Uncle Silas by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Review

silasMaud lives on an estate with her father, the elderly Austin Ruthyn who has a long lost brother Silas that no one talks about. Her Dad sometimes makes references to Silas and some past bad doings. He also keeps talking about a trip he plans on taking in the future (death). Austin talks in riddles all the freaking time, actually. You would think having grown up with someone like this Maud would be a little quicker, but she’s not the brightest bulb on the tree. Instead, she says things like, “Oh, a trip? When will you be back and can I come with you?” He just looks at her like, “Maud, you are so dumb.”

Meanwhile, before death comes to take him, he hires the worst governess ever. She’s old and French, because old French ladies are the worst, right? She spends her time insulting Maud and trying to have her kidnapped. Austin doesn’t believe Maud when she complains about all this, perhaps because she’s proven that she’s too stupid to live? Maud just has to put up and shut up, and avoid areas where she could be disappeared. Somehow the governess is caught stealing and told to hit the road at last (but you know she’s going to show up later).

Finally, after Lord knows how many pages, Austin dies. The will is read and surprise! Maud’s new guardian is Silas. Silas, it turns out, was accused of murdering his bookie in his house. Nothing came of it, but the scandal surrounded him all his life and he lives a pauper on his brother’s land (now Maud’s). Austin’s brilliant idea was that by giving Silas his only child (and an heiress), he’s proving to the world what a great guy Silas must be. He didn’t have any qualms about handing this extremely naive girl over to a possible murderer. Now we know where Maud gets it.

Maud’s older cousin Lady Knollys, and one of the only people who has any sense, is not happy about this arrangement. She tries to talk Maud out of it. Maud is all, *tears* “My father wanted me to do my duty, and for some reason I feel it is necessary to go live with a creepy old dude I don’t know and might have stabbed some other dude to death.” Lady Knollys, if she wasn’t a lady, would have done this:


But she doesn’t so Maud goes off to Creepyland to meet her uncle. He’s like Mr Burns from the Simpsons, but without all the money. She also meets her cousins Milly (nice but vulgar) and Dudley (douchecanoe). Gradually Silas cuts Maud off from anyone who can help her, so he can plot some nefarious doings. Maud cannot see an evil plan if it jumped up and bit her so she’s helpless and runs about wringing her hands when it happens. I wanted to *see gif above*. The last 50 pages or so actually make some kind of sense.

I like Le Fanu’s writing style, but, yikes, he can wander off like a toddler at Walmart. In Uncle Silas, there are unnecessary details that have nothing to do with anything, like Swedenborgian, the gypsy pin, dudes who want to marry Maud, and some other things. I thought they might be important later but it’s like they melted into the ether. I also can’t stand a stupid heroine and if Maud was any dumber she’d have to be reminded to breathe. I don’t know how she gets up and puts on her clothes in the morning.

Honestly, Uncle Silas isn’t a bad book. It has its gothic moments. I was hoping for a vampire or a witch or something but had to settle for an evil governess. Oh well. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it either. I wanted to know how Maud was going to get herself out of this pickle. Hint: luck has a lot to do with it.

It’s silly but fairly standard gothic literature.





  1. All those extra details would drive me batty.

    1. Yeah, I hate when things I think should have significance don't.

  2. This would make an awesome Princess-Bride-style adaptation.

  3. Well from your review it sounds hilarious, I think I'd end up reading it with all you said in mind and likely enjoying it more for it!

  4. I have to say that even though it doesn't sound like the world's greatest book, it might make for a great readalong just for the commiserating through snark!


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