Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Bartram-Haugh. Sprawling estate in Derbyshire, a locale in the English countryside. For decades, it has been the home of Silas Ruthyn, Maud Ruthyn’s ruined uncle, and its decrepit condition is clearly intended to symbolize aspects of Silas’s character. Upon her arrival Maud notes palatial architectural features that have eroded over time and the growth of moss and vegetation around the doorways, all of which give the place “a forlorn character of desertion and decay, contrasting most awfully with the grandeur of its proportions and richness of its architecture.” Like Silas, who is deeply in debt, the estate has seen more prosperous days. When Maud apprises the reader that “the actual decay of the house had been prevented by my dear father,” who has regularly loaned money to his financially irresponsible brother, she establishes the importance of the family fortune she has inherited to her Uncle Silas.

The nature of Bartram-Haugh’s dilapidation is also significant. Maud notes a courtyard “tufted over with grass” and a carved balustrade around the courtyard “discoloured with lichens.” The rarely visited estate is slowly being reclaimed by the natural world outside its once well-kept borders. This encroaching wildness suggests Silas’s own predatory scheme to dispose of his niece in order to steal her inheritance. Huge trees in the courtyard felled by a recent storm telegraph Silas’s intentions to the reader: they “lay with their upturned roots, and their yellow foliage...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bowen, Elizabeth. “Uncle Silas.” In Collected Impressions. New York: Knopf, 1950. An incisive and appreciative analysis of Uncle Silas that places the novel on the same plane as Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

Howes, Marjorie. “Misalliance and Anglo-Irish Tradition in Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 47, no. 2 (September, 1992)): 164-186. Analyzes themes of heritage and inheritance in Uncle Silas. Focusing on the character of Maud Ruthyn, the author develops a feminist critique of the problematic status of the Anglo-Irish. Informed and lucid use of literary theory enhances the critical discussion.

Le Fanu, Joseph. Uncle Silas. Edited by W. J. McCormack. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1981. A scholarly edition, containing a corrected text, a Le Fanu chronology, a bibliography, and a lengthy critical introduction that stresses connections with themes that emerged in later Irish authors such as W. B. Yeats and James Joyce. Also provides a comprehensive critical appraisal of the novel based on a sense of the central significance of deception in its formal design and complex plot.

McCormack, W. J. Sheridan Le Fanu and Victorian Ireland. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1980. At the center of this definitive study of Le Fanu’s life and times is an elaborate and sophisticated reading of Uncle Silas. Drawing on Le Fanu family papers and on Sheridan Le Fanu’s intellectual and cultural background, this view of the novel acknowledges its place both as one of the landmark achievements of the gothic genre in English and as a revealing commentary on the mind-set of the Anglo-Irish class to which Le Fanu belonged.

Milbank, Alison. Daughters of the House: Modes of the Gothic in Victorian Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. Of the two chapters devoted to Le Fanu, one deals with Uncle Silas and offers an analysis of the interlinking of gothic, feminist, and Swedenborgian elements in the novel. The protagonist, Maud Ruthyn, is the focus of this critique.