Tuesday Terror! Schalken the Painter by Sheridan Le Fanu

Men! Tchah!

The evenings have grown long and dark, the porpy is awake from his summer hibernation and practising his quivering, the ghosts have donned their freshly laundered sheets – it’s time for terror! And what better way to start than with a classic tale from a master of horror, taken from this brand new collection, Green Tea and Other Weird Stories, issued by Oxford World’s Classics just in time to scare us all into fits this spooky season…

Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter
by Sheridan Le Fanu

J Sheridan Le Fanu

Our narrator is admiring a painting of a lovely young girl, painted years before by the Dutch painter, Schalken, and now owned by the narrator’s friend…

In its hand the figure bears a lamp, by whose light alone the form and face are illuminated; the features are marked by an arch smile, such as pretty women wear when engaged in successfully practicing some roguish trick;…

But there is another figure in the painting…

…in the background, and, excepting where the dim red light of an expiring fire serves to define the form, totally in the shade, stands the figure of a man equipped in the old fashion, with doublet and so forth, in an attitude of alarm, his hand being placed upon the hilt of his sword, which he appears to be in the act of drawing.

The painting’s owner tells the tale which is said to have inspired the painting – the tale of Rose, whom Schalken, when young, loved and lost.

Rose Velderkaust was very young, having, at the period of which we speak, not yet attained her seventeenth year, and, if tradition speaks truth, possessed all the soft dimpling charms of the fair, light-haired Flemish maidens.

“Young Girl with a Candle”
by Gottfried Schalken

Rose was the niece of the painter under whom Schalken was studying, Gerard Douw. She soon grew to love Schalken too, but he was poor and could not aspire to her hand until he had made his mark in his chosen career, so he set to at his studies with a good will, and the two young people were content to wait.

But one evening, while Schalken had stayed late to continue his work after all the other pupils had left, he was disturbed by the arrival of a sinister stranger, half-hidden in the gloom of the room…

There was an air of gravity and importance about the garb of this person, and something indescribably odd, I might say awful, in the perfect, stone-like movelessness of the figure, that effectually checked the testy comment which had at once risen to the lips of the irritated artist.

The stranger asked Schalken to arrange for Douw to meet him there the following night. This Douw duly did, and the stranger revealed his name, Wilken Vanderhausen, and his purpose…

“You visited the town of Rotterdam some four months ago, and then I saw in the church of St. Lawrence your niece, Rose Velderkaust. I desire to marry her, and if I satisfy you as to the fact that I am very wealthy, more wealthy than any husband you could dream of for her, I expect that you will forward my views to the utmost of your authority.”

Blieck Church of St. Lawrence in Rotterdam

Now, Douw knew nothing about this man and was repelled by his appearance and manner, but when the stranger handed him a box full of pure gold ingots, he immediately decided Vanderhausen would make a perfect husband for his beloved niece, for, as he explained to the appalled Rose…

“Rose, my girl, it is very true he has not thy pretty face, but I know him to be wealthy and liberal; and were he ten times more ugly” – (“which is inconceivable,” observed Rose) – these two virtues would be sufficient” continued her uncle “to counterbalance all his deformity, and if not of power sufficient actually to alter the shape of his features, at least of efficacy enough to prevent one thinking them amiss.”

…and what are women, after all, if not chattels to be sold to the highest bidder? And so within the week, Rose is married off to Vanderhausen, and whisked away by him to Rotterdam. Weeks pass, and no word is heard of the newlyweds, and a worried Douw can find no trace of them at the address Vanderhausen had given them. But one dark night, a frantic knocking is heard at the door, and Rose is admitted, in a state of profound terror. She begs her uncle to bring her a minister of God…

“Oh that the holy man were here,” she said; “he can deliver me: the dead and the living can never be one: God has forbidden it… Do not, do not leave me for a moment,” said she; “I am lost for ever if you do…”

* * * * *

The odd thing is that I’ve read this story before and thought it was okay, but this time I loved it! This is apparently the original version of the story from 1839, whereas it’s usually a later revised version that shows up in collections. I haven’t directly compared them and it’s quite a while since I read the later version, but it seems to me that this version fills in more of the blanks, and gives it more depth. Le Fanu uses the real Schalken’s painting style, of showing figures in dark rooms lit only by a single candle or lamp, to great effect, with most of the scenes in the story being full of shadowy corners and menacing gloom.

Although Schalken gets the billing in the title, it’s really Douw, as a man who equates money with worth, and poor Rose, the victim in different ways of each of the three men in her life, who are the stars. Douw is a decent man by the standards of his time, behaving merely as his society expects, and Schalken is a weak one, putting up no fight for his love. They both fail Rose, leaving her with no protection against the horror of Vanderhausen. When the story reaches its climax, they have a last chance to save her, but will they? You’ll have to read it to find out…

It’s nicely creepy without being terrifying, very well written as you’d expect from Le Fanu, lots to analyse if you’re that way inclined, and the porpy and I found it a great way to kick off our annual spookfest! The revised version is available online, but I couldn’t find this original version.

