Saturday, 25 June 2011

Review:- Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu – “Uncle Silas ”

Year Published: - 1864
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978 1 84022 171 8
Pages: - 418pp
Genre: - Victorian Gothic mystery
Location:- Derbyshire
How I came across it: - Reading Victorian literature
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:- A dramatic and suspenseful account of a young heiress who ends up in the care of her reclusive Uncle Silas, a man once accused of murder.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
Young Maud Ruthyn is fascinated by her Uncle Silas but her father will tell nothing about him and forbids his name to be mentioned. Nevertheless, her father is one of the few convinced of his brother’s innocence and it is for his youthful lifestyle that he has been ostracised. Her father employs a terrifying French woman as Maud’s tutor and her life is made Hell for a while. Then circumstances put her in her Uncle’s household and more chilling things happen – deceit, greed and terror but who is doing the deceit is not obvious. Is Uncle Silas the villain or the hero. Only the denouement will make clear..

General comments:- A real page-turner, suspenseful. A tale of entertainment with a rattling good plot and wonderful use of atmosphere and characterisation.


It was winter – that is, about the second week in 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 very cheerful fire blazing, a pleasant mixture of good round coal and spluttering dry wood, in a genuine old fireplace, in a sombre old room. (The opening sentence).

There is no dealing with great sorrow as if it were under the control of our wills. It is a terrible phenomenon, whose laws we must study, and to whose conditions we must submit, if we would mitigate it… One of the terrible dislocations of our habits of mind respecting the dead is that our earthly future is robbed of them, and we are thrown exclusively on retrospect. From the long look forward they are removed, and every plan, imagination, and hope henceforth is a silent and empty perspective. But in the past they are all they ever were. Now let me advise all who would comfort people in anew bereavement to talk to them, very freely, all they can, in the way of the dead. They will engage in it with interest, they will talk of their own recollections of the dead, and listen to yours, though they become sometimes pleasant, even laughable. I found it so. It robbed the calamity of something of its supernatural and horrible abruptness….

So till tea-time I had poor Mary Quince, with her gushes of simple prattle and her long fits of vacant silence, for my companion. And such a one who can con over by rote the old friendly gossip about the dead, talk about their ways, and looks, and likings, without much psychological refinement, but with simple admiration and liking that never measured them critically, but always with faith and lo9ve, is in a general about as comfortable a companion as one can find for the common moods of grief.

It was now the stormy equinoctial weather that sounds the wild dirge of autumn, and marches the winter in…

Of course, a young lady of a well-regulated mind cannot possibly care a pin about anyone of the opposite sex until she is well assured that he is beginning, at least, to like her better than all the world beside; but I could not deny to myself that I was rather anxious to know more about Lord Ilbury than I actually did know.

For my part, I really can’t see the advantage of being the weaker sex if we are always to be strong as our masculine neighbours.

AUTHOR Notes:- Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu (28 August 1814 – 7 February 1873) was an Irish writer of Gothic tales and mystery novels. He was the premier ghost story writer of the nineteenth century and had a seminal influence on the development of this genre in the Victorian era.


  1. I've spent the past half hour visiting your blogs and have been enchanted--so much so that I'll be back soon.

    I simply must try Trollope. Which novel would you recommend for a reader who has yet to read him?


  2. Thanks Judith - much appreciated. I think I'd recommend The Warden - the first of the Barsetshire Chronicles. It's not too long so you can get a good flavour of his writing without worrying about whether you can plough through a longer book. Once I read that I was hooked.

  3. Thanks for the tip about The Warden! I'll order it from the library or through inter-library loan.



Hello folks - your comments are always welcome.