Tuesday Terror! Green Tea and Other Weird Stories by Sheridan Le Fanu

Read after dark…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

In terms of horror writing, it could be said that Sheridan Le Fanu needs no introduction, but in fact the introduction in this new collection of his work adds a lot of interesting insight into his life and work. Aaron Worth, Associate Professor of Rhetoric at Boston University, discusses whether Le Fanu was really the originator of weird fiction, as a term as well as a sub-genre, as is sometimes claimed. This, of course, depends very much on how the term ‘weird fiction’ is defined, and Worth shows how it has changed over time, from something implying “a coherent, ordered cosmic system” to its currently popular meaning of “cosmic meaningless”. He also discusses the influence on Le Fanu’s work of his position as an Anglo-Irish Protestant of Huguenot descent living as part of a ruling class over a largely Catholic country.

J Sheridan Le Fanu

Personally I think of Le Fanu as Gothic rather than weird, but all these definitions are a bit vague round the edges and tend to meld into one another. However he is classified, there’s no doubt he wrote some great stories and influenced many of the writers who came after him. This collection contains twelve stories, three of them novella length, and an exceptionally fine bunch they are, including some of his best known such as Green Tea, Schalken the Painter and my own favourite vampire story, the wonderful Carmilla. Individually I gave six of them the full five stars, and the other six got either four or four and a half, so this ranks as one of the most highly rated horror collections I’ve reviewed. In most cases where more than one version of the story exists, Worth has gone back to the original and that seemed to me to work very well – there were a few of the stories I’d read before that I enjoyed more here, either because later changes had been stripped out or because the excellent notes provided extra information that enhanced my reading. I’ve said it before, but this is another example of how a well curated collection can become greater than the sum of its parts.

When so many of the stories are good, it’s hard to pick just a few to highlight, but these are ones I particularly enjoyed:

Borrhomeo the Astrologer – Set in Milan in 1630, a plague year. Borrhomeo is an alchemist, seeking the elixir of life and the potion that will turn lead into gold. The devil, disguised as a young man, turns up and tempts him by giving him enough of the elixir to allow him to live for a thousand years. But in return he must go out and spread the pestilence to all the churches and holy houses in the city. The moral of the story is – never trust the devil offering gifts! Borrhomeo’s fate may be well deserved but I’m not sure what the Court of Human Rights would have to say about it… 😱

Green Tea – The story of a clergyman who, through drinking too much green tea, begins to hallucinate – or is it real? – a monkey that goes everywhere with him. This is bad enough, but when the monkey begins to speak, cursing foully and blasphemously, the clergyman finds he can no longer pray. He contacts Dr Hesselius, a specialist in such matters of the mind, but will Hesselius be able to find a cure for his problem before it’s too late? There’s lots in this about Swedenborg – a Swedish theologian and philosopher whose rather strange ideas, Worth tells us, Le Fanu used more than once as an influence for his stories.

The Haunted House in Westminster – This story is probably better known as Mr Justice Harbottle from Le Fanu’s In a Glass Darkly collection, but here Worth has given us the original, and for me it works better in this format. The corrupt and cruel hanging judge deliberately hangs a man whose wife he has taken to be his housekeeper – a euphemism for mistress, of course. But the judge then receives a letter warning him he will be tried for this crime in a “Court of Appeals”. This is no ordinary part of the justice system though – one night the judge falls asleep and finds himself in a very strange and frightening court, waiting for judgement to be handed down… 😱

Carmilla – not the first vampire story, but one of the best and certainly one of the most influential on the vampire genre. This is novella length, which allows room for character development, but keeps it tighter and more focused than a full length novel would be (looking at you, Dracula!). When a young girl falls ill close to Laura’s isolated Gothic Austrian home, Laura’s father takes her in. Laura feels immediately drawn to her, having dreamt about her in childhood. But Carmilla has a secret… and sharp teeth! Full of mild lesbian eroticism and a wonderful mix of the Gothic and folklore traditions, this has some great horror imagery, such as the coffin half-filled with blood in which the vampire sleeps. Much better than Dracula’s dirt!

I have also previously highlighted two of the stories in Tuesday Terror! posts – Strange Event in the Life of Schalken the Painter and Madam Crowl’s Ghost.

Wonderful stuff! Enough horror to satisfy those who like to shiver, but also great writing and lots to analyse for those who prefer to dig a little deeper, guided by an expert. Highly recommended!