The porpy has had his hair done ready for the new season.

Fretful Porpentine rating:   😮 😮 😮

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

* * * * *

NB For the benefit of new readers since it’s the porpy’s first appearance for the season, the fretful porpentine reference comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres,
Thy knotted and combined locks to part
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine

So the Fretful Porpentine rating is for the scariness factor, whereas the Overall rating is for the story’s quality.

32 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Schalken the Painter by Sheridan Le Fanu

  1. Nice of you to break us and Porpy back into horror season gently. I’m clearly something of a wimp, as I tend to get on better with more subtle psychological stories than outright horror, so I would probably like this. It’s a shame the full version is no longer available online.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The porpy and I really prefer fairly gentle terror too – creepy rather than horrifying – so all the vintage stories work best for us. Yes, this version might be available online but I couldn’t find it if so. I don’t really know how different they are – I’m sure it will tell me in the introduction, but I can’t read that till I finish the book! But I enjoyed it much more than I remembered doing when I read it in the past.


  2. Nice to see the Porpy again! And the story does sound deliciously creepy, FictionFan. There’s something about a painting like that that really can be both eerie and appealing at the same time, if that makes any sense. Interesting, too, that you’d find this original version more satisfying. It just goes to show how important depth and the right amount of detail are to a story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I read it before I hadn’t realised Schalken was a real painter, and it was only when I googled his paintings that I saw how well Le Fanu had used Schalken’s style in his story. Hmm, maybe that was partly why I enjoyed it more this time, now I think about it. A good way to wake up the porpy anyway! He has a lot of work to do this autumn… 🦔

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Love Porpy’s new hairdo! Looks appropriate for the season. Very Bride of Frankenstein-ish!
    Glad you found this one enjoyable as well. This is another palate cleanser from The Book that Shall Not Be Named that drove you to one-star lane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, yes, he does look as if perhaps he spent too long under the hairdryer! I’ve been meaning to read more Le Fanu for ages, so we’re both looking forward to getting stuck into this collection… 😀 🦔


  4. Aw, I’ve missed seeing the porpy but am delighted that he’s looking so good after his season of hibernation! Here’s another of those tales where some poor woman is betrothed to the highest bidder — sigh. Don’t they know such action never ends well?!? Glad you enjoyed this one, FF!

    Liked by 1 person

    • He’s made a real effort to get his hair looking nice, hasn’t he? 🦔 Haha, I know. It’s good that women get a bit more say over who they marry these days, but it must make it really hard for horror writers to find new ways to put them in mortal peril! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is the first time I’ve seen the origins of porpy – and I’m not a new reader – so I’m glad you explained as all this time it has puzzled me! Glad you enjoyed this one creepy and terrifying sounds like something I could cope with.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I kept forgetting that people might not know why the porpy joins me in my horror reading, so I try to put the quote in at least once a year now. I do prefer the older horror – rarely too gruesome and horrific for my wimpy tastes… or the porpy’s! 🦔😱

      Liked by 1 person

    • I kept forgetting that, though I might know why the porpy joins me in my horror reading, other people might not or might have forgotten! So I try to put the quote in at least once a year now – after all, he’s the real star of the blog! 🦔😱

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Porpy is looking good and I’m glad you didn’t scare him too badly since I’m sure you have lots more spookiness to share with him/us! This one sounded awfully creepy to me. (but being at someone else’s mercy in getting married off like that is pretty creepy in itself)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’m so glad I live in a time and place where my dad couldn’t marry me off to whoever he liked – I can’t begin to imagine who he’d have chosen! 😉 Porpy is quivering with excitement at getting stuck in – poor thing! He deserves danger money…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a good story with its inspiration of an actual painter and style, its horror of a young woman lost to life as we know it and the melancholy of those left behind – a great start for the season in one of my less preferred genres!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Lovely to see the porpy again – I love your reviews for Tuesday Terror. You do a great job of making the review enjoyable even to people who aren’t at all interested in horror (I think I’ve only ever read one of these stories afterwards – which had a fretful porpentine rating of one or maybe two! I am a coward when it comes to this type of thing).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw, thank you! I love doing these posts and if I can persuade anyone to read even one or two of them it makes the porpy happy! 😀 I don’t like strong horror either, so even ones that get five porpy stars tend to be at the milder end of horror. Creepiness always works better than gore!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ohhh I like the sounds of this one. Poor Rose sounds like she really gets the short end of the stick in this one, although that’s what (sadly) makes this story all the more accurate and believable ;(

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know – I got quite angry for her! I’d like to think my male relatives wouldn’t have sold me off to such a horrible man, but frankly if they’d been offered enough gold ingots I can’t be sure… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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