The Lure of Lafcadio Hearn: Research in the Internet Age

The problem – and the beauty – of research in the internet age is that I can be looking through a printed catalogue compiled in the 1950s one minute, before finding myself link-jumping from an e-text of one of the sources I want to see… to an online library of digitised texts concerning “Creolisation”… to the wikipedia entry for one Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904).


Lafcadio, it turns out, is the man whose biography, given unlimited time and freedom, I think I would most like to write. (All of the following is shamelessly plundered from: where I sadly note someone wrote a biography as recently as 1991…)


Lafcadio was a (kind of) Greek Orthodox Irishman (me neither), sometime down-and-out, sometime journalist, later famous for writing about ghosts and fairy tales in Japan and cooking and voodoo in New Orleans. While living in America, he married an African American woman in a period when this was still illegal. His life was lived across a series of continents, and drew together cultural interests and personal relations in ways that really speak to ideas about the global or the transnational that are important to historians today. He was interested in many of the things I am, such as folklore, the supernatural, cooking, and other cultures, although his interest was perhaps a little less sensitive to the issues of exoticism than I hope to be. (In the Ian Fleming novel ‘You Only Live Twice’ Bond responds to Blofield’s question “Have you ever heard of the Japanese expression kirisute gomen?” with “Spare me the Lafacadio Hearn, Blofeld.”)


He was, quite simply, legendary.


…Aaaaaand back to the research proposal.

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