Book info

The House By The Churchyard (2007)

The House by the Churchyard (2007)
Rating
3.62 of 5 Votes: 2
ISBN
1840225742 (ISBN13: 9781840225747)
languge
English
publisher
wordsworth editions ltd
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The House By The Churchyard (2007)
The House By The Churchyard (2007)

About book: "The House by the Churchyard" is a novel by Sheridan Le Fanu published in 1863 that combines elements of the mystery novel and the historical novel. According to Wikipedia "aside from its own merits, the novel is important as a key source for James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake"." Now I don't know if that is true, if it is then James Joyce wrote a better novel with "Finnegans Wake" then he did with "Ulysses". "Ulysses" is, of all the books I've made it to the end of - there are two I gave up on - my least favorite, so if I read "Ulysses" first there is no possible way I would have read another James Joyce novel and if I read it before "Uylsses" I have totally forgotten it. Now enough about that horrid novel and on to "The House by the Churchyard". I looked up the writer just to know more about him and the thing that jumped out at me was that his name was "Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu" and I guess he dropped the first two names when he wrote books. For some reason I wanted to know why he had so many names and I found that Thomas was his father's name and Joseph was his grandfather's name. Sheridan was his mother's name, according to Wikipedia his mother, Alicia Sheridan LeFanu was an Irish writer. I never heard of her, and she was also the daughter of actor Thomas Sheridan and his wife, writer Frances Chamberlaine Sheridan. I never heard of either of them. She was also the sister of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, an Irish playwright and poet and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and the aunt of writer Alicia LeFanu (with whom she is sometimes confused). And I never heard of any of these people and I tired of looking everybody up, but I did spend some time after that adding parents and grandparents names to my own in different orders to see how it would sound. So now that you all know at least as much and probably more about the author's names as I do I'll move on."The House by the Churchyard" puzzled me in many ways. That is a good thing, in this case anyway, because I like figuring things out. I'll start with the back cover of the book. My copy says:"Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu is best known today as one of the Victorian period's leading exponents of supernatural fiction. Set in the village of Chapelizod, near Dublin, in the 1760s, the story opens with the accidental disinterment of an old skull in the churchyard, and an eerie late-night funeral. This discovery relates to murders, both recent and historical whose repercussions disrupt the complacent pace of village affairs and change the lives of many of its notable characters forever. "The front of the book says "Tales of mystery and the supernatural" which I'll give them a few points for because there is a mystery or two or three, there doesn't seem to be much supernatural about it unless you count a chapter or two where there is a ghost hand running or crawling or whatever a hand would do, around. However I just can't consider a book of 500+ pages supernatural when a ghost hand is only in one or two chapters having nothing to do with the story. Nothing I remember anyway. The ghost hand story was rather interesting now that I'm thinking of it but would have been better if perhaps after a few days a foot would have joined it, then an arm, then a leg, etc.I puzzle quite a while over the "murders, both recent and historical". The prologue of the story is rather creepy and at least we learn that there was a murder somewhere, sometime. What I found creepy was at the beginning some person (I forget who) has died and is being buried in the churchyard."When this particular grave was pretty nearly finished—it lay from east to west—a lot of earth fell out at the northern side, where an old coffin had lain, and good store of brown dust and grimy bones, and the yellow skull itself came tumbling about the sexton's feet. These fossils, after his wont, he lifted decently with the point of his shovel, and pitched into a little nook beside the great mound of mould at top."I find it creepy that they must bury people right on top of each other and just throw the old bones away to put in the new ones. That got me wondering how many people are buried on top of each other but I didn't let my brain try to figure that out. I just thought it was odd they uncovered a body while digging the grave and no one seemed to think this was odd. Anyway, they pick up the skull and pass it around - another thing I will never do - and decide that this person must have been murdered because of the holes in the head. It could have been caused by the shovel hitting it in my mind, but what do I know. As they are standing there talking about the dead guy getting shot in the head an old man shows up and tells them this:'You don't think it a bullet wound, Sir?' said my uncle, mildly, and touching his hat—for coming of a military stock himself, he always treated an old soldier with uncommon respect.'Why, please your raverence,' replied the man, reciprocating his courtesy; 'I know it's not.''And what is it, then, my good man?' interrogated the sexton, as one in authority, and standing on his own dunghill.'The trepan,' said the fogey, in the tone in which he'd have cried 'attention' to a raw recruit, without turning his head, and with a scornful momentary skew-glance from his gray eye.'And do you know whose skull that was, Sir?' asked the curate.'Ay do I, Sir, well,' with the same queer smile, he answered. 