Poet, critic, journalist, translator: Lafcadio Hearn was an important literary voice at the turn of the nineteenth century, and as someone who travelled from Greece, to Ireland, to the United States, to the West Indies, to Japan, his observations on world culture still speak to us today. Hearn’s biographer, Paul Murray, follows the trail of his life, and the documents and archives that reveal his cosmopolitan career. [MP3 version]
Lafcadio Hearn, known in Japan as Koizumi Yakumo, was born in 1850 on the Greek island of Levkás. He grew up in Dublin and was educated at Ushaw College, Durham, where his name appears in college records as Patrick Hearn. He left Ireland for the United States at the age of 19, settling in Cincinnati and working at various menial jobs and then on the Trade List, before joining The Cincinnati Enquirer as a reporter. While in Cincinnati he translated stories by Théophile and Gustave Flaubert. In 1877, he moved on to New Orleans, and from 1887 to 1889 he was in the West Indies on assignment for Harper’s Magazine, which resulted in Two Years in the French West Indies (1890) and a novel Youma (1890), dealing with the insurrection against slavery. In 1890 Hearn traveled to Japan for Harper’s. He eventually gave up his work with the magazine and worked as a schoolteacher in Izumo in south-western Japan. There he met and married Koizumi Setsu. In 1895 he became a Japanese subject, taking the name Koizumi Yakumo, Koizumi being his wife’s family name.
His articles on Japan were published in The Atlantic Monthly and in several newspapers in the United States. These essays and others were collected and published as Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894). From 1896 to 1903, Hearn was Professor of English Literature at the Imperial University of Tokyo. Four books written at this time reflect his deep interest in the literature and culture of Japan: Exotics and Retrospective (1898), In Ghostly Japan (1899), Shadowings (1900), and A Japanese Miscellany (1901). Kwaidan (1904), published the year he died, includes Hearn’s stories of the supernatural.
This talk was recorded at a 2015 symposium about Lafcadio Hearn, co-organised between English Studies, the Centre for Poetry and Poetics, and the Lafcadio Hearn Cultural Centre at Teikyo University of Japan in Durham.