After that the porpy has decided he’s going into hibernation! He thanks you for your company and will be back in autumn, rested and ready to quiver again!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

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36 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Green Tea and Other Weird Stories by Sheridan Le Fanu

  1. This does sound like a solid collection, FictionFan! The Haunted House in Westminster sounds like the creepiest one – *shudder*. I can see why the porpy needs to rest after that one! What I find especially interesting is the introduction. I always like learning more about an author, and Le Fanu is one I don’t know really at all. It sounds as though there was some really interesting information there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love these OWC introductions and also the ones in the BL horror collections. Between them, they’ve given me enough knowledge about the genre and its sub-genres to appreciate the stories far more, and to see how each writer has been influenced and in turn has influenced others. I’d read several of these before years ago, but enjoyed them far more this time, and I’m sure it’s the intros and notes that have made the difference! Haha, The Haunted House is good, but it was poor Borromheo’s punishment that creeped me out most – even though he deserved it! 😉

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  2. Somewhat inevitably, it is the introduction and philosophical questions about the definition of Weird Fiction etc which draws my attention more than the plots of the stories themselves. It’s a shame these anthologies don’t tend to be recorded with the introductions and contextual notes, as they probably add something to the collections which listeners are missing out on.

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    • Yes, it is annoying – I don’t know why the OWC doesn’t convert its books to audio. They must think there isn’t a big enough market, but I suspect there would be. I know that I much prefer to pay for a good edition with notes and an informative intro than to get free or cheap versions that just give the story with no context, and I imagine there are loads of people who feel the same way. We should get up a petition!

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    • Hahaha, well, I was thinking of horror fans! But yes, you have – you’ve read at least five reviews of him on my Tuesday Terror! posts! They must just have been so frightening your subconscious erased him from your memory banks… 😉

      The porpy thanks you and snores gently… 😀

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    • A great choice for the Classics Club! A lot of these early horror writers were as good as the people writing mainstream fiction at the time, and they all tended to have something to say about their society. Hahaha, don’t let the tea and vicars lull you into a false sense of security… 😱

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    • He’ll be twitching nervously in his sleep, poor thing! Yes, horror especially seems to drift between sub-genres, but it makes for great introductions as experts desperately try to classify them all!

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    • I’m going to add Uncle Silas to my next Classics Club list (if I ever finish this one!) – it sounds very good, and I’d be interested to see how his style works in a longer format. His novella-length stories in this one were some of my favourites – gives him room for lots of scene-setting and characterisation which is sometimes missing in short stories.

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  3. The book is not readily available for me so I think I can resist the temptation though the quality of Le Fanu’s does appeal. While Porpy is heading off in anticipation of the end of your winter, it feels a bit soon for me to be anticipating the end of our summer!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a pity. A lot of the stories are available online, but I did find the intro and notes made me appreciate them more. Maybe post-Covid these newer books will start appearing in your library again! Ha! Our spring still feels quite far away too – constant rain and last week we had lots of snow – but the porpy and I feel we’ve read an entire years’ quota of short stories in the last few months! Time for his poor nerves to get a rest… 😉

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  4. For some reason these stories seem vaguely familiar to me, I think I may have read Carmila in a gothic literature course back in Uni….

    Should I be concerned? I love green tea, but if I start seeing monkeys I’ll switch to black!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Several of them appear in his best-known collection, In a Glass Darkly, which I think turns up on literature courses quite regularly. Hahaha, it’s funny but because I read that story when I was young I’ve always been a bit wary of green tea! Maybe you should limit your intake… 😉

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  5. I’m not a big fan of monkeys, so having one show up and stick by my side would be a true horror for me, ha! This sounds like an outstanding collection. It’s certainly one I haven’t read, and your review makes me want to. I’m going to miss Porpy, but I hope he enjoys his long slumber!

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    • Yes, I’m not sure I’d like to have a monkey hanging round either – especially not one that was cursing and blaspheming in English! Tuppence I’m sure uses a lot of bad language but at least she does it in cat-speak! 😉 The porpy thanks you and snores gently… 😀

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  6. I’m unaware that I’ve read any Le Fanu, though ‘Green Tea’ sounds familiar and of course I’ve heard of Carmilla. The only connection I have is with Sarah LeFanu, a distant relative of the writer, who is herself a writer on Africa, feminism, speculative fiction and literary figures—we used to be in the same babysitting circle when I lived in Bristol. I must get round to reviewing her book on writing fantasy for children…

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    • Green Tea is probably the one that turns up most often in anthologies, although Mr Justice Harbottle probably gives it a run for its money. Carmilla is great – and the stuff of an analytical reader’s dream! You’d love it… 😉

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  7. My husband is a Le Fanu fan, and has at least three books of his ghost stories. One of them is an old Arkham House edition of Green Tea and Other Ghost Stories, which I remembered because it has a wonderful cover illustration. Ghost stories is one of the areas my husband and I don’t agree on. Although to be fair I have not given them a chance and I have promised to try some by Le Fanu.

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    • I actually started this horror slot a few years ago because I didn’t much like ghost stories either and wanted to see if I could see why they were so popular. And the more I read the more I got into them, and would now count myself as a real fan! So be very careful about giving them a try… you may find you can’t stop! 😀

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    • I love Carmilla! His others stories are just as good and range from fun to quite dark. These Oxford World Classic’s editions are wonderful – they’ve become my go-to for classics in general. The intros and notes add so much to my understanding and appreciation of the books or stories, and I find I enjoy them much more as a result. 😀

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