Lafcadio Hearn: Glimpses of Invisible Worlds

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Writer Lafcadio Hearn was a citizen of the world. Born in 1850 in Greece to a Greek mother and Irish father, he spent his childhood in Dublin and was schooled in France and England before coming to the United States at the age of 19. In 1887 he spent two years in Martinique as a correspondent for Harper’s Weekly before moving to Japan, where he spent the rest of his life, marrying a Japanese woman, Koizumi Setsu, and becoming a Japanese citizen. In Japan, Hearn is famous for his ghost tales and other stories of Japanese culture.

Hearn is far less recognized in the United States, where he is primarily remembered for “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things,” a curious combination of ghost stories and insect studies. However, the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library holds the finest Hearn collection ever assembled, including nearly 300 letters, 25 groups of manuscripts, more than 30 notebooks, and innumerable periodical appearances and translations, all donated by avid book collector Clifton Waller Barrett as part of a comprehensive collection of American literature. As professor Rodger Steele Williamson of Japan’s University of Kitakyushu noted after spending several months working with the Hearn collection, “it holds a true wealth of resources for a visiting Hearn scholar.”

Those riches were on display in spring of 2020 in “Lafcadio Hearn: Glimpses of Invisible Worlds,” an exhibition curated by graduate student Kathryn Webb-Destefano showcasing the Hearn collection and offering a glimpse into Hearn’s life and the “invisible worlds” that inspired him. The exhibition included lithographs, photographs, manuscripts, books, original drawings, memorabilia, and more. One section of the exhibition, focusing on “Kwaidan,” included editions of the book, the original manuscript, and unpublished watercolor illustrations (shown below) by Hearn’s son Kazuo Koizumi meant to accompany the work.

A woman whose face shows no features stands by a gate, her arms raised under her garments but showing no hands. A man with a featureless face standing behind a table next to a sign, seems suspended in air, his hand raised to his face.

One of several unpublished watercolor illustrations by Lafcadio Hearn’s son Kazuo Koizumi, meant to accompany his father’s book, “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things,” from the Papers of Lafcadio Hearn (MSS 6101), the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

Butterfly-like creature with a human female head and body with six arms, flying with butterflies and seeming to flee from a creature with a skull-like face, wrapped in leaves and dangling with two worms attached to strings.,

Watercolor illustration by Kazuo Koizumi for “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things,” from the Papers of Lafcadio Hearn (MSS 6101), the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

A man in a moonlit wood wields a small uprooted tree trunk. Bloodied heads, without bodies, surround him, one seeming to attack him with bared teeth.

Watercolor illustration by Kazuo Koizumi for “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things,” from the Papers of Lafcadio Hearn (MSS 6101), the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

A woman with bird's wings and feet stands at the foot of a bed, gazing down at its occupant. In the background a tea kettle is suspended over a fire by a pothook.

Watercolor illustration by Kazuo Koizumi for “Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things,” from the Papers of Lafcadio Hearn (MSS 6101), the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

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