Lafcadio Hearn Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207192-Hearn.jpg Lafcadio Hearn Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Lafcadio Hearn is remembered for a delicate, continuously responsive sensibility and style; an interest in the weird, the strange, and the uncanny, especially as these qualities are manifested in folklore; and an ability to move between cultures that was in many ways far ahead of his time.

Born Patricio Lafcadio Tessima Carlos Hearn in the Ionian Islands on June 27, 1850, he was the son of a British army surgeon and a young Greek woman of a respected family. Her elopement with a member of the unpopular British occupational forces broke her ties with her own family; thus, when she could not follow her husband to the West Indies, she and the infant Lafcadio went to Ireland to live with his family. There, religious differences, the language barrier, and her keen sensitivity to the criticism of her in-laws and, later, of her returned husband led to a mental collapse from which she never completely recovered. She eventually returned to the Ionian Islands, married a compatriot, and died in a mental hospital on Corfu.

Hearn was left in Ireland to live an unsettled life as the ward of a very devout great-aunt, becoming prey to all sorts of fears, especially of the supernatural. He was educated at home by tutors and at a church school in Normandy before being sent to Saint Cuthbert’s College near Durham, England. Here his imaginative pranks and winning nature won him many friends among the students.

Hearn left college without a degree because of three personal tragedies. Extremely myopic, he lost the sight of one of his eyes when it was accidentally struck by a classmate during a game. About this same time, his great-aunt lost her wealth through the business speculations of a relative she wished to help, and Hearn’s own father, who...

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(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The child of Charles Hearn, a British surgeon-major, and Rosa Tessima, a Greek, Patricio Lafcadio Tessima Carlos Hearn spent his first two years on the island of Santa Maura and the remainder of his childhood in Ireland. In 1884, alienated and mentally ill, his mother abandoned him with a pious great-aunt, who fostered his fears of the supernatural. He was first educated by tutors, then at a church school in Normandy, and finally at Saint Cuthbert’s College in England, which he left without receiving a degree, primarily for financial reasons but also because of the accidental loss of an eye.

In 1868, he went to America, where, after an impoverished stay in New York, he made a name for himself in Cincinnati as a reporter (1869-1877). During ten years in New Orleans, he rose to the position of literary editor of The Times-Democrat. The fruits of two trips to the West Indies, his travel sketches received a sufficient audience, so that his departure to Japan in 1890 was under the auspices of Harper and Brothers.

Entranced by Japan, Hearn married a Japanese woman (Setsu Koizumi), became a Japanese citizen, and accepted a professorship at the Imperial University of Tokyo. According to a 1903 letter first published in 1998, in his final years Hearn was lonely, alienated from most Westerners in Japan, who saw him as a religious heretic, and embittered by salary negotiations that caused him to leave his university position.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Lafcadio Hearn, a man long without family and cultural ties of his own, displayed a keen sensitivity to other cultures and peoples. He was born on the Greek island of Levkás. His father, a British army surgeon on assignment, and his mother, a local Greek woman, separated when he was four years old. As a result of his parents’ separation, he was reared by a wealthy, elderly relative in Ireland. Always identifying with his Greek mother, Hearn later described his painful feelings of the loss of her. His attraction to faraway cultures and peoples is possibly due to his interest in his own Greek heritage, which was unfamiliar to him.

As a child and youth, Hearn attended elite, religious boarding schools in France and England. During those years he acquired a fluency in the French language and knowledge of French culture, such that in later years he translated French literary works into English. A bright eighteen-year-old student, he expected to go to a university and inherit sufficient money to live comfortably. Instead, his guardian unexpectedly lost the family fortune and, in 1869, sent him alone to America to find work and make a life for himself.

Arriving in a strange new country without funds or friends, young Hearn faced serious obstacles. He was nearly blind, as a result of a childhood sports accident, and felt haunted by feelings of painful alienation. These problems continued to plague him throughout his life. He eventually found work...

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