The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIII. The Victorian Age, Part One.
§ 7. Appendix
A Chapter in the History of a Tyrone Family being a tenth extract from the Legacy of the Late Francis Purcell P. P. of Drumcoolagh, appeared in The Dublin University Magazine for October, 1839, pp. 398–415, and was reprinted in The Purcell Papers, 1880, and in The Watcher and other Weird Stories, 1894, by J. Sheridan Le Fanu.
While nothing could be more probable than that the author of The Irish Sketch Book and Barry Lyndon had read this story, it is clear that Charlotte Brontë could have had access to it. Her father, when at Cambridge, sent money to his Irish relatives; in his will, he remembered them, and there is an absurd legend that, after the publication of Jane Eyre, one of them crossed the Irish sea to deal summary justice to Miss Rigby of The Quarterly, whom he took to be a man. There was, therefore, some “measure of correspondence.” Charlotte Brontë herself, in requesting Messrs. Aylott and Jones to send out review copies of the Poems, mentions, alone among Irish papers, The Dublin University Magazine. A favourable notice appeared; and, in writing to the editor to thank him for it, 6 October, 1846, she signs herself “your constant and grateful reader.” Later, 9 October, 1847, she makes a special request that Messrs. Smith and Elder should send Jane Eyre, to the same review. It is not improbable that a forgotten remembrance of Le Fanu’s story, read years before, supplied what was never a fertile inventiveness with the machinery it wanted.
In the story, which is about a twelfth of the length of Jane Eyre, lord Glenfallen, who is neither old nor ugly, neither young nor handsome, marries, or pretends to marry, the young Irish girl who is the narrator, Fanny Richardson. The couple then set off for his country house, Cahergillagh court, a large rambling building, where they are welcomed by an old housekeeper who is used as the storyteller’s confidante. The day after, lord Glenfallen, beginning in a jocular manner by saying he is to be her Bluebeard, counsels the heroine to “visit only that part of the Castle which can be reached from the front entrance, leaving the back entrance and the part of the building commanded immediately by it to the menials.” He gives no reason for this extraordinary request, further than a mysterious warning of danger; the actual reason being that in that part of the castle there lived his blind wife, who had arrived either from another of his houses or from abroad—one need not understand everything in the story—on the very day of his own arrival. A month later, coming up to her bedroom, the heroine is startled by finding a blind lady seated in a chair. Some sudden talk follows, and, on Fanny’s saying that her name is lady Glenfallen, an outbreak of rage on the part of her visitant. “The violence of her action, and the fury which convulsed her face, effectually terrified me, and disengaging myself from her grasp, I screamed as loud as I could for help. The blind woman continued to pour out a torrent of abuse upon me, foaming at the mouth with rage, and impotently shaking her clenched fist towards me. I heard Lord Glenfallen’s step upon the stairs, and I instantly ran out: as I passed him I perceived that he was deadly pale and just caught the words: ‘I hope that demon has not hurt you.’ I made some answer, I forget what, and he entered the chamber, the door of which he locked upon the inside. What passed within I know not, but I heard the voices of two speakers raised in loud and angry altercation.” When lord Glenfallen returns after two hours, he is pale and agitated; “that unfortunate woman,” said he, is out of her mind. I daresay she treated you to some of her ravings: but you need not dread any further interruption from her: I have brought her so far to reason.” The heroine can elicit nothing further. Lord Glenfallen becomes silent and distracted, and one morning proposes they should go abroad. That night, however, Fanny is again visited in her bedroom by the blind woman, who tells her that she and not Fanny is the true lady Glenfallen, commands her to leave her pretended husband the next day and threatens her, if she refuses, that she will reap the bitter fruits of her sin. Commenting upon this adventure, Fanny continues—“There was something in her face, though her features had evidently been handsome, and were not, at first sight, unpleasing, which, upon a nearer inspection, seemed to indicate the habitual prevalence and indulgence of evil passions, and a power of expressing mere animal rage with an intenseness that I have seldom seen equalled, and to which an almost unearthly effect was given by the convulsive quivering of the sightless eyes.” She tells her husband, but he meets her with his former defence: “the person in question, however, has—one excuse, her mind is, as I told you before, unsettled. You should have remembered that, and hesitated to receive as unexceptionable evidence against the honour of your husband, the ravings of a lunatic;” and, afterwards, Fanny is told by old Martha that she hears her master had ill-used the poor blind Dutchwoman. “How do you know that she is a Dutchwoman?” asks Fanny, “Why, my lady,” answered Martha, “the master often calls her the Dutch hag, and other names you would not like to hear, and I am sure she is neither English nor Irish; for, whenever they talk together, they speak some queer foreign lingo.” Her maiden name, it appears later, had been Flora van Kemp.
The next incident occurs when Fanny is sitting in the parlour late one evening. “I heard, or thought I heard, uttered within a few yards of me, in an odd, half-sneering tone, the words—‘There is blood upon your ladyship’s throat.’… I looked around the room for the speaker, but in vain. I went then to the room-door, which I opened, and peered into the passage, nearly faint with horror lest some leering, shapeless thing should greet me upon the threshold.” That same night, in her bedroom, the incident is repeated. “After lying for about an hour awake, I at length fell into a kind of doze; but my imagination was very busy, for I was startled from this unrefreshing sleep by fancying that I heard a voice close to my face exclaim as before—‘There is blood upon your ladyship’s throat.’ The words were instantly followed by a loud burst of laughter.” Sleep forsakes the terrified girl, and, sometime in the small hours, she sees the long wall-mirror fixed opposite the foot of the bed slowly shifting its position. In reality, the mirror was hung on a concealed door now swinging open to admit a figure. “It stepped cautiously into the chamber, and with so little noise, that had I not actually seen it, I do not think I should have been aware of its presence. It was arrayed in a kind of woollen night-dress, and a white handkerchief or cloth was bound tightly about the head. I had no difficulty, spite of the strangeness of the attire, in recognising the blind woman whom I so much dreaded. She stooped down, bringing her head nearly to the ground, and in that attitude she remained motionless for some moments, no doubt in order to ascertain if any suspicious sounds were stirring.” Then comes the account of the attempted murder, the murderess groping about the room till she finds a razor and then swiftly sliding towards the heroine, who is paralysed by fear. “A slight inaccuracy saved me from instant death; the blow fell short, the point of the razor grazing my throat. In a moment, I know not how, I found myself at the other side of the bed, uttering shriek after shriek.” Lord Glenfallen rushes in and fells the intruder, and the entrance of a crowd of domestics prevents further danger.
At the trial, Flora van Kemp accuse him of having instigated the attempted murder of the pretended wife and, on its failure, of having turned upon herself. But she does not intend to perish singly, “all your own handywork, my gentle husband.” This was “followed by a low, insolent, and sneering laugh, which from one in her situation was sufficiently horrible.” Nevertheless, justice is baulked of its prey and sentence is passed upon her alone. “Before, however, the mandate was executed, she threw her arms wildly into the air, and uttered one piercing shriek so full of preternatural rage and despair, that it might fitly have ushered a soul into those realms where hope can come no more. The sound still rang in my ears, months after the voice that had uttered it was for ever silent.” The husband becomes a prey to maniacal delusions, hears voices and cuts his throat under circumstances of peculiar horror; while the innocent Fanny seeks the refuge of a convent.