Monday, December 29, 2014

Lafcadio Hearn’s A Dead Secret, Part l


“Lafcadio Hearn is almost as Japanese as haiku.”

            --From Tuttle’s “publisher foreword” to Hearn’s editions

The Writer

Lafcadio Hearn
Lafcadio Hearn’s flight from Western materialism brought him to Japan in 1890. He became a Japanese citizen taking the name--Yakumo Koizumi--and married the daughter of a samurai family.

He was born on the Greek island of Lefkas in 1850. His father was an Anglo-Irish surgeon and a Major in the British army. His mother was Greek.

At age 6, when his parents divorced, Hearn went to live with a great-aunt in Dublin, Ireland. At age 16, he lost sight in his left eye, and soon after, his father died.

Hearn was forced to leave school when his aunt declared bankruptcy. At 19, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he became a newspaper reporter.

In 1877 Hearn moved to New Orleans, where he lived for ten years and continued to write--specifically a series of articles.

He gained success with his literary translations. Harper Publishing Co. sent him on assignment to the West Indies from 1887-89. He wrote two novels during this period.

In 1890 he decided to go to Japan, where he befriended Basil Hall Chamberlain. At Chamberlain’s encouragement, he taught English at a middle school.

He married and taught at another middle school where he wrote his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan published in 1894.

He then secured a journalism position with the English-language Kobe Chronicle.

With Chamberlain’s assistance in 1896 he was given a position at Tokyo’ s “Imperial” University where he taught English Literature.

Hearn’s most famous books include: a collection of lectures Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation, 1904, Exotics and Retrospectives, 1998, In Ghostly Japan, 1899, Shadowings, 1900, Japanese Miscellany, 1901, and Kwaidan, 1904.

He died in 1904, at the age of 54 from heart failure.

Hearn with his wife, Koizumi Setsu.
He always was photographed
in profile so his left eye
could not be seen.
The Great Interpreter

Hearn admired Japan for its beauty and tranquility. He loved its customs and values. A confirmed “Japanophile,” he lived in Japan for the rest of his life.

His keen intellect and his clear writing style made him the quintessential go-to source for the western world about “all things Japanese.”

Lafcadio Hearn’s artful translations of traditional Japanese Ghost, stories are why they are known outside of Japan today.

In Part ll of Lafcadio Hearn’s A Dead Secret, I share one of my favorite ghost stories translated by him in his book, Kwaidan.

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