Laura Silver Bell by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Irish Short Story Week)

This week (14-20 March) Mel U of The Reading Life is hosting an Irish Short Story Week. If you’d like to participate all you need to do is read at least one short story by an Irish author. There are plenty of these available to read for free online, including stories by classic authors such as Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Bram Stoker.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to try a short story by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Le Fanu is probably most famous for his vampire novella, Carmilla, and gothic novel Uncle Silas, but has also written a lot of shorter fiction. As I’m not familiar with his short stories at all, I chose one at random from The Literature Network.

Laura Silver Bell is a simple but effective story. It is set in the north of England, in an isolated rural area. Laura Lew, known as Laura Silver Bell, has been raised as a farmer’s daughter after the death of her mother.

So Farmer Lew called the little girl Laura; and her sobriquet of “Silver Bell” was derived from a tiny silver bell, once gilt, which was found among her poor mother’s little treasures after her death, and which the child wore on a ribbon round her neck.

When Laura falls in love with a tall man dressed in black whom she meets while walking home one night, she receives a warning from Mother Carke, a former sage femme (midwife) who is believed to be a witch. Mother Carke suspects that the man is a fairy and she advises Laura to stay away from him. But will Laura take her advice or will she be tempted to go with the fairy – and what will happen to her if she does?

“Say yer prayers, lass; I can’t help ye,” says the old woman darkly. “If ye gaa wi’ the people, ye’ll never come back. Ye munna talk wi’ them, nor eat wi’ them, nor drink wi’ them, nor tak a pin’s-worth by way o’ gift fra them – mark weel what I say – or ye’re lost!”

Although this is not a horror story exactly, it does have quite an eerie atmosphere, due to the lonely setting and the grounding in traditional folklore – there are frequent references to fairies, witchcraft and black magic (fairies, in this sense, are not the pretty winged creatures that are often depicted in modern culture, but something more sinister). It seems that Le Fanu had a particular interest in the legends of humans being stolen away by fairies – after reading this story I read another one by the same author called The Child that Went with the Fairies which, as the title suggests, is on the same theme as Laura Silver Bell.

Have you read this story or anything else by Le Fanu? Which of his stories or novels would you recommend I read next?

16 thoughts on “Laura Silver Bell by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Irish Short Story Week)

  1. Mel u says:

    Thanks so much for participating in Irish Short Story Week-this sounds like a very good story. I really like Le Fanu a lot. I will be posting on “The Child Stolen by Fairies” today-I really enjoyed it-I will be reading more of his work. I first discovered him when researching ideas for the week.

  2. Annie says:

    I’m not a great short story reader, I have to admit, but I am trying to read more from that period, so I’m going to take a look at The Literature Network and see what is available.

    • Helen says:

      I hardly ever read short stories either. One of my goals for 2010 was to read more of them, but I think I still only read five or six over the entire year!

  3. FleurFisher says:

    Thank you for reminding me that le Fani was irish. I’d quite forgotten, but now I’ve been able to pull out my copy of In a Glass Darkly and I shall read at least one story for St Patrick’s Day. I can’y advise as I first read Le Fanu so long ago that the details are hazy, but I do remember enjoying the book I borrowed from the library so much that I wanted a copy to keep.

    • Helen says:

      Le Fanu didn’t immediately come to mind when I was choosing an author for Irish Short Story Week, so I’m grateful to Mel for including him in his list of ideas for the week!

  4. Mel u says:

    I see in your side bar you are reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Samuel Pepys-I read it a few years ago-reading the fully Diary was one of the great reading experiences of my life-I read it maybe ten or 15 years ago-I would like to reread it-I still have the full set

  5. Mel u says:

    Helen-I just wanted to stop by to personally invite you to participate in Irish Short Story Week Year Two-it starts March 12-I will be posting on two more of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and also a wonderful story also in the paranormal vein by Lord Dunsany. I hope your schedule will permit you to join us again.

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