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Posted September 21, 2004
I'm not a big fan of Victorian novels, but I'm a huge fan of Sheridan Le Fanu, one of the foremost writers of ghost stories in the English language. 'Uncle Silas' has been described as a short story unfortunately gotten in a family way, but it was very popular in its day and is now included in World Classics. Unlike the ghost stories, the novel sticks to the more explicable evil of living beings, but is still heavy on the chills. The basic plotline---young, naive heiress is thrust into great danger by the death of her father/protector---is a familiar enough theme, and resonates clearly in any period. To our modern sensibility, she cries too much and takes too much for granted, but it's consistent with the age and circumstance. What makes the novel special is the gradual but inexorable building of fear and foreboding as the story unfolds, punctuated with Le Fanu's uncanny eye and ear for the grotesque detail. In an age when books were often read by candlelight, 'Uncle Silas' must have troubled the nights of many a reader, young or old. The Penguin edition has a comprehensive introduction and is loaded with chapter-by-chapter endnotes, which illuminate a lot of period vernacular and references that might otherwise be missed. Practiced readers of Gothic and Victorian fiction would probably classify 'Uncle Silas' as a 19th-century beach book, but that quality is what makes it particularly approachable for a modern reader.
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Posted March 5, 2006
Uncle Silas is filled with very colorful characters set amongst dreary, but delightfully so, backdrops that, as a fan of Gothic Lit, keeps one entranced
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