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Born to an Irish Surgeon-Major and his Greek wife on the
Island of Lefkada, Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) was abandoned first by his
mother, then his father, and finally by his father’s aunt, who had become his legal
guardian. Hearn was passed around to various other caretakers, including his
great aunt’s former maid. Eventually, Henry Molyneux, a distant cousin and his
aunt’s financial manager, bought him a one-way ticket to New York and
instructed him to locate his sister in Cincinnati. This Hearn did, but the
sister and her husband had little to help Hearn – money or connections for
He eventually met Henry Watkin and found some employment in his
printing business. Hearn also borrowed books from Watkin’s library, including
many utopianists. Hearn eventually found work as a reporter for the Cincinnati
Daily Enquirer, where he gained a reputation as a sensationalist columnist,
especially in the area of crime writing. A bit later he joined forces with
Henry Farny, and the pair wrote, illustrated and published Ye Giglampz, an 8-page weekly journal literature and satire.
In 1874 Hearn married Alethea Foley, an African American,
which violated the state’s laws pertaining to interracial marriage. Nominally because of
this marriage, but likely because of some of the satirical items in Ye Giglampz, the Enquirer let him go. He
went to work for the Cincinnati
Commercial, and his popularity prompted the Enquirer to try to rehire him.
In 1877 Hearn left the Queen City for the Crescent City. He
wrote for various newspapers there, and began writing for national publications
(Harper’s, Scribner’s). He spent a decade
in the Big Easy before Harper’s sent
him to the West Indies for two years. (Hearn’s reputation in New Orleans was so
great that his former home has been preserved as a historic place.)
In 1890 Hearn went to Japan as a newspaper correspondent. He
was soon fired, but he found his greatest peace and inspiration in this island
nation. He obtained a teaching position, married the daughter of a local
samurai family and became a naturalized citizen. He held several teaching
positions in Matsue, Kyushu, then Tokyo. At the time, Japan was a relatively
unknown exotic culture. Its popularity increased after the Paris Expo of 1900,
which introduced the world to the arts especially of Japan, Siam and India.
Hearn wrote over a dozen books on Japan, and more were written after his death.