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Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh

af Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

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The most popular novel by Gothic mystery and thriller writer Sheridan Le Fanu, Uncle Silas is one of the first of the "locked room" mystery genre, and served as the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's The Firm of Girdlestone. Teenage heiress Maud Ruthyn lives in a mansion with her withdrawn father. She slowly finds out that a man named Silas Ruthyn, a reprobate with a dark mysterious past, is her uncle, although he is now apparently a good Christian. Her uncle's mansion holds a locked room where a man to whom Silas owed a great deal of money allegedly took his own life. Maud's father is steadfast in upholding his brother's innocence, but Maud herself grows increasingly fearful and unsure.… (mere)
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Engelsk (34)  Svensk (1)  Alle sprog (35)
Viser 1-5 af 35 (næste | vis alle)
My knowledge of this writer is more connected with his ghost stories, so it was with interest that I picked up this novel which fits into the genre of Victorian suspense or 'sensation' novels as it seems they were known at the time of publication, the 1860s. The sensation novel apparently took over from the earlier gothic - instead of the supernatural as a threat, the danger comes from human beings, though the setting of a gloomy old house with mysterious locked rooms etc is very gothic in inspiration. Similarly so is the central theme of a young heiress, orphaned and placed into the care of her peculiar Uncle, the Silas of the title.

Set in the early 1840s, it is clear that the narrator, Maud, is writing a memoir of her early life (though at the end it transpires that she is not the elderly woman that her interjections indicate, but instead a young mother). This early indication that the narrator survives does flatten a great deal of the possible suspense throughout, and is not a spoiler as it is foregrounded and reoccurs as a reminder throughout.

I had a few problems with the novel. A main one is that Maud, the viewpoint character through whom the reader experiences the story, is rather irritating. When not dithering and being indecisive, she stamps her foot with anger like a small child. Her only bouts of firmness are, by her own admission, when she is annoyed, and she comments throughout on the weakness of women's mental powers - considering this is by a male author, it reflects the prejudice of the time but is irritating that we are expected to take it at face value as a woman's opinion of her own gender. Especially as the other main positive female character is her much more likeable older cousin Monica, a person of sense, humour and decisiveness, who sadly is not seen much in the later part of the novel.

Monica and a male character who becomes the active executor of the will of Maud's father try to open Maud's eyes to what is really going on and to help her, but she denies it to the point of stupidity until very late in the book. It is maddening that when offered various opportunities to escape she self-sabotages, either by trusting Silas or by lapsing into total apathy. Meanwhile it is clear to the reader that Maud's own father was neglectful and lacking in real affection for her: at one point, he debates aloud in front of her whether to confide in her about something very important, remarking that it is a pity she is a girl. This is a world in which women literally have no control over their own property unless they are widows and are manipulated at best or imprisoned at worst.

The underlying background to the novel is the religious sect of Swedenborgianism to which Silas effects to subscribe and to which Maud's father may have had some leanings. But really I found it immaterial, as the real point is the possible hypocrisy of Silas - is he, or is he not, really a reformed character who has abandoned the dissipation of his youth which culminated in gambling debts, a disastrous marriage and the suspicion of being involved in the seeming suicide in his house of a man to whom he owed a large sum of money. The portrayal of Silas does move beyond the stereotype, to show a man who is genuinely disturbing in his effect on others and leaves those around him off balance.

A more minor problem I had with the novel is the large amount of Derbyshire dialect and French dialect, both of which are represented not just by word choice but by phonetic spellings and apostrophes etc making it not easy to follow at times. The various villains, with the exception of Silas, are mainly stereotypes. In the case of the French governess with her facial muggings this becomes so extreme that it veers into unbelievable caricature. Also there is a continuity error at one point where Mary Quince, Maud's maid, is suddenly mentioned as having the bedroom next to hers on a visit to Monica (and why are so many people in this book given names beginning with 'M'?) but is not mentioned elsewhere on that visit, and then greets Maud on her return home with news of what has happened in the meantime. But more annoying was the prominence given to a scene where Maud's executor friend hands her a note of his address and tells her to scratch the address into the underside of her writing desk lid and destroy the note - which she does - which I thought would have a payoff. Much later she is instructed to write letters from various places to reassure her cousin and is actually in one of those places, with her minder absent for hours - and she just sits around apathetically rather than check his address, run outside and get into a cab to go there! The author could have then set further obstacles in Maud's way such as the legal one of her still being underage and not able to abscond, but it was really annoying that this had been set up but nothing was then done with it.

This edition had an introductory essay which I soon left till after finishing the novel as it started off with some spoilers. But I found the rest of it a sort of Pseud's Corner (Private Eye) effort at a vague and amorphous analysis of Swedenborgianism in the novel. I can see that settings and people are reflected to some extent: possibly Maud's childhood home is Heaven and the house where Silas lives is Hell, but more to the point Maud's father Austin and his younger brother Silas are not Jekyll and Hyde opposites but both cut from the same cloth. So I don't really think it works as a theory.

