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date: 17 April 2024

Ghost-Stories of an Antiquary, 

Source:
The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction
Author(s):
Sandra KempSandra Kemp, Charlotte MitchellCharlotte Mitchell, David TrotterDavid Trotter

M. R. James, 1904, Edward Arnold.The first collection of James's ghost stories, designed, as he puts it in the preface, to make their readers ‘feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours’. M. R. James had nothing of Kipling's or Blackwood's fascination with the causes of ghostly apparitions (in particular, the states of mind in which ghosts are seen). His tales veer more towards horror. The eight stories in this collection reflect James's own scholarly interests, drawing on his knowledge of the trappings of research into paleography, medieval art, and church history. James adapted themes from folklore and legend, myth and ballad, and his stories are constructed from such traditional elements, to which an air of conviction is appended by the addition of footnotes, translations, and (genuine) bibliographical references. Scholars and clerics are the protagonists (or victims) as well as narrators of the supernatural visitations and horrible spectres. But, as in all of James's stories, plot is of paramount importance, and character is reduced to a minimum of simplicity and transparency. Place is crucial throughout (in James's words ‘prolific in suggestion’), and everyday objects are imbued with ghastly possibilities. James's blend of the quiet scholarly atmposphere, old towns and flat landscapes (particularly East Anglia) and inexplicably malevolent forces has become the very type of the English ghost story.... ...

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