“Green Tea” is a short story written by Irish writer J. Sheridan Le Fanu (1814 – 1873) who specialized in horror fiction, including the familiar Gothic tales. Could a story titled “Green Tea” possibly belong to the terror and fantasy genre? “Green Tea” first appeared in the author’s 1872 collection of work In a Glass Darkly, and again in Green Tea and Other Ghost Stories — his first book published in the States — in 1945.
For twenty years, the narrator works as German physician Dr. Martin Hesselius’s secretary. He later inherits the doctor’s research papers, one of which recounts the peculiar encounter with the Reverend Mr. Jennings in England.
At a gathering hosted by Lady Mary Heyduke’s, Dr. Hesselius meets the amiable Reverend Mr. Jennings and learns of the reverend’s inexplicable health challenges that have disrupted even church services: Agitation, trembling, and severe depression, of course.
After Mr. Jennings leaves, Dr. Hesselius shares his impressions of Mr. Jennings — a very “gentlemanlike” man — with the hostess Lady Mary Heyduke; including this remark:
“And although he only drank a little coffee here to-night, he likes tea, at least, did like it extravagantly. … He drank green tea, a good deal, didn’t he?”
As time passes, a friendship develops between the two men; but Mr. Jennings is most keen on seeking medical treatment from Dr. Hesselius. In Chapter VI, “How Mr. Jennings Met His Companion,” the patient comments on his own writing projects and tea-drinking habit this way:
“I believe, that every one who sets about writing in earnest does his work, as a friend of mine phrased it, on something—tea, or coffee, or tobacco. I suppose there is a material waste that must be hourly supplied in such occupations, or that we should grow too abstracted, and the mind, as it were, pass out of the body, unless it were reminded often enough of the connection by actual sensation. At all events, I felt the want, and I supplied it. Tea was my companion—at first the ordinary black tea, made in the usual way, not too strong: but I drank a good deal, and increased its strength as I went on. I never experienced an uncomfortable symptom from it. I began to take a little green tea. I found the effect pleasanter, it cleared and intensified the power of thought so, I had come to take it frequently, but not stronger than one might take it for pleasure. I wrote a great deal out here, it was so quiet, and in this room. I used to sit up very late, and it became a habit with me to sip my tea—green tea—every now and then as my work proceeded. I had a little kettle on my table, that swung over a lamp, and made tea two or three times between eleven o’clock and two or three in the morning, my hours of going to bed…”
Mr. Jennings then proceeds to disclose an initial encounter and the dreadful cause of his predicament:
“The interior of the omnibus was nearly dark. I had observed in the corner opposite to me at the other side, and at the end next the horses, two small circular reflections, as it seemed to me of a reddish light. They were about two inches apart, and about the size of those small brass buttons that yachting men used to put upon their jackets. I began to speculate, as listless men will, upon this trifle, as it seemed. From what centre did that faint but deep red light come, and from what—glass beads, buttons, toy decorations—was it reflected? We were lumbering along gently, having nearly a mile still to go. I had not solved the puzzle, and it became in another minute more odd, for these two luminous points, with a sudden jerk, descended nearer and nearer the floor, keeping still their relative distance and horizontal position, and then, as suddenly, they rose to the level of the seat on which I was sitting and I saw them no more…”
It is easy to foretell that those two reddish lights torment Mr. Jennings ever since; even easier for readers to concoct is they are the eyes of a diabolical creature. But what kind of creature is it? And the doctor’s diagnosis?
Instead of going to a Halloween party or trick-or-treating this year (discouraged or forbidden due to COVID-19) why not brew a pot of green tea, savor, and read the story for yourself (ten short chapters plus conclusion in its entirety) on Project Gutenberg?!
Although not a horror literature enthusiast, I appreciate Le Fanu’s writing style and enjoy reading something different, all the while sipping hyson – the tea most similar to the green tea consumed by Mr. Jennings that I could find at home. (Hyson is also one of the teas thrown overboard into Boston Harbor in 1773.)
My favorite green tea this season is the Wok-Fired Green Tea 2020 – Spring Flush, harvested by Minto Island Tea in Oregon.
Only because of the botany connection, “Green Tea” reminds me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Rappaccini’s Daughter, which I had a difficult time understanding in my first English class after relocating to Hawaii. (ESL curriculum would have been more appropriate.) Years have passed but I still remember that substitute teacher’s kindness.
Image provided and copyright held by author