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Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn

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Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (27 June 1850 – 26 September 1904), known also by the Japanese name , was an international writer, known best for his books about Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

, especially his collections of Japanese legend
A legend is a narrative of human actions that are perceived both by teller and listeners to take place within human history and to possess certain qualities that give the tale verisimilitude...

s and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things
Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things
, often shortened to Kwaidan, is a book by Lafcadio Hearn that features several Japanese ghost stories and a brief non-fiction study on insects...

. In the United States, Hearn is also known for his writings about the city of New Orleans based on his 10-year stay in that city.

Early life

Hearn was born in Lefkada
Lefkada, or Leucas or Leucadia , is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea on the west coast of Greece, connected to the mainland by a long causeway and floating bridge. The principal town of the island and seat of the municipality is Lefkada . It is situated on the northern part of the island,...

 (the origin of his middle name), one of the Greek
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 Ionian Islands
Ionian Islands
The Ionian Islands are a group of islands in Greece. They are traditionally called the Heptanese, i.e...

. He was the son of Sergeant Major Charles Bush Hearn (of County Offaly
County Offaly
County Offaly is a county in Ireland. It is part of the Midlands Region and is also located in the province of Leinster. It is named after the ancient Kingdom of Uí Failghe and was formerly known as King's County until the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. Offaly County Council is...

, Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

) and Rosa Antoniou Kassimati, a Greek woman of noble Kytheran
Cythera is an island in Greece, once part of the Ionian Islands. It lies opposite the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. It is administratively part of the Islands regional unit, which is part of the Attica region , Greece.For many centuries, while naval travel was the only means...

 lineage through her father, Anthony Kassimati. His father was stationed in Lefkada during the British occupation of the islands. Lafcadio was baptized Patricio Lefcadio Hearn in the Greek Orthodox Church
Church of Greece
The Church of Greece , part of the wider Greek Orthodox Church, is one of the autocephalous churches which make up the communion of Orthodox Christianity...

. It is not known whether Hearn's parents were ever legally married, and the Irish Protestant relatives on his father's side considered him to have been born out of wedlock
Marriage is a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is an institution in which interpersonal relationships, usually intimate and sexual, are acknowledged in a variety of ways, depending on the culture or subculture in which it is found...

. This may, however, have been because they did not recognize the legitimacy of a Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony for a Protestant.

Hearn relocated to Dublin, Ireland
Ireland is an island to the northwest of continental Europe. It is the third-largest island in Europe and the twentieth-largest island on Earth...

, at the age of two years, where he was brought up in the suburb of Rathmines
Rathmines is a suburb on the southside of Dublin, about 3 kilometres south of the city centre. It effectively begins at the south side of the Grand Canal and stretches along the Rathmines Road as far as Rathgar to the south, Ranelagh to the east and Harold's Cross to the west.Rathmines has...

. Other members of his family also had artistic interest. His father's brother Richard was at one time a well-known member of the Barbizon
Barbizon is a commune in the Seine-et-Marne department in north-central France. It is located near the Fontainebleau Forest.-Art history:The Barbizon school of painters is named after the village; Théodore Rousseau and Jean-François Millet, leaders of the school, made their homes and died in the...

 set of artists, although he did not become well known as a painter, possibly due to a lack of personal ambition. Young Hearn had a rather casual education, but in 1865 was attending the Roman Catholic Ushaw College
Ushaw College
Ushaw College was a Roman Catholic seminary near Durham, England that closed in 2011. Ushaw was the principal seminary in the north of England for the training of Catholic priests.-History:...

, Durham
Durham is a city in north east England. It is within the County Durham local government district, and is the county town of the larger ceremonial county...

. He was injured in a playground accident during his teens, causing loss of vision in his left eye.


The religious faith in which he was indoctrinated was soon lost, and at 19 he was sent to live in the United States, where he settled in Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio. Cincinnati is the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located to north of the Ohio River at the Ohio-Kentucky border, near Indiana. The population within city limits is 296,943 according to the 2010 census, making it Ohio's...

. For a time, he was impoverished. He eventually befriended the English printer and communalist Henry Watkin
Henry Watkin
Henry Watkin , was an expatriate English printer and cooperative socialist in Cincinnati, Ohio during the mid-to-late 19th century....

. With Watkin's help, Hearn did low-grade journalism work.