Given that this was a novel of Victorian suspense, the obvious comparison is with Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White" which has also been credited as the first modern detective novel. I certainly enjoyed that book much more, but compared to this it has a much more complex plot and a very engaging female character. So given my various reservations with the present book, I can only award a 3 star rating. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
3.5*

I don't know why the Guardian's list of 1000 Novels has this book under 'Science Fiction and Fantasy'. There is nothing fantastical about it - it would more properly be described as a Gothic horror story, though the horror is very Victorian (not at all like the gruesome modern day horror stories). I would call it a suspense.

The atmosphere of terror and the plots laid for Maud Ruthyns, the heroine narrator, were very well done but Maud herself annoyed me. She was constantly referring to her timid nature which led her into some behaviors that were - to her - silly. That was okay - not my preference for a heroine but acceptable. It was her obstinate holding to the conviction that her Uncle Silas was a good man despite the history, the hints and worries from others, and even his own actions towards her that annoyed. Even after he had connived with Madame to separate her from her trusted maid Mary Quince and have her brought back to Bartram-Haugh secretly in the middle of the night and locked into a room with barred windows, she still believed that it was all Madame and her Uncle Silas would save her! If it wasn't for that, I would have given this 4*. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 27, 2023 |
Inquietante novela gótica, arquetípica de las llamadas "ghosts stories". Aunque la trama, a día de hoy, resulta un poco predecible y las descripciones son muy típicas del género (sombríos corredores, fantasmas, ruidos en la noche, niebla, tormenta, casa desolada, cementerios...), en su época tuvo que ser todo un fenómeno de la literatura de terror. Destaca la espeluznante Madame de la Rougière, así como también el retrato psicológico de los personajes principales. Los últimos capítulos están narrados con maestría, creando un ambiente sórdido, macabro, de angustia contenida.

LO MEJOR: El ambiente lúgubre del caserón del tío Silas, la angustia y el terrible destino que acecha a la protagonista. El lector siente en todo momento que el cerco se va estrechando en torno a la joven heredera, lee entre líneas los planes macabros de Silas contra su sobrina, creando un aura de suspense hasta el final. Lo que más asusta es que Maud no se da cuenta de nada hasta que ya es demasiado tarde para salvar su vida.

LO PEOR: La protagonista se pasa gran parte de la novela llorando o escondiéndose por los rincones. Le falta espíritu e iniciativa. Su ingenuidad e inocencia desesperan al lector, que tiene muy claro desde el principio la maldad de Silas. El final podría haber sido mejor, ya que Maud se salva de una muerte segura por pura casualidad. ( )
  Munsa79 | Nov 18, 2022 |
I really enjoyed this ancient book; it has real moments of terror in it, and keeps you guessing until the very end. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Dripping with Gothic menace poor rich girl Maud Ruthyn braves every attempt to separate her from her life and her inheritance. Even the good guys are mostly super creepy making things even more interesting.

Le Fanu's best novel, Green Tea and Carmilla are his best works however. ( )
  Gumbywan | Jun 24, 2022 |
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Forfatter navnRolleHvilken slags forfatterVærk?Status
Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridanprimær forfatteralle udgaverbekræftet
Bowen, ElizabethIntroduktionmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Longford, ChristineRedaktørmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Sage, VictorIntroduktionmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Stewart, Charles WIllustratormedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
Varma, Devendra P.Introduktionmedforfatternogle udgaverbekræftet
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TO THE RIGHT HON.
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AS A TOKEN OF RESPECT, SYMPATHY,
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It was winter - that is, about the second week of November - and great gusts were rattling at the windows, and wailing and thundering among our tall trees and ivied chimneys - a very dark night, and a cheerful fire blazing, a pleasant mixture of good round coal and spluttering dry wood, in a genuine old fireplace, in a sombre old room.
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One of the terrible dislocations of our habits of mind respecting the dead is that our earthly future is robbed of them, and we thrown exclusively upon retrospect. From the long look forward they are removed, and every plan, imagination, and hope henceforth a silent and empty perspective. But in the past they are all they ever were.
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The most popular novel by Gothic mystery and thriller writer Sheridan Le Fanu, Uncle Silas is one of the first of the "locked room" mystery genre, and served as the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's The Firm of Girdlestone. Teenage heiress Maud Ruthyn lives in a mansion with her withdrawn father. She slowly finds out that a man named Silas Ruthyn, a reprobate with a dark mysterious past, is her uncle, although he is now apparently a good Christian. Her uncle's mansion holds a locked room where a man to whom Silas owed a great deal of money allegedly took his own life. Maud's father is steadfast in upholding his brother's innocence, but Maud herself grows increasingly fearful and unsure.

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