112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

The Uncanny Le Fanu, or Interpretation and the Return of the Repressed: In a Glass Darkly

Kevin Swafford, Bradley University

Fraught with guilt and obsessive fears in which the realities of social, cultural, and political history inscribe themselves in, and determine the grounds of, subjective and inter-subjective experience, Le Fanu’s stories in In a Glass Darkly may be read as so many symbolic actions that work through a political unconscious in which the social-historical traumas of the past return to haunt the present. 

Proposal: 

In the relatively recent criticism of Sheridan Le Fanu’s work, it has been customary to situate his ghost and horror stories as symbolically responsive and symptomatically reflective of various contentious aspects of 18th and 19th century Irish socio-political history. Robert Tracy argues that Le Fanu’s stories “represent his response to Irish events, amid which his own class [the established Anglo-Irish] seemed less and less capable of preserving the power and privileges which it had once enjoyed, or of considering itself the ‘Ascenndancy’ it had once proclaimed itself”; Le Fanu’s supernatural tales are thus “confessions and expressions of political and social anxieties.” Similarly, Helen Stoddart reads Le Fanu’s “Green Tea” and “Camilla” (two of the more popular stories taken from In a Glass Darkly) as anticipatory of Freudian psychoanalysis in their “tell-tale,” “case study” form and content and thus they are deeply reflective of certain aspects of the psycho-social dynamics of Victorian culture, generally. Fraught with guilt and obsessive fears in which the realities of social, cultural, and political history inscribe themselves in, and determine the grounds of, subjective and inter-subjective experience, Le Fanu’s stories may be read  as so many symbolic actions that work through a political unconscious in which the social-historical traumas of the past return to haunt the present. This presentation explorers all of this—and more.