'Come, now, you're a grave-digger, my fine fellow,' he continued, accosting the sexton cynically; 'how long do you suppose that skull's been under ground?''Long enough; but not so long, my fine fellow, as yours has been above ground.''Well, you're right there, for I seen him buried,' and he took the skull from the sexton's hands; 'and I'll tell you more, there was some dry eyes, too, at his funeral—ha, ha, ha!'Now we go on to Chapter One and have gone back to the year 1767 and are going to be told the story of how the dead man died, and lots of other stories, but don't be looking to find out how the skull gets a hole in it's head for a long, long time. Don't be looking for any murders either for a long, long time. That's what puzzled me, the back of the book made so much of the murders they put it on the cover and yet for hundreds of pages I can't find anyone murdered. We are only a few chapters in the book when there is a duel over perhaps the dumbest reason to have a duel ever, but it's a silly duel and no murder. I'm not sure if the guy who survives a duel is considered a murderer or not. I would think he is if he is the one who challenged the other guy to the duel, but I don't know and I'm not taking the time to find out. Besides it isn't one of our two murders anyway. I have to keep reading to find them. There is a guy who goes out for a walk - supposedly for a walk - and never returns and even though a body is eventually found in the river no one thinks he is murdered, everyone thinks he committed suicide. There is a man who is found murdered along some path, but then when they all get to the body it turns out he isn't dead only almost dead, so he probably hasn't murdered anyone and he isn't murdered since he's alive.Eventually though the murders do happen, well, one did a long time ago it just takes a while to get to it. There's a few love stories in there as well and lots of meddling into each other's lives and trying to get couples together or keep couples apart. There are men who don't like other men, and women who don't like other women, and people who don't like anybody. And now on to my next puzzling thing about the book: which house is by the churchyard? It took me a long time to figure it out. You would think it was the pastor of the church's house (at least I would) but it isn't. In the first chapter he must go to the church for a funeral in the middle of the night and as he walks there he passes most of the town. He walks past the Phœnix "a jolly old inn", he passes through the town where "no other sound of life or human neighbourhood was stirring" on past the Salmon House an inn at the other side of town, and then arrives at the church. So the rector doesn't live next to the churchyard. It isn't the Phoenix, that's on the other side of town. There's the Tiled house - that's where the ghost hand used to live - "It stood by a lonely bend of the narrow road. Lilias had often looked upon the short, straight, grass-grown avenue with an awful curiosity at the old house which she had learned in childhood to fear as the abode of shadowy tenants and unearthly dangers."Not, however by the churchyard. Then there is Belmont with:"an avenue of gentlemanlike old poplars, and over the little bridge, and under the high-arched bowers of elms, walled up at either side with evergreens, and so into the court-yard of Belmont. Three sides of a parellelogram, the white old house being the largest, and offices white and in keeping, but overgrown with ivy, and opening to yards of their own on the other sides, facing one another at the flanks, and in front a straight Dutch-like moat, with a stone balustrade running all along from the garden to the bridge, with great stone flower pots set at intervals, the shrubs and flowers of which associated themselves in his thoughts with beautiful Gertrude Chattesworth, and so were wonderfully bright and fragrant. And there were two swans upon the water, and several peacocks marching dandily in the court-yard; and a grand old Irish dog, with a great collar, and a Celtic inscription, dreaming on the steps in the evening sun."No churchyard anywhere near it. There are lots of people in this book, there is Doctor Toole, and Miss Becky Chattesworth, there is Puddock and Captain Cluffe, there is a barber and a few innkeepers. Generals and Captains, and Lords and Ladies. There's an alderman - whatever that is - and a couple of people using different names than there own. A really good guy and a really bad guy, and none of them live by the churchyard. I finally figured out who did, although why his house got to be any more important than anyone else's I don't know. If you want to know which house belongs to which person, read the book.Oh, I looked up the word "trepanning" because it is mentioned a few times during the book and I didn't know what it meant. Supposedly according to the old man the skull at the beginning of the story had been trepanned. Now that I've looked it up I hope no one ever trepans me, at least not until I'm dead."Trepanning is a surgical intervention in which a hole is drilled or scraped into the human skull, exposing the dura mater to treat health problems related to intracranial diseases. It may also refer to any "burr" hole created through other body surfaces, including nail beds. It is often used to relieve pressure beneath a surface. A trephine is an instrument used for cutting out a round piece of skull bone.""In ancient times, holes were drilled into a person who was behaving in what was considered an abnormal way to let out what they believed were evil spirits. Evidence of trepanation has been found in prehistoric human remains from Neolithic times onward. Cave paintings indicate that people believed the practice would cure epileptic seizures, migraines, and mental disorders."I have both migraines and epilepsy but no one has drilled a hole in my head yet. I don't think so anyway. One more thing then I'm done, this is my favorite quote:'It is St. John who says, "And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five-and-twenty, or thirty furlongs, they see the Lord walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid. But he saith unto them, It is I, be not afraid." So is it with the frail bark of mortality and the trembling spirit it carries. When "it is now dark," and the sea arises, and the "great wind" blows, the vessel is tost, and the poor heart fails within it; and when they see the dim form which they take to be the angel of death walking the roaming waters, they cry out in terror, but the voice of the sweet Redeemer, the Lord of Life is heard, "It is I; be not afraid," and so the faithful ones "willingly receive him into the ship," and immediately it is at the land whither they go: yes, at the land whither they go. But, oh! the lonely ones, left behind on the other shore.'I thought about that for a long time. Read the book if only to find out which house is by the churchyard.

