St. Patrick’s Day is this week, and that means it’s time to celebrate all things Irish—like me! But your favorite gothic librarian aside, there are actually a whole bunch of Irish writers who have contributed significantly to the gothic genre. In fact, without Irish writers, we wouldn’t have Dracula, Carmilla, or Lestat. So you can thank the Irish for pretty much the entire vampire genre. Read on to find out more about how the Irish have impacted gothic literature!
Chales Robert Maturin (1782-1824)
The Irish have been involved in gothic literature since the very beginnings of the genre. Maturin was a writer of Gothic plays and novels during the early nineteenth century. Maturin was a resident of Dublin whose association with Gothic novels frequently interfered with his career as a clergyman. Though not as well known as other early Gothic writers like Horace Walpole, Ann Radliffe, or Mattew Lewis, Maturin is still appreciated today for his cult classic Gothic novel, Melmoth the Wanderer. The book is composed of several stories within stories all revolving around a Faustian figure named Melmoth who has sold his soul to the devil and travels the world looking for someone to take his place in the bargain. Fun trivia fact: Maturin was the great-uncle of Oscar Wilde, and his most popular novel had a profound effect on the latter’s life, as you will see later in this post.
Joseph Sheridan le Fanu (1818-1873)
Joseph Sheridan le Fanu was prolific writer of Gothic, mystery, and ghost stories throughout the nineteenth century. He penned my favorite early vampire tale, Carmilla, which I reviewed a while ago on this site. His other famous novels include Uncle Silas and The House by the Churchyard. While some of his earlier works were set in Ireland, his publishers encouraged him to appeal more to the English market by writing about England. Nonetheless, many of his works continued to be influenced by Irish folklore. His writing was to be a major influence on our next Irish writer, Bram Stoker.
Bram Stoker (1847-1912)
Bram Stoker is perhaps the most famous author of Gothic fiction, yet many are unaware that he was Irish, perhaps because he had moved to London by the time he wrote Dracula. (And even fewer know that he graduated with a degree in mathematics from Trinity College!) Stoker got his start as a theater critic for a Dublin newspaper owned by Le Fanu. He soon became a celebrated writer in his own right, and aside from Dracula wrote a number of other novels, short stories, and a few nonfiction works.
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)
Oscar Wilde is generally thought of more as a writer of humor and satire than of Gothic horror. However, The Picture of Dorian Gray—one of his most famous works—has strong Gothic elements, featuring unsettling supernatural occurrences, the corruption of innocence, and a gruesome murder. Wilde also wrote a short story parodying the ghost story genre, “The Cantorville Ghost,” which I discussed in my recent post on the gothic trope of the creepy housekeeper. Like several of the writers mentioned above, Wilde was born in Dublin and studied at Trinity College. He spent much of his adult life in England (partially because Bram Stoker stole his Irish sweetheart, fun fact) until persecution for his homosexuality drove him into exile, during which he took on the name Sebastian Melmoth (from Maturin’s novel—it’s all connected!).
Anne Rice (1941-)
I’ve discussed her before in my post on foundational female writers, but the mother of the modern vampire genre is an Irish American! Her heritage is apparent in her maiden name, “O’Brien,” and she grew up in an Irish neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana. Rice initiated the shift from traditional vampire horror stories to something more akin to what we see today in the paranormal romance genre with her first novel Interview with a Vampire. Interview portrays a sympathetic account of a sensitive young vampire named Louis who struggles with the existential and moral questions surrounding life as a member of the immortal blood-sucking undead. Since that first novel, Rice has written ten more books in the Vampire Chronicles, with the newest, Prince Lestat, having recently come out a decade after the series allegedly ended. Apart from her vampire novels, Rice has also written series about witches and werewolves, as well as erotica and religious fiction about the life of Jesus. Talk about versatility!
Which of these Irish writers have you read? Are there any that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments, and enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day!