By the strength of his talent as a writer, Hearn soon obtained a job as a reporter for the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, working for the newspaper from 1872 to 1875. Writing with creative freedom in one of Cincinnati's largest circulating newspapers, he became known for his lurid accounts of local murders, developing a reputation as the paper's premier sensational journalist, as well as the author of sensitive accounts of some of the disadvantaged people of Cincinnati. The Library of America selected one of these murder accounts, "Gibbeted," for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American True Crime, published in 2008.

Hearn continued to occupy himself with journalism and with observation and reading, and meanwhile his erratic, romantic, and rather morbid idiosyncrasies developed. While in Cincinnati, he married Alethea ("Mattie") Foley, a African-American woman, an illegal act at the time. When the scandal was discovered and publicized, he was dismissed from the Enquirer and went to work for the rival newspaper The Cincinnati Commercial. Hearn divorced in 1877.

In 1874 Hearn and the young Henry Farny
Henry Farny
Henry François Farny was a French-born United States painter and illustrator. His work was centered on the life of Native Americans in the 19th century United States.-Biography:...

, later a renowned painter of the American West, wrote, illustrated, and published a weekly journal of art, literature and satire they titled Ye Giglampz that was published for nine issues. (The Cincinnati Public Library reprinted a facsimile of all nine issues in 1983).

New Orleans

During the autumn of 1877, Hearn left Cincinnati for New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans, Louisiana
New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The New Orleans metropolitan area has a population of 1,235,650 as of 2009, the 46th largest in the USA. The New Orleans – Metairie – Bogalusa combined statistical area has a population...

, where he initially wrote dispatches on his discoveries in the "Gateway to the Tropics" for the Cincinnati Commercial.

He lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade, writing first for the newspaper Daily City Item and later for the Times Democrat. The vast number of his writings about New Orleans and its environs, many of which have not been collected, include the city's Creole
Louisiana Creole people
Louisiana Creole people refers to those who are descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French and Spanish descent. The term was first used during colonial times by the settlers to refer to those who were born in the colony, as opposed to those born in the Old World...

 population and distinctive cuisine, the French Opera, and Louisiana Voodoo
Louisiana Voodoo
Louisiana Voodoo, also known as New Orleans Voodoo, describes a set of underground religious practices which originated from the traditions of the African diaspora. It is a cultural form of the Afro-American religions which developed within the French, Spanish, and Creole speaking African American...

. His writings for national publications, such as Harper's Weekly
Harper's Weekly
Harper's Weekly was an American political magazine based in New York City. Published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916, it featured foreign and domestic news, fiction, essays on many subjects, and humor...

and Scribner's Magazine
Scribner's Magazine
Scribner's Magazine was an American periodical published by the publishing house of Charles Scribner's Sons from January 1887 to May 1939. Scribner's Magazine was the second magazine out of the "Scribner's" firm, after the publication of Scribner's Monthly...

, helped create the popular reputation of New Orleans as a place with a distinct culture more akin to those of Europe and the Caribbean than to that of the rest of North America. His best-known Louisiana works are Gombo Zhèbes, Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs in Six Dialects (1885); La Cuisine Créole (1885), a collection of culinary recipes from leading chefs and noted Creole housewives who helped make New Orleans famous for its cuisine; and Chita: A Memory of Last Island, a novella based on the hurricane of 1856
1856 Last Island Hurricane
The Last Island hurricane of 1856 was an intense Atlantic hurricane that destroyed Last Island in southern Louisiana. The first tropical cyclone, first hurricane, and first major hurricane of the season, it rapidly intensified before making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. The powerful...

 first published in Harper's Monthly in 1888. He also published in Harper's Weekly the first known written article (1883) about Filipinos in the United States, the Manilamen or Tagalags, one of whose villages he had visited at Saint Malo
Saint Malo, Louisiana
Saint Malo was a small fishing village that existed in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana on the shore of Lake Borgne from the mid 18th century into the early 20th century, when it was destroyed by the New Orleans Hurricane of 1915. It was the first settlement of Filipinos in the United...

, southeast of Lake Borgne
Lake Borgne
Lake Borgne is a lagoon in eastern Louisiana of the Gulf of Mexico. Due to coastal erosion, it is no longer actually a lake but rather an arm of the Gulf of Mexico. Its name comes from the French word borgne, which means "one-eyed".-Geography:...

 in Saint Bernard Parish, Louisiana.

