Tag Archives: m r james

Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James

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Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936), Biblical scholar, antiquary and mediaeval historian is also, quite possibly, the twentieth century’s most influential writer of ghost stories. His tales of leisured Edwardian gentleman-academics whose narrow-minded investigations bring them into contact with nameless horrors from the past are flat-out classics of the genre and their reputation was enhanced by several highly-regarded BBC television adaptations in the 1970s – adaptations that echoed the stories’ original conception as tales to raise a chill around the Christmas fire.

And yet, James never intended to publish his stories in book form. Despite having submitted his first two compositions, ‘Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook’ and ‘Lost Hearts’ for publication in journals during the 1890s, his stories were by and large written solely for the entertainment of his academic colleagues and students. On Christmas Eve, James would emerge from his study clutching his hand-written manuscript, ready to address the acquaintances who had gathered in his rooms to hear this latest tale of terror read aloud over their late-night tipple. It was only with the death of a close friend, whom James had invited to illustrate the tales as a distraction from a final illness, that the tales gained a wