By Orrin Grey
Crawford, Gary William; Rockhill, Jim; and Showers, Brian J., eds. Reflections in a Glass Darkly. Hippocampus Press, 2011. USD $25.00. ISBN 978-1614980056.
For someone writing a review of a comprehensive collection of scholarship on J. Sheridan le Fanu, I’ve actually not read all that much of Le Fanu’s fiction. I’ve never read any of his novels and I’m only really familiar with a few of his better-known short stories. That’s actually part of why I wanted to review this book. I thought it would provide me with an opportunity to get a pretty thorough overview of the man and his work, while also providing a layperson’s point of view on the book itself. Still, those who are better acquainted with Le Fanu may find that their mileage on Reflections in a Glass Darkly varies.
That said, I think there’s something in Reflections in a Glass Darkly for just about anyone who’s interested in either ghostly fiction in general, or Le Fanu in particular. Appearing as a sort of “best of” of Le Fanu biography, scholarship, and criticism, it covers all the bases, or, at least, all the ones I could think of wanting it to cover. The pieces collected here – many of them reprints, many others new – vary greatly in length, style and subject matter, ranging from biographical pieces to minute examinations of a particular story. The collected pieces vary widely in length and chronology, featuring essays and introductions by such legends of the spectral fiction field as M.R. James, E.F. Benson, and Elizabeth Bowen, alongside writing by more contemporary luminaries. There’s even a very interesting piece from Jim Rockhill (one of the editors) examining reasons why H.P. Lovecraft may have given Le Fanu short shrift in his own seminal survey of the field, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”.
The book is arranged in such a way as to ease the layperson into Le Fanu studies, beginning with biographical data and generalities before moving into exacting dissections of individual tales. Reading through it, I was introduced to many tales that I’d never previously heard of, and given new perspectives on some of the ones with which I was already familiar. A couple of my favourite pieces came from John Langan and Peter Bell, gentlemen whose fiction writing I was already a fan of before picking up this book. Langan’s piece is an in-depth and insightful examination of the Le Fanu classic “Green Tea”, the story with which I was already most familiar, while Bell’s provides an introduction to a lesser-known work that I’ll definitely be familiarising myself with soon.
Books of literary scholarship are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but if they’re the kind of thing that interests you, or if you’ve got an academic interest in Le Fanu or ghostly fiction, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine a more thorough or comprehensive book on the man and his contribution to the genre.