Schalken The Painter by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

Story Summary

The unnamed narrator describes a painting he owns by Godfried Schalken. It depicts a woman in white holding a lantern in a church. The story flashes back to explain the painting’s origins.

Schalken, a young artist, is in love with his mentor’s niece, Rose Velderkaust. He works hard to become a successful painter so he can marry Rose. One night, a mysterious man called Vanderhausen visits Schalken’s mentor, Gerard Douw. Vanderhausen asks for Rose’s hand in marriage in exchange for money. He claims to have seen her when she was worshipping at St Laurence’s chuch in Rotterdam.

He is of horrific appearance and tries to conceal his flesh as much as possible, though when it is visible it has an unpleasant metallic appearance and he has black lips.

Vanderhausen and Rose marry, but she soon disappears and the money put aside for her is not requested. Her uncle goes to Rotterdam but no one knows of Vanderhausen, though it seems he has servants.

Months later, a distressed Rose finds Douw, saying Vanderhausen has trapped her somewhere. She craves wine and meat, eating them in a bestial manner. Then she begs for a priest’s help, but when Douw and Schalken take her to a bedroom, she vanishes after they briefly leave the room.

Schalken thinks he saw the apparition of Vanderhausen in her chamber.

Years later, Schalken sees Rose’s ghost in a Rotterdam church. She leads him to Vanderhausen’s room, where Schalken faints. When he awakens in a tomb, she is gone.

Later he creates the painting that the narrator now owns, depicting the mysterious events.

Schalken The Painter Analysis

In “Schalken The Painter,” Vanderhausen can be seen as a representation of the shadow archetype, embodying the dark, repressed, and sinister aspects of the characters Douw and Schalken. The shadow is a psychological concept in Jungian theory that represents the hidden, suppressed, and often undesirable aspects of the psyche. It holds the unacknowledged fears, desires, and weaknesses that individuals may project onto others.

Douw exhibits veniality and by agreeing to Vanderhausen’s proposal to marry Rose in exchange for money. Schalken shows cowardice in letting his true love go off with a monster and not attempting to fight for her. A mixture of greed and cowardice conspire to let Rose marry Vanderhausen.

Vanderhausen first sees Rose worshipping at St Laurence’s church, suggesting she represents Schalken’s spiritual and pure anima, which Vanderhausen threatens to corrupt. Later, Rose returns starved for wine and meat, eating ravenously like an animal, showing Vanderhausen has begun corrupting her purity.

They are concerned about her welfare, but not enough to stop the marriage. They fail to confront the true nature of Vanderhausen, despite their suspicions. The shadow archetype is at play here, as Douw and Schalken repress their moral qualms and engage in self-deception to rationalize their actions.

Rose, on the other hand, can be viewed as representing the anima archetype, which symbolizes the feminine aspects within the male psyche. She embodies love, beauty, and the idealized image of femininity. Schalken’s infatuation with Rose and his desire to marry her reflect his yearning for the anima, a sense of completeness and emotional fulfillment.

ose represents the anima archetype to Schalken – his ideal of feminine virtue, beauty, and spirituality. However, Schalken fails to live up to the anima’s call for heroic action. When Rose returns in distress, begging for help, Schalken is unable to rescue her from Vanderhausen. His only response is to create an artistic representation of Rose through the painting, rather than fighting to save the real woman he loved.

However, Schalken ultimately fails to fully embrace and integrate the anima. Instead of actively pursuing a real relationship with Rose, he settles for creating a painting of her. This represents a lack of courage and an avoidance of engaging with the complexities and challenges of real-life relationships. Schalken’s choice to capture Rose in an artistic representation rather than fighting for the reality of their connection illustrates his failure to fully embody the anima and engage with his own desires and emotions.

Throughout the story, the interactions between Vanderhausen, Douw, Schalken, and Rose reveal the interplay of shadow and anima archetypes. Vanderhausen represents the dark, suppressed aspects of the characters, while Rose represents the idealized feminine qualities that both Schalken and Douw yearn for. Their choices and behaviors reflect the psychological dynamics at play within the individual and their relationships.

Schalken’s painting immortalizes his failure to overcome his shadow and rescue his anima from destruction.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) was an Irish writer and one of the leading ghost story writers of the 19th century. Born into a literary family in Dublin, he studied law and became a journalist. Le Fanu’s first published story appeared in 1838. In 1844, he married Susanna Bennett and had four children.

Following his wife’s death in 1858, Le Fanu withdrew from society for a period of time. However, during the 1860s and 1870s, he produced his most notable supernatural fiction, including the acclaimed short story collection “In a Glass Darkly” (1872) and the vampire novella “Carmilla” (1871).

Le Fanu’s ghost stories, such as “Green Tea,” “The Familiar,” and “Mr Justice Harbottle,” earned him admiration from fellow writers like M.R. James. Although he also wrote novels, journalism, and poetry, Le Fanu’s reputation predominantly rests on his chilling tales of the supernatural.

He passed away in Dublin in 1873 at the age of 58. Today, Le Fanu is regarded as one of the pioneers and masters of supernatural horror fiction. His work greatly influenced subsequent writers, including Bram Stoker, who drew inspiration from Le Fanu’s vampire story, “Carmilla.”


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