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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