Uncle Silas by J.S Le Fanu – A Review

A few weeks back I read Uncle Silas a tale of Bartram Haugh  by J.S Le Fanu; I had intended to write a review after finishing it but unfortunately as you may have gathered from an earlier post I’ve not felt up to it. I’ve been totally unable to write lately so I though I’d break the ice with a brief review.

Uncle Silas,

what is the books about? :

The book is the Story of Maud Ruthyn; Maud lives a solitary and quiet life, but a happy one. She lives with her father, a quiet  man of unorthodox religious opinions and solitary habits. Her mother died when she was young and so the main female influences in her life are the maid and the housekeeper, both of whom she is very fond of.

But Maud’s peaceful life is interrupted suddenly when her father decides she is in need of a finishing governess. The woman he chooses brings terror and mystery to the nervous Maud. Another female influence also enters her life early on, cousin Monica, a wealthy widow who speaks her mind and does as she pleases.

Early on in the book we learn of Maud’s fascination with the portrait hanging in her home of a handsome young man of fashion. The portrait is of her Uncle Silas in his younger days. Her fascination with the mysterious character of the uncle she has never met grows with the reticence of those around her to talk of him. What she does learn is told in half disclosures and hints.

Eventually she comes to learn the story of Silas Ruthyn and the events surrounding his isolation from his family. All these events go on to play a part in Maud’s future life; When Maud eventually comes into the path of her mysterious uncle she is faced with many dilemmas of trust and loyalty.

Is it worth reading?


What did I like about it?

The story itself is a good one, aside from writing style and other considerations. I liked the character of Milly, Maud’s cousin. She is less educated than Maud and clearly neglected by her family. Although the book is a little bit harsh on those not trained to reserved Victorian society such as Milly, she is one of the warmest and most genuine characters in the book. At the other end of the scale is her cousin Lady Monica, she is well versed in the social graces but she takes no prisoners once she sets her mind to something.

There is a creeping sinister feeling throughout the book, peoples motives aren’t always clear and the isolated houses involved add to that feeling that Maud is totally at the mercy of others.

What didn’t I like about it?

It may have served the tension in the story well for those in the know to not reveal everything at once to Maud but rather to drip feed half disclosures but it does sometimes lead to frustration. I found myself being annoyed with the characters from time to time. They would tell Maud just enough to frighten her but not enough for her to be able to prepare herself to face what was coming. As a result it did sometimes feel like she was left flailing around in the dark while someone was hiding the candle.

What are the main elements of the book?

A locked room mystery, a mysterious uncle, a family scandal, a vulnerable girl, a large inheritance and an isolated house.

A good old fashioned Victorian gothic novel this; One that’s worth a good read. Don’t look it up on Wikipedia first because it tells you the entire plot and that really spoils the fun doesn’t it?


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