Hearn was little known then, and even now he is little known for his writing about New Orleans, other than by local cultural devotees. However, more books have been written about him than any former resident of New Orleans other than Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong , nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana....


Hearn's writings for the New Orleans newspapers included impressionistic descriptions of places and characters and many stern, vigorous editorials denouncing political corruption, street crime, violence, intolerance, and the failures of public health and hygiene officials. Despite the fact that he is credited with "inventing" New Orleans as an exotic and mysterious place, his obituaries of the vodou leaders Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo renown in New Orleans. She was born free in New Orleans....

 and Doctor John Montenet are matter-of-fact and debunking. A selection of Hearn's writings were collected in S. Fredrick Starr's book Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn, published by the University Press of Mississippi.

Harper's sent Hearn to the West Indies
The Caribbean is a crescent-shaped group of islands more than 2,000 miles long separating the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, to the west and south, from the Atlantic Ocean, to the east and north...

 as a correspondent in 1887. He spent two years in Martinique
Martinique is an island in the eastern Caribbean Sea, with a land area of . Like Guadeloupe, it is an overseas region of France, consisting of a single overseas department. To the northwest lies Dominica, to the south St Lucia, and to the southeast Barbados...

 and produced two books: Two Years in the French West Indies and Youma, The Story of a West-Indian Slave, both in 1890.

Later life in Japan

In 1890, Hearn went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent, which was quickly terminated. It was in Japan, however, that he found a home and his greatest inspiration. Through the goodwill of Basil Hall Chamberlain
Basil Hall Chamberlain
Basil Hall Chamberlain was a professor of Tokyo Imperial University and one of the foremost British Japanologists active in Japan during the late 19th century. He also wrote some of the earliest translations of haiku into English...

, Hearn gained a teaching position during the summer of 1890 at the Shimane Prefectural Common Middle School and Normal School in Matsue
Matsue, Shimane
is the capital city of Shimane Prefecture in the Chūgoku region of Japan.As of August, 2011, the city has an estimated population of 207,000, following its most recent merging with Higashi-Izumo...

, a town in western Japan on the coast of the Sea of Japan
Sea of Japan
The Sea of Japan is a marginal sea of the western Pacific Ocean, between the Asian mainland, the Japanese archipelago and Sakhalin. It is bordered by Japan, North Korea, Russia and South Korea. Like the Mediterranean Sea, it has almost no tides due to its nearly complete enclosure from the Pacific...

. The Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum and his old residence are still two of Matsue's most popular tourist attractions. During his fifteen-month stay in Matsue, Hearn married Koizumi Setsu, the daughter of a local samurai family, and became a naturalized Japanese, assuming the name Koizumi Yakumo.

During late 1891, Hearn obtained another teaching position in Kumamoto, Kyūshū
is the third largest island of Japan and most southwesterly of its four main islands. Its alternate ancient names include , , and . The historical regional name is referred to Kyushu and its surrounding islands....

, at the Fifth Higher Middle School, where he spent the next three years and completed his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894). In October 1894 he secured a journalism job with the English-language newspaper Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, with some assistance from Chamberlain, he began teaching English literature
English literature
English literature is the literature written in the English language, including literature composed in English by writers not necessarily from England; for example, Robert Burns was Scottish, James Joyce was Irish, Joseph Conrad was Polish, Dylan Thomas was Welsh, Edgar Allan Poe was American, J....

 at Tokyo Imperial University, a job he had until 1903. In 1904, he was a professor at Waseda University
Waseda University
, abbreviated as , is one of the most prestigious private universities in Japan and Asia. Its main campuses are located in the northern part of Shinjuku, Tokyo. Founded in 1882 as Tokyo Senmon Gakko, the institution was renamed "Waseda University" in 1902. It is known for its liberal climate...

. On 26 September 1904, he died of heart failure at the age of 54 years. His grave is at the Zōshigaya Cemetery
Zoshigaya cemetery
is a public cemetery in Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima, Tokyo, founded by the Tokyo Metropolitan government.The cemetery welcomes people from any religion and contains the graves of many famous people in its 10 ha area...

 in Toshima, Tokyo.

