chapter  11
24 Pages

Ancestral Voices

T H R 0 UGH 0 U T his mature work, Lafcadio's mind constantly flashes back to his childhood, to memories idyllic and horrific. Idyllically, he was the ' ... pampered heir to wealth and luxury ... What very happy times those were! - they gave no augury of the years of nightmare to follow'. 2 Yet in those years the seeds of nightmare too were sown; the roots of Hearn's masterful horror anchored around a lonely and impressionable childhood. He was also capable of writing: 'With me all the past is a blur - except the pain of it. ,3

In approaching Hearn's childhood, it is necessary to bear in mind that, not alone was he recalling events across a gap of up to fifty years but he was steeped in romanticism and Gothic horror which he magnified with a powerful imagination. He was also prone to self-pity; in his letters particularly, where he often angled for sympathy, the distortions were sometimes grotesque. Hearn himself was aware of the problem: he once told his Japanese students that no man really understood himself well enough to be able to tell the truth about himsel£4 Later, towards the end of his life, he wrote that, looking back over it, he realised he could remember nothing agreeable - since boyhood he had tried to forget disagreeable things and in the process had made no effort to remember the agreeable.5 In fact, he recognised that he had spoken with more than one voice; when recalling the

scattered memories of his boyhood, it seemed as if a much more artificial self were constantly trying to speak instead of his real self, with consequent incongruities.6