Biography of Joseph Le Fanu

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish journalist and short story writer, most famously known for Carmilla (1872), a vampire tale that predates (and most likely inspired) Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years.

Sheridan was born on August 28, 1814 to Huguenot parents with literary pedigree—his grandmother and his great-uncle were playwrights, and his mother had written a biography of Irish physician and clergyman Charles Orpen. His father, Thomas Philip Le Fanu, was a Protestant clergyman. The family lived in Abington, county Limerick, during the early years of the Tithe Wars. Le Fanu educated himself in his father’s library and began writing poetry. The family rarely had any money and when Thomas died, there was nothing to leave to his sons.

Le Fanu matriculated at Trinity College, Dublin. He studied law and graduated in 1839, but chose to become a journalist rather than practice law. He published his first story, “The Ghost and the Bonesetter” in 1838 in The Dublin University Magazine, where he’d started working. He later became proprietor and editor of the Magazine in 1861.

Le Fanu married Susanna Bennett and had four children. He wrote regularly, publishing his first novel The C’ock and Anchor in 1845. Other works included The Fortunes of Colonel Torlogh O’Brien (1847), The Mysterious Lodger (1850), and Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851). After his wife died of problems associated with acute anxiety, Le Fanu became a recluse and wrote even more prolifically in the Gothic fashion: Wylder's Hand (1864), Guy Deverell (1865), The Tenants of Malory (1867), The Green Tea (1869), The Haunted Baronet (1870), Mr. Justice Harbottle (1872), The Room in the Dragon Volant (1872) and In a Glass Darkly (1872). The Purcell Papers were published posthumously in 1880. An obituary notice said of his later years, "He vanished so entirely that Dublin, always ready with a nickname, dubbed him 'The Invisible Prince'; and indeed he was for long almost invisible, except to his family and most familiar friends, unless at odd hours of the evening, when he might occasionally be seen, stealing, like the ghost of his former self, between his newspaper office and his home in Merrion Square; sometimes, too, he was to be encountered in an old out-of-the-way bookshop poring over some rare black letter Astrology or Demonology."

Sheridan died of a heart attack at age 58 on February 7, 1873. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin, Ireland.

Study Guides on Works by Joseph Le Fanu

Before there was Count Dracula, there was Carmilla. Indeed, it was Sheridan Le Fanu who introduced the vampire into the English literature tradition. Carmilla was first presented to the world in serial form, published in four editions of a...