Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 64: Lafcadio Hearn, Some Strange Experience: The Reminiscences of a Ghost-Seer (#8)

Lafcadio Hearn, "Some Strange Experience: The Reminiscences of a Ghost-Seer" (1875) from Lafcadio Hearn: American Writings:

Lafcadio Hearn has the strangely unfortunate fate of having a great name and not much fame attached to it. He comes up sometimes in discussions of ghost stories; and film buffs may know that the movie Kwaidan was based on his collection of ghost stories (and some notes on insects) of the same name. All of which pales in comparison to how fun his name is to say: Lafcadio Hearn.

The LoA page for this story doesn't go too in-depth with Lafcadio's background, focusing mostly on the time he spent in Cincinnati (after Greece and Ireland, before New Orleans and Japan), working for one newspaper or another. Today's entry is an example of some of his journalism from that time, which showcases one of his interests in ghosts and spirits. (His other major vein seems to have been true crime, so there's some overlap there.)

As for the piece itself, it's ten pages of anecdotes from a "reluctant medium" who has worked in various houses as a domestic servant. If you like ghost stories and horror, you'll see several tropes here: headless riders, faceless ghosts, the ghost pulling the blankets off the bed, etc. If you like ghost stories (as I do), you'll also see some gaps here and there: wait, the headless rider is the ghost of a man who was stabbed in the heart--so why is he headless?

As a collection of anecdotes, there's no through-line or structure to the piece other than "Here's another story." Which is actually, I think, a benefit here: Lafcadio Hearn sets the scene in one paragraph, giving a description of the seer, and then he seems to mostly get out of the way. Except for one side-note, the rest of the piece is her telling stories (supposedly); and even if her anecdotes lead her to non-ghostly matters--like the scientific gentleman who was almost killed by a poisonous snake when he... cooked it and served it to a gun-toting neighbor--Hearn gives her free rein. By staying out of the way, Hearn makes it seem like we're just listening to this woman tell stories around a kitchen hearth.

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