In the late 19th century Japan was still largely unknown and exotic to Westerners. However, with the introduction of Japan
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

ese aesthetics, particularly at the Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 Exposition Universelle
Exposition Universelle (1900)
The Exposition Universelle of 1900 was a world's fair held in Paris, France, from April 15 to November 12, 1900, to celebrate the achievements of the past century and to accelerate development into the next...

 of 1900, Japanese styles became fashionable in Western countries. Consequently, Hearn became known to the world by his writings concerning Japan. In later years, some critics would accuse Hearn of exoticizing
Exoticism is a trend in art and design, influenced by some ethnic groups or civilizations since the late 19th-century. In music exoticism is a genre in which the rhythms, melodies, or instrumentation are designed to evoke the atmosphere of far-off lands or ancient times Exoticism (from 'exotic')...

 Japan, but as the man who offered the West some of its first descriptions of pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan, his work has historical value.


Admirers of Hearn's work have included Ben Hecht
Ben Hecht
Ben Hecht was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, and novelist. Called "the Shakespeare of Hollywood", he received screen credits, alone or in collaboration, for the stories or screenplays of some 70 films and as a prolific storyteller, authored 35 books and created some of...

 , John Erskine
John Erskine (educator)
John Erskine was a U.S. educator and author, born in New York City and raised in Weehawken, New Jersey. He graduated from Columbia University ....

, and
Malcolm Cowley
Malcolm Cowley
Malcolm Cowley was an American novelist, poet, literary critic, and journalist.-Early life:...


The Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi adapted four Hearn tales into his 1965 film
A film, also called a movie or motion picture, is a series of still or moving images. It is produced by recording photographic images with cameras, or by creating images using animation techniques or visual effects...

, Kwaidan
Kwaidan (film)
is a 1964 Japanese portmanteau film directed by Masaki Kobayashi; the title means 'ghost story'. It is based on stories from Lafcadio Hearn's collections of Japanese folk tales. The film consists of four separate and unrelated stories. Kwaidan is the archaic transliteration of Kaidan, meaning...

. Some of his stories have been adapted by Ping Chong
Ping Chong
Ping Chong is an American contemporary theater director, choreographer, video and installation artist. He was born in Toronto and raised in the Chinatown section of New York City...

 into his puppet
A puppet is an inanimate object or representational figure animated or manipulated by an entertainer, who is called a puppeteer. It is used in puppetry, a play or a presentation that is a very ancient form of theatre....

 theatre, including the 1999 Kwaidan and the 2002 OBON: Tales of Moonlight and Rain.

Hearn's life and works were celebrated in The Dream of a Summer Day
The Dream of a Summer Day
The Dream of a Summer Day was a play, collaboratively written by Storytellers Theatre Company, that was performed at select locations around Ireland in March, April and May of 2005, by...

, a play that toured Ireland during April and May 2005, which was staged by the Storytellers Theatre Company and directed by Liam Halligan. It is a detailed dramatization of Hearn's life, with four of his ghost stories included.

Yone Noguchi
Yone Noguchi
Yone Noguchi, or Yonejirō Noguchi, born 野口 米次郎 / Noguchi Yonejirō , was an influential Japanese writer of poetry, fiction, essays, and literary criticism in both English and Japanese. He was the father of the sculptor Isamu Noguchi.-Early life:Noguchi was born in the town of Tsushima, near Nagoya...

 is quoted as saying about Hearn, "His Greek temperament and French culture became frost-bitten as a flower in the North."

There is also a cultural center named for Hearn at the University of Durham.

Hearn was a major translator of the short stories of Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant
Henri René Albert Guy de Maupassant was a popular 19th-century French writer, considered one of the fathers of the modern short story and one of the form's finest exponents....


In Ian Fleming's
Ian Fleming
Ian Lancaster Fleming was a British author, journalist and Naval Intelligence Officer.Fleming is best known for creating the fictional British spy James Bond and for a series of twelve novels and nine short stories about the character, one of the biggest-selling series of fictional books of...

 1964 novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 You Only Live Twice, James Bond retorts to his nemesis Blofeld's comment of "Have you ever heard the Japanese expression kirisute gomen
Kiri sute gomen
Kiri sute gomen Kiri sute gomen Kiri sute gomen (斬り捨て御免 or 切り捨て御免: literally, "authorization to cut and leave" (the body of the victim) is an old Japanese expression dating back to the feudal era right to strike. Samurai had the right to strike with sword at anyone of a lower class who was...

?" with "Spare me the Lafcadio Hearn, Blofeld."

