Uncle Silas

Uncle Silas - Victor Sage, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Fine gothic horror. Le Fanu promoted his novels as romances, in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott, but with 'Uncle Silas' he created a sly and suspenseful gothic horror. The novel was originally published in three volumes, but it is tightly written - with every scene and every observation of the characters vital to the atmosphere of the story and to the needs of the plot. That is something his contemporaries can rarely boast.

The novel is also a mixture, full of social commentary on county life in the 1840s, the widely different comedic stylings of Cousin Millie and Madame, and the fierce debates between Anglicanism and the increasing number of Protestant sects. The novel has layers that make it work on the highest levels.

Maud Ruthvyn has a lonely childhood with her father and a succession of governesses on their remote estate. Visitors are few and when she becomes curious about her father's estranged brother, Silas, she receives few answers. Her situation begins to change when her father hires a 'finishing' governess, but this woman is different than those who came before. Madame de la Rougierre is sinister and abusive, full of prying questions and after a series of unsavory incidents is finally dismissed.

On her father's death, Maud learns she is to spend the next few years as the ward of her mysterious Uncle Silas. Those she trusts have objections to the situation, but she again receives no information. As a young heiress going to live with strange relations, the reader can guess what is coming Maud's way, but Le Fanu skillfully spreads doubt and conjures suspense. 'Uncle Silas' is not merely a succession of dark nights and terror, Maud and her cousin Millie have many pleasant afternoons, but is a sharply written description of a place and situation that was and is terrifying because of its reality.