Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Though carefully educated in medicine and surgery, I have never practiced either."

Though I thought that this book would be a single story, I found out in the Introduction that In a Glass Darkly is actually a collection of short (and one longish) stories written by Sheridan Le Fanu. The subjects of the stories are hardly related except that they all are improbable. Some are rooted in the supernatural, others in the evil of men's hearts.

The first three stories, Green Tea, The Familiar and Mr. Justice Harbottle, were the most similar. Each dealt with someone plagued with madness though the sources of the madness were debatable. In one case, guilt was suspected though it could have been a ghost. In another story, the culprit may have been too much green tea. These were good solid Victorian stories of the supernatural though none of them were mind-blowing.

The fourth story in the book was the longest and was an adventure story with human villains. The Room in the Dragon Volant was maddening in the way of Victorian stories where the reader is far more sophisticated than the trusting, naive protagonist. From the start of the story, it was obvious what mistakes young Richard made when traveling to France. However, he is also our narrator and so we could assume that everything worked out for him somewhat in the end -- though one starts to worry when the premature burial scene comes around! Yet, by the end of this story, it was my favorite of the book.

The final story, Carmilla was shorter than the previous one but also pretty long for a short story. This was again another kind of story, one that I wasn't expecting after the other four -- a lesbian vampire story. I liked this story until it got toward the end when the situation was pretty obvious but again our oblivious young narrator and protagonist can't put together the clues that are spoken right at her. For some reason, it was a bit more maddening than in the previous story. However, I found it interesting that Carmilla was written in 1872-- twenty-five years before Dracula --and was a major influence on the classic vampire story.

This was one of the books that I really wanted to read this fall. I had already planned to read it for another challenge but held off until now and this definitely proved to be a perfect time of year (and a perfect day) for it. Sitting on the sofa with thunder and pouring rain while I got through Carmilla made the story that much spookier. This was one of the best R.I.P Challenge IV reads that I've had so far. The stories weren't perfect but they were very enjoyable. I will definitely read more Le Fanu in the future.

This book is also on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list. I can definitely see the influence of some of these stories on future fiction -- especially horror and vampire stories. I could even see The Room in the Dragon Volant being made into a film one day. I am making terrific progress with the 1% Well-Read Challenge as this is my eighth book for the challenge this year. I only have two more to read before the end of the year and then I will be more well-read ... at least by the standards of the current list!

You know I made it to the end of the book because I'm writing this post ...

Support our site and buy In A Glass Darkly on Amazon or find it at your local library. We bought our own copy.


  1. I didn't know there was a 1% well read challenge! I'm trying to make my way through the entire 1001 list. So far, 45 books.

    I'll have to see if the library has this one. :)

  2. This book sounds awesome! Hope my library has it! By the way, I LOVE the name of your blog. We Be Reading...I saw it in someone's blogroll and I just had to come check u out. I am now a follower.

  3. SaveOphelia - With this one I've now read 81 (I have a few years on you!). I know that I will never read all of the books just because there are some that I have no interest in but I do think it's a great way to fill in when I want to read something different and to expand my literature background. They run the challenge each year so you should join next year!

    Book Junkie - Thanks! I hope your library has it too. Luckily she's a well-known author so it's likely.

  4. I wonder if I'm more sophisticated than a Victorian!!??