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Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

J. Le Fanu , Victor Sage
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Dec 2000 Penguin Classics
One of the most significant and intriguing Gothic novels of the Victorian period and is enjoyed today as a modern psychological thriller. In UNCLE SILAS (1864) Le Fanu brought up to date Mrs Radcliffe's earlier tales of virtue imprisoned and menacedby unscrupulous schemers. The narrator, Maud Ruthyn, is a 17 year old orphan left in the care of her fearful uncle, Silas. Together with his boorish son and a sinister French governess, Silas plots to kill Maud and claim her fortune. The novel established Le Fanu as a master of horror fiction.

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Uncle Silas: A Tale of Bartram-Haugh (Penguin Classics) + Late Victorian Gothic Tales (Oxford World's Classics) + She (Oxford World's Classics)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Ed edition (7 Dec 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140437460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140437461
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 7.9 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 440,276 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Dublin-born Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) established himself as a journalist and writer of fiction and became one of the best-selling authors of the 1860-80s. His sinister and supernatural tales are the precursors of the modern ghost story.

Victor Sage teaches English at the University of East Anglia. A literary critic and short story writer, he has published critical books on Gothic literature, including Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition (Macmillan).

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
It was winter - that is, about the second week in 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 very cheerful fire blazing, a pleasant mixture of good round coal and spluttering dry wood, in a genuine old fireplace, in a sombre old room. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Gothic Classic 2 Aug 2005
It's disappointing that le Fanu doesn't have the reputation of many other classic Victorian horror writers. Compared with his fellow Irishman, Bram Stoker, he barely registers in the public mind, and yet his novels and short stories are no less chilling or accomplished in their imagination.
'Uncle Silas' is probably the most prominent of his novels. It tells the story of young and naive Maud Ruthyn, whose father's death leaves her under the guardianship of the mysterious uncle of the title. In this respect, the plot is conventional, and the ensuing murder plot to deprive Maud of her inheritance unfolds leisurely and with little of the tense, action-filled plots of contemporary sensation novels.
Instead, le Fanu's brilliance lies not in the complexity of his plot, but in his ability to produce a brooding atmosphere of foreboding and doom that is nothing short of the heightening suspense experienced in 'The Turn of the Screw.' Descriptions are brooding and detailed, stretching conventional settings such as dark woods, locked rooms and lonely churchyards to eerie proportions. Overlaid upon these environments is the continual gloom of secret's untold and the strange influence of religious sectarianism which haunts the family.
Adding colour to these monochrome backdrops are the vividly different, yet equally foreboding, characters that populate the novel. Uncle Silas figures dominantly as the frail and sickly, yet unquestionably evil and devious, opium-addicted menace who drives the machinations of the plot. His tool in his schemes is the grotesque Madame de la Rougierre, who figures as Maud's governess, and who's unsuppressed hatred for the child provides a constant source of fear and anxiety for the orphan while she attempts to uncover the secret that the Frenchwoman suppresses.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A stylish, magnificent gothic horror. 31 July 2001
By A Customer
One of the most striking points about this book is that apart from a few scattered incidents and a wonderful melodramatic ending very little happens! Yet the whole story had me in a state of almost unbearable tension. Le Fanu creates an atmosphere of evil which pervades the whole book. Madame Le Rougierre is always a dangerous character and once Uncle Silas is actually in the story his malignant presence, with mood swings, opium overdoses and fake religious fervour, overtakes everything.
Silas is a wonderful character; in my opinion he is the equal of other great Gothic characters such as Dracula. His evil is all the more defined because there is always the chance that he is a reformed character. Maud, the heroine of the story, finds him terrifying yet desperately wants to believe in him as her father did. Here Le Fanu is very clever, because we, the readers, are perfectly aware that as Silas is the title character of a Gothic horror he is highly unlikely to be good, but of course Maud does not have our knowledge. Like a modern horror film when we know that the girl should not go down into the basement where the murderer is lurking, we know that Maud should not agree to her late father's wishes and take Silas as her guardian, but if it was happening to us we would probably have done the same. Part of Le Fanu's magic in this novel is that he has Maud constantly in the midst of terrifying paranoid fantasies about the danger she is in but then she snaps to with a burst of apparent common sense, and looks at the situation as normal people would. Unfortunately for her the situation is not a normal one.
The ending is magnificent and well worth waiting for; the fact that the story built up so slowly with such atmosphere makes it all the more powerful. This is a wonderful book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping stuff 27 Aug 2009
This was a book club choice from our resident Jane Austin fan who recommended it with the strange comment that it was an "absolutely thrilling book where nothing really happened". As I read it, I marvelled that this was indeed the case. Brilliant psychological thriller of its time.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Gothic fiction 16 Oct 2011
Uncle Silas is an 1864 novel which seems to incorporate almost every aspect of the Victorian sensation/gothic novel you can think of: gloomy, eerie mansions, graveyards, laudanum addiction, an evil governess, locked rooms and locked cabinets, poison, family secrets. I had high hopes for the book as it sounded like exactly the type of classic I usually enjoy, and after a slow start it didn't disappoint.

Our heroine (and the narrator of the story) is Maud Ruthyn who lives with her father at Knowl, their family estate. Maud is fascinated by a portrait of her Uncle Silas which hangs on one of the walls inside the house - she has never met her uncle before and is intrigued by hints of scandal in his past. When Mr Ruthyn decides to find a governess for his daughter, the sinister Madame de la Rougierre comes to live at Knowl and a chain of events begins which will finally bring Maud into contact with her mysterious Uncle Silas.

And that's really all I can tell you about the plot without beginning to give too much away! I had managed to avoid reading any big spoilers so I never had any idea what was coming next, and I think that was the best way to approach this book.

It did take me a while to really get into the story. It was fun and entertaining from the beginning and I was never actually bored with it, but it seemed to take such a long time before anything really happened. It wasn't until about one hundred and fifty pages into the book that the pace began to pick up and then I could appreciate why Le Fanu had taken his time building the suspense and slowly creating a mood of menace and foreboding.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
The product was packaged well, arrived on time and as expected, but I found the novel itself difficult because of the time it was set and the style of writing
Published 3 months ago by KarenM
5.0 out of 5 stars Gothic with a capital 'G'!
What a cracking good read this novel is! I've read many of Le Fanu's works before, and have always admired his supreme command of the gothic genre; but having read this book, I... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Duncan R. McKeown
4.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric
Very atmospheric and gripping. A classic gothic creepy tale and an ideal winter read and I would definitely recommend it
Published 14 months ago by jillcam
5.0 out of 5 stars Uncle Silas - A Review by Barry Van-Asten
Le Fanu's novel published in 1864 is the tale of Silas Ruthyn, a man suspected of murdering a gambler found dead at Silas's home Bartram-Haugh in Derbyshire. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Mr. B. P. Van-asten
3.0 out of 5 stars Good beginning and end. Tedious middle.
As a fan of Gothic horror I was thrilled to come across Uncle Silas.

The story started off as I would expect of the genre, with evil and menace and a traditional cast of... Read more
Published on 4 Mar 2011 by pr1
4.0 out of 5 stars Much more than a mere horror story
Until I began 'Uncle Silas' I had only read a couple of Le Fanu's short stories (In A Glass Darkly (Wordsworth Mystery & Supernatural). Read more
Published on 8 Jun 2010 by Didier
4.0 out of 5 stars Psychological Horror
Classic Gothic novel centering on issues of family secrets, inheritance rights and the vulnerability of children at the hands of wicked adults
Published on 11 Jun 2009 by Ms. Gu Khan
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