Books written by Hearn on Japanese subjects

  • Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894)
  • Out of the East: Reveries and Studies in New Japan (1895)
  • Kokoro: Hints and Echoes of Japanese Inner Life (1896)
  • Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: Studies of Hand and Soul in the Far East (1897)
  • The boy who drew cats (1897; Houghton Mifflin, Boston)
  • Exotics and Retrospectives (1898)
  • Japanese Fairy Tales (1898) and sequels
  • In Ghostly Japan (1899)
  • Shadowings (1900)
  • Japanese Lyrics (1900) - on haiku
    ' , plural haiku, is a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterised by three qualities:* The essence of haiku is "cutting"...

  • A Japanese Miscellany (1901)
  • Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902)
  • Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things
    Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things
    , often shortened to Kwaidan, is a book by Lafcadio Hearn that features several Japanese ghost stories and a brief non-fiction study on insects...

    (1903) (which was later made into the movie Kwaidan
    Kwaidan (film)
    is a 1964 Japanese portmanteau film directed by Masaki Kobayashi; the title means 'ghost story'. It is based on stories from Lafcadio Hearn's collections of Japanese folk tales. The film consists of four separate and unrelated stories. Kwaidan is the archaic transliteration of Kaidan, meaning...

    by Masaki Kobayashi)
  • Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904; published just after his death)
  • The Romance of the Milky Way and other studies and stories (1905; published posthumously)

See also

  • Goryo Hamaguchi
    Goryo Hamaguchi
    was the seventh business owner of current Yamasa Corporation in Japan He saved many lives of his fellow villagers of Hiro, Kii Province , when a massive tsunami struck the Kii Peninsula in 1854. He set fire to stacks of "Inamura" to use as landmarks and help him guide those villagers to safe place...

  • List of horror fiction authors

Further reading

  • Benfey, Christopher, ed. (2009). Lafcadio Hearn: American Writings (Library of America
    Library of America
    The Library of America is a nonprofit publisher of classic American literature.- Overview and history :Founded in 1979 with seed money from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation, the LoA has published over 200 volumes by a wide range of authors from Mark Twain to Philip...

    ). ("Some Chinese Ghosts" • "Chita" • "Two Years in the French West Indies" • "Youma" • "Selected Journalism and Letters")
  • Bisland, Elizabeth
    Elizabeth Bisland
    Elizabeth Bisland Wetmore was an American journalist and author, perhaps best known for her 1889–1890 race around the world against Nellie Bly, which drew worldwide attention.-Early career:...

    . (1906). The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn, Vol. I. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.
  • __________________. (1906). The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn, Vol. II. New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company.

  • Bronner, Milton, editor, Letters from the Raven: Being the Correspondence of Lafcadio Hearn with Henry Watkin (1907)
  • Cott, Jonathan. Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn (1991)
  • Gould, G. M.
    George M. Gould
    George Milbry Gould was an American doctor and lexicographer.-Life:At 12 years, he enlisted and became a drummer boy in the American Civil War, serving in the 63rd Ohio Infantry and later in Company K, 141st Ohio Infantry during 1864.After the war, he entered the Ohio Wesleyan University and...

     Concerning Lafcadio Hearn (1908)
  • Hearn, Lafcadio, Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn,S. Frederick Starr, editor (University Press of Mississippi, 2001)
  • Hearn, Lafcadio. Lafcadio Hearn's America, Simon J. Bronner, editor (2002)
  • Kennard, Nina H., Lafcadio Hearn; containing some letters from Lafcadio Hearn to his half-sister, Mrs. Atkinson (New York, D. Appleton and company, 1912) http://www.archive.org/details/lafcadiohearn00kennrich
  • Lurie, David. "Orientomology: The Insect Literature of Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904)", in JAPANimals: History and Culture in Japan's Animal Life, ed. Gregory M. Pflugfelder and Brett L. Walker, University of Michigan Press, 2005.
  • Noguchi, Yone. Lafcadio Hearn in Japan (1910)
  • Pulvers, Roger. Lafcadio Hearn: interpreter of two disparate worlds, Japan Times, January 19, 2000
  • Starrs, Roy
    Roy Starrs
    Roy Starrs is a scholar of Japanese literature and culture who teaches at the University of Otago in New Zealand. He has written critical studies of the major Japanese writers Yasunari Kawabata, Naoya Shiga, Osamu Dazai, and Yukio Mishima, and edited books on Asian nationalism , globalization, and...

      "Lafcadio Hearn as Japanese Nationalist", in "Nichibunken Japan Review: Journal of the International Research Center for Japanese Studies", Number 18, 2006, pp. 181–213.

External links