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Lafcadio Hearn

From Academic Kids

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (June 27, 1850 - September 26, 1904), also known as Koizumi Yakumo (小泉八雲 Koizumi Yakumo) after gaining Japanese citizenship, was an author, best known for his books about Japan. He is especially well-known to the Japanese for his collections of Japanese legends, one of which was made into a film by Masaki Kobayashi (Kwaidan (1965)).

Hearn was born in Lefkada (the origin of his middle name), one of the Greek Ionian Islands. He was the son of Surgeon-major Charles Hearn, of King's County, Ireland, and Rosa Antonia Kassimati of Lefkada, Greece. His father was stationed in Lefkada during the English occupation of the Ionian Islands. Lafcadio Hearn moved to Dublin, Ireland at the age of 6. Artistic and rather bohemian tastes were in Lafcadio Hearn's blood. His father's brother Richard was at one time a well-known member of the Barbizon set of artists, though he made no mark as a painter through his lack of energy. Young Hearn had rather a casual education, but was for a time (1865) at Ushaw Roman Catholic College, Durham.

The religious faith in which he was brought up was, however, soon lost and, at 19, he was sent to live in the United States of America where he settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. There he developed a lifelong friendship with the English printer, and radical utopian, Henry Watkin. With Watkin's help, Hearn picked up a living in the lower grades of newspaper work. Through the strength of his talent as a writer, Hearn quickly advanced through the newspaper ranks and became a reporter for the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer, working for the paper from 1872 to 1875. With creative freedom in one of Cincinnati's largest circulating newspapers he developed a reputation for sensitive, dark, and fascinating accounts of Cincinnati's disadvantaged. He continued to occupy himself with journalism and with out-of-the-way observation and reading, and meanwhile his erratic, romantic and rather morbid idiosyncrasies developed. While in Cincinnati, he married Mattie, an black woman, an illegal practice at the time. When the scandal was discovered and publicized, he was fired from the Enquirer and went to work for the rival Cincinnati Commercial. But the smoke and pollution in Cincinnati bothered his sensitive eyes, so he left the city in 1877 for New Orleans.

He was from 1877 through 1888 in New Orleans, Louisiana writing for the Times Democrat newspaper. His writings about New Orleans focused on the city's Creole history, distinctive cuisine, underworld, and Voodoo. His writings for national publications like Harper's Weekly and Scribner's Magazine helped mold the popular image of New Orleans as a colorful place of decadence and hedonism. His best known book on Louisiana is Gombo Zhebes (1885).

The Times Democrat sent Hearn to the West Indies as a correspondent in 1889. He spent two years in the islands and produced Two Years in the French West Indies and Youma, The Story of a West-Indian Slave (both 1890).

In 1889 Lafcadio Hearn went to Japan with a commission as a newspaper correspondent, which was quickly broken off. It was in Japan, however, that Hearn found his home and his greatest inspiration. Through the goodwill of Basil Hall Chamberlain, Hearn gained a teaching position in the summer of 1890 at the Shimane Prefectural Common Middle School and Normal School in Matsue, a town in western Japan on the Sea of Japan. Most Japanese identify Hearn with Matsue, as it was here that he his image of Japan was molded. During his 15 month stay, Hearn married Setsu Koizumi, the daughter of a local samurai family, and became a naturalized Japanese, taking the name Koizumi Yakumo.

In late 1891, Hearn took another teaching position in Kumamoto, Kyushu, at the Fifth Higher Middle School, where he spent the next three years and completed his book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894). In October of 1894 he secured a journalism position with the English-language Kobe Chronicle, and in 1896, with some assistance from Chamberlain, he began teaching English literature at Tokyo (Imperial) University, a post he held until 1903. On September 26, 1904, he died of heart failure at the age of 54.

In the late 19th century Japan was still largely unknown and exotic to the Western world. With the introduction of Japanese aesthetics, however, particularly at the Paris World's Fair in 1900, the West had an insatiable appetite for exotic Japan, and Hearn became known to the world through the depth, originality, sincerity and charm of his writings. In later years, some critics (such as George Orwell) would accuse Hearn of transferred nationalism and exoticizing Japan, but as the man who offered the West some of its first glimpses into pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan, his work still offers valuable insight today.

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)
  • Exotics and Retrospectives (1898)
  • Japanese Fairy Tales (1898) and sequels
  • In Ghostly Japan (1899)
  • Shadowings (1900)
  • Japanese Lyrics (1900) - on haiku
  • A Japanese Miscellany (1901)
  • Kottō: Being Japanese Curios, with Sundry Cobwebs (1902)
  • Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903)
  • 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)


Further reading

  • Elizabeth Bisland, The Life and Letters of Lafcadio Hearn (2 vols., 1906)
  • Bronner, Milton, Editor, Letters from the Raven: Being the Correspondence of Lafcadio Hearn with Henry Watkin (1907)
  • G. M. Gould, Concerning Lafcadio Hearn (1908)
  • Nina H. Kennard, Lafcadio Hearn; containing some letters from Lafcadio Hearn to his half-sister, Mrs. Atkinson (1912)
  • Jonathan Cott, Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn (1991)

External links

es:Lafcadio Hearn de:Lafcadio Hearn eo:Lafcadio HEARN ja:小泉八雲 pt:Lafcdio Hearn

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