritage. Born in the Ionian Islands to a Greek mother and an Irish father, he was abandoned by his parents, raised in boarding schools, and then sent penniless to the United States, where he began a career as a newspaper journalist. After earning a measure of literary fame in his adopted country, he moved permanently to Japan, where he became a leading interpreter of Japanese ways for a Western audience.

A translator of Flaubert and Gautier, Hearn was the master of a gaudy and sometimes self-consciously decadent literary style, but he was also a tough-minded and keenly observant reporter, with an eye for the offbeat, the sensual, and occasionally the gruesome. The writings of his American years collected in this Library of America volume—on subjects as wide ranging as comparative folklore, the history of musical instruments, French literary avant-gardes, and New Orleans voodoo—reveal an omnivorous curiosity and an always eclectic sensibility.

Some Chinese Ghosts (1887), a stylized retelling of ancient legends, foreshadows Hearn's later fascination with Asian themes. The exquisitely crafted novels Chita (1889), about the devastation wrought by a Louisiana hurricane, and Youma (1890), about a slave rebellion in Martinique, epitomize his writing at its most luxuriantly romantic, alert to the interactions of diverse cultures and suffused with imagistic splendor. His extraordinary travel book Two Years in the French West Indies (1890), presented here with the many illustrations from its first edition, provides a richly impressionistic account of his long stay on Martinique and other Caribbean islands.

More than two dozen examples of Hearn's journalism from the 1870s and 1880s are also included here, evoking vanished worlds with incomparable vividness: a raucous African-American nightclub on the Cincinnati waterfront; an execution; scenes of Mardi Gras and the New Orleans French Quarter; an uncharted village of Filipino fishermen in a remote Louisiana bayou. The volume is rounded out with a revealing selection of Hearn's impassioned letters, many published here for the first time in unexpurgated form.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Benfey (Mellon Professor of English, Mount Holyoke) presents four of Hearn's books as well as 25 newspaper and magazine articles and 11 letters written in the 1870s and 1880s. Hearn (1850-1904) is associated especially with New Orleans, Martinique, and Japan, where he became a citizen in 1885 and took the name Koizumi Yakumo. His interest in ghost stories, folktales, voodoo, and the offbeat are reflected in his works. The first piece in this collection, Some Chinese Ghosts, is described by Hearn as a failed attempt to understand the Far East through books alone. In Chita: A Memory of Last Island, he recounts the devastation caused by a hurricane in Louisiana in 1856. The last two major works in this volume, Two Years in the French West Indies(presented with over 80 original illustrations) and Youma: The Story of a West-Indian Slave, are the products of his experiences in Martinique. Although an impressive collection, this would be most appropriate for larger academic libraries collecting Hearn materials.
—Anthony Pucci

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781598530391
  • Publisher: Library of America, The
  • Publication date: 3/5/2009
  • Pages: 900
  • Sales rank: 879,107
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author


Christopher Benfey, volume editor, is Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke. His books include The Double Life of Stephen Crane (1992), Degas in New Orleans (1997), The Great Wave (2003), and  A Summer of Hummingbirds (2008).

 

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