Grass Lark: Study of Lafcadio Hearn
It is remarkable how persistent a -minor- writer may be. He may lack the large vision and universal message of the great writer, but instead possess a clear, true, intense view of particular places, peoples, and situations that renders his work unique and irreplacable. Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) is such a figure in American literature. Best known as a scholar of Japanese culture, Hearn was a remarkable journalist, translator, travel writer, and perhaps second only to Poe in the literature of the macabre and supernatural. Hearn's life, as strange and colorful as his work, is brilliantly recounted in Elizabeth Stevenson's sensitive and sympathetic biography. The range of Hearn's writing is reflected in the peripatetic course of his life. The son of an Irish father and a Greek mother, he was born on the Ionian island of Leucadia, was raised in Dublin, and came to America at the age of nineteen. His early career was spent as a journalist. Without a trace of condescension or pity he entered into the lives of the dock workers of Cincinnati, the Creoles of New Orleans and Martinique, and later the common villagers of Japan, describing how they lived and worked and what they believed. No mere seeker after the exotic, Hearn's immersion in Japanese culture following his emigration in 1890 was born of a profound affinity of mind and sensibility. In Japan, the clarity and force of his expression matured. Here Hearn found a beautifully ordered, artistically sensitive society, but one indifferent to individualism. In later years, he saw a society also increasingly susceptible to modern forces of authoritarianism, militarism, and xenophobia. Horrified by the dehumanizing potential of these forces, in East and West alike, Hearn remained acutely sensitive to the most minute experience. His study of Japanese folklore and his retelling of its tales and ghost stories combine insight into the universals of the larger human world with an exquisite appreciation of how small things matter. Elizabeth Stevenson's book is as much about the writer as the man. While giving an accurate measure of the scale of Hearn's achievement, she makes a compelling case for its artistry. Her reading demonstrates that his writings are not mere aids to the understanding of various cultures but ends in themselves. Hearn did not just translate the folklore of other cultures, he recreated it. The Grass Lark will interest literary scholars, American studies specialists, and folklorists.