No matter where he found himself, the bohemian man of letters Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) longed to be “somewhere else,” a place where life was simple, fresh, and free from the smell of the close Victorian parlor. As an unwanted child, half Greek, half Anglo-Irish, abandoned by his parents and raised by strict Dublin relatives, he spent hours alone with books of myths and legends, staring at plates depicting dryads and naiads, graces and muses. As a youthful reporter in Cincinnati he gained fame with his lurid accounts of murders and back-alley goings-on, yet his off-hours were spent reading up on Fourier’s Utopias and translating the romances of Théophile Gautier. “I ought never to have been born in this century,” he wrote in 1879, “because I live forever in dreams of other centuries and other faiths and other ethics—dreams rudely broken by curses in the street below.”

This odd and...


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