Contribution

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

In considering Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu as a writer in the mystery and detective tradition, one might be tempted to call his novels mysteries without a detective. In nearly every one of his novels (and in a high proportion of his shorter fiction), there is some mysterious situation that confuses the main characters and usually threatens their lives and fortunes. There may be two mysteries, one from the past impinging on the present and one developing in the course of the action; they may be causally connected and involve the same agents. The revelation may occasionally be the result of amateur or official detective work, though the detective is never the main character, but usually it is the result of chance. The supernatural is often present; sometimes it proves to have a natural explanation, but sometimes it has to be accepted as real. Julian Symons, in Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel (1972), speaks of an interregnum between the first appearance of the detective stories of Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins and the publication of Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887). Written during this period, Le Fanu’s novels should not be regarded as flawed detective stories but as sharing certain features of a genre that had yet to be firmly defined.