For anyone else who likes Gothic ghost stories - especially those specifically written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu - the first thing I would want to tell you about this book is that it is not a ghost story. Granted, there is one very, very effective chapter about a haunted house, and that chapter itself stands alone as a near-perfect short story. But otherwise, this 500+ page book gives its yearning horror aficionados nothing more than the very occasional (and I cannot emphasise the word "occasional" enough) hint of a ghost. Mostly, as the editor adequately explains in his introduction - (funnily enough, he actually criticises the book for being overlong, having too many digressions - as well as characters - and for its almost total lack of supernatural material) - The House By The Churchyard is more of a confusing medley of Victorian romance, Gothic mystery, and slapstick comedy. It kind of reminded me, in part, of J.K. Rowling's more modern (and, I dare say, much better) social drama/tragedy, The Casual Vacancy. Instead of being set in an English country village, it's set in the outer-Dublin provence of Chapelizod, in Belmont. Like Casual Vacancy, it purposely avoids the conventions of having a set protagonist, and instead takes on the more ambitious (and often hazardous) concept of portraying to the reader, an entire village of many different individuals, each with their own personalities and stories. Now while I wouldn't say that Le Fanu fails at holding this together (to the contrary, he does it pretty fucking well) I would say that, at least for the first hundred pages, it proves incredibly distracting, and very nearly puts you off, because you find yourself lumbered with all these silly names (like, how the hell do you pronounce Devereux? Is it, like, "Dave-a-roo? I hope it is, cause that's what I went with. Fucking, be nice to me; at least it's not as bad as calling Harper Lee's Mr. Ewell, "Mr. Eee-Well". Ohh-ohh-ohh, my brain ... But after a little while, the characters do begin to grow on you, and you are able to differentiate between them. I'm not sure if anyone else does this - since my head is pretty far up my arse - but sometimes I like to give a character the face of an actor, based on how they behave, because part of me just wants to picture them as that. How's this for randomness? I pictured Devereux as Daniel Craig ... Cluffe as one of my friends from High School, whom I daren't mention here ... Sturk as the guy who plays Marty's Great-Great Grandfather or something from Back To The Future: Part III ... and Dangerfield as that skinny, long-haired assassin guy from the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies ( ... only with those oft-mentioned silver spectacles obstructing his face). But let's return to the book, before people start telling me to kill myself. It was not what I expected - or wanted - and was, in fact, so goddamned far from that, that my attention span was, at times, greatly challenged. It also didn't help that it was pretty damned long, as well. Throughout the book, there were some really good scenes (even if they weren't trying to be scary), but sometimes I just couldn't understand what Le Fanu was smoking. I just did my best to interpret the pages, and went along hoping that I wasn't too far off. I suppose, now that I've finished it, I can look back and appreciate the fact that I picked it up not knowing how misleading the picture and title, and, gosh darn it, the author's reputation, was in luring people to buy this novel. Had I known what this book was really like, then I never would have read it. And so, having done so, I am glad for having read something very different and out of my usual field of interest. And, more importantly, it has in no way whatsoever, put me off from visiting Le Fanu again. Because, without a doubt, this man is a very good writer. That was basically what saved this book from collapsing into itself. Le Fanu has - despite his old-fashioned prose and sometimes longwinded sentences - a very great talent for writing. And while you couldn't quite compare him to Dickens and the like, he's still a darn side better than most modern authors are. At least that's how I feel. I just find the writing style of the 1800's so charming and beautiful to read; it's literature's equivalent to fine wine. And so, while at times I just wanted to be done with this book, I still can't say that I didn't enjoy it. It was just a bit of a chore to work through. At the end of the day, it's still a worthwhile story, and especially the second half (when things do, admittedly, take a slightly darker turn), a lot of loose ends do finally come together, and the ending is pretty satisfying as a mystery/thriller/Gothic/drama. I was kind of stuck as to whether I should rate this two or three stars. In the end, I think it rightfully belongs in both, depending on the angle from which you look at it. But as I started writing this review, I just couldn't bring myself to be mean to it. So its gets a somewhat reluctant three stars. On many levels, a difficult book to fully enjoy ... but still one that I can't help but feel glad for having read, anyway. I would recommend it ... but then I would probably regret it.
