Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn books and biography


Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn, aka Koizumi Yakumo.
Lafcadio Hearn, aka Koizumi Yakumo.

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn (June 27, 1850 - September 26, 1904), also known as Koizumi Yakumo () after gaining Japanese citizenship, was an author, best known for his books about Japan. He is especially well-known for his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories, such as Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things.



Early life

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 [1] Rosa Antonia Kassimati, who had been born on Kythera, another of those Islands. His father was stationed in Lefkada during the English occupation of the Islands. Lafcadio was initially baptised Patricio Lefcadio Tessima Carlos Hearn, in the Greek Orthodox Church.

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. He was injured in a playground accident in his teens, and lost vision in his left eye.


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. For a time, he lived in utter poverty, which may have contributed to his later paranoia and distrust of those around him. He eventually found a friend in the English printer, and communalist, 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 Enquirer|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 as the paper's premier sensational journalist, as well as the author of 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 Alethea ("Mattie") Foley, a 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.

In 1874 Hearn and the young Henry Farny, later a renowned painter of the American West, wrote, illustrated, and published a weekly journal of art, literature, and satire they titled Ye Giglampz that ran for nine issues. The Cincinnati Public Library reprinted a facsimile of all nine issues in 1983.

In the autumn of 1877, Hearn left Cincinnati for New Orleans, where he initially wrote dispatches on his discoveries in the "Gateway to the Tropics" for the Cincinnati Commercial. He lived in New Orleans for nearly a decade, writing first for the Daily City Item and later for the Times Democrat. The vast number of his writings about New Orleans and its environs, many of which have not been collected, include the city's Creole population and distinctive cuisine, the French Opera, and Voudou. His writings for national publications, such as Harper's Weekly and Scribner's Magazine, helped mold the popular image of New Orleans as a colorful place with a distinct culture more akin to Europe and the Caribbean than to the rest of North America. His best-known Louisiana works are Gombo Zhebes, Little Dictionary of Creole Proverbs in Six Dialects (1885); La Cuisine Créole (1885), a collection of culinary recipes from leading chefs and noted Creole housewives, who have made New Orleans famous for its cuisine; and Chita: A Memory of Last Island, a novella based on the hurricane of 1856 first published in Harper's Monthly in 1888.

Harper's 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).

Later life in Japan

Lafcadio Hearn, shown with Setsu Koizumi and their first son. Note the way he is facing - he always preferred to be photographed this way so that his left eye could not be seen.
Lafcadio Hearn, shown with Setsu Koizumi and their first son. Note the way he is facing - he always preferred to be photographed this way so that his left eye could not be seen.

In 1890 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 coast of the Sea of Japan. Most Japanese identify Hearn with Matsue, as it was here that his image of Japan was molded. Today, The Lafcadio Hearn Memorial Museum (小泉八雲記念館) and Lafcadio Hearn's Old Residence (小泉八雲旧居) are still two of Matsue's most popular tourist attractions. During his fifteen-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 would accuse Hearn of 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.


While Lafcadio Hearn is no longer well known in the West and is even falling out of common knowledge in Japan, he still has a small, fairly devoted fan base, and his influence on Western knowledge of Japan (though most cannot put his name to it) cannot be denied.

The Japanese director Masaki Kobayashi adapted four Hearn tales into his 1965 film, Kwaidan.

Several Hearn stories have been adapted by Ping Chong into his trademark puppet theatre, included the 1999 Kwaidan and the 2002 OBON: Tales of Moonlight and Rain.

Hearn's life and works were celebrated in The Dream of a Summer Day, a play that toured Ireland in April and May of 2005, which was put on by the Storytellers Theatre Company and directed by Liam Halligan. It was a detailed dramatization of Hearn's life, with four of his ghost stories woven in.

Yone Noguchi is quoted as saying about Hearn, "His Greek temperament and French culture became frost-bitten as a flower in the North." [2]

There is also a Cultural Center named for Hearn at the University of Durham.


  • Though it is not well-known, Hearn was a major translator of the short stories of Guy de Maupassant. Another famous translator of Maupassant's short stories was Henry James[citation needed].

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) (which was later made into the movie Kwaidan by Masaki Kobayashi)
  • Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation (1904; published just after his death)[3]
  • The Romance of the Milky Way and other studies and stories (1905; published posthumously)


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

Further reading

  • Bisland, Elizabeth, 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)
  • Cott, Jonathan. Wandering Ghost: The Odyssey of Lafcadio Hearn (1991)
  • Gould, G. M. Concerning Lafcadio Hearn (1908)
  • Hearn, Lafcadio, Inventing New Orleans: Writings of Lafcadio Hearn,S. Frederick Starr, editor (University Press of Mississippi, 2001)
  • Hearn, Lafcadio. Lafcadio Hearn's America, Simon J. Bronner, editor (2002)
  • Kennard, Nina H., Lafcadio Hearn; containing some letters from Lafcadio Hearn to his half-sister, Mrs. Atkinson (1912)
  • Noguchi, Yone. Lafcadio Hearn in Japan (1910)
  • Pulvers, Roger. Lafcadio Hearn: interpreter of two disparate worlds, Japan Times, January 19, 2000

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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Fuji No Yama

Japan An Attempt At Interpretation


By Lafcadio Hearn
Short Stories

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