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Reviews
Tristram
Simply one of the most gripping novels I have ever readAdmittedly, the first 200 or so pages of this book may be a major put-off to quite a number of readers, but then diamonds have to be cut thoroughly before you can see them shine, and what Sheridan Le Fanu tells us about the inhabitants of Chapelizod is extremely hilarious, no doubt, though maybe not linked too closely with the main plot. However, sticking to the point, like a fly to a pudding, is over-estimated, anyway.Basically “The House by the Churchyard” is a crime story, or rather a bundle of them. As the story unfolds, the reader is confronted with foul murder, blackmail, and bigamy, with false suspicions and right suspicions, but also with doomed love. It all starts with the unearthing of a skull that shows traces of several hard blows and a trepanning, and in a sort of long retrospect the story behind this ghastly discovery is told – a story in the course of which several other carefully hidden misdeeds are brought to light.Sheridan Le Fanu’s novel abounds in comic characters that, at the same time and as they are in some instances connected with the dreadful mysteries of this seemingly idyllic suburb of Chapelizod, are more than just one-dimensional caricatures. Especially Sturk and Nutter, the two grim opponents, and Sturk’s devoted wife are characters you will not forget so easily. Some others are even tinged with a whiff of tragedy.There is also a creepy ghost story interwoven in this rich tale, which is what Sheridan Le Fanu is really good at (My first encounter with this author was years ago when I came across his terrifying story “Green Tea” in an anthology and was afterwards seriously afraid of seeing some hideous monkey, or other animal, haunting me.).I am generally not a friend of short tales, because I think that an author should create no less than a universe teeming with life and wit, he, or she, should really convince me that he takes the world he creates seriously, and this novel indeed enriched a summer for me.For all those who really enjoy reading and losing themselves in a book this novel is a must!
Tracie Janette
I can't recall if I actually finished it or not. I love old books, and love that Project Gutenberg is saving them online for us to read. However, old books are not written in modern reader format. Like Shakespeare they need translation, not only of the language but in style. Maybe editors didn't exist in 1800 but Le Fanu's Churchyard rambled from story to story and some characters went on forever about information not relevant to the story and long past what we would consider colorful or descriptive of the environment. Everytime I picked it up to read, I would enjoy what I read but was not sure how it connected to the story. Again, not sure if I finished it, but I'm calling it done because I became tired of it. Unlike Carmilla, which LeFanu wrote and should be read by everyone. It's hauntingly beautiful and a great resource for understanding where Bram Stoker got his ideas.
Valerie Sirr
Many of le Fanu's stories take place in the Phoenix Park, Dublin, and in the nearby village of Chapelizod: 'Ghost Stories of Chapelizod' and later this novel 'The House by the Churchyard'.A modern reader might find some of the stories less than spine-chilling and some might dislike the long sentences used by a 19th century author, but I found them readable rather than turgid and always meticulously grammatical. The stories are interesting in the context of the history of Gothic fiction and of social life in an early 19th century Irish village.Le Fanu was known as the ‘British Poe’ (he was Anglo-Irish). He influenced a range of writers as diverse as M.R. James, Bram Stoker, Elizabeth Bowen and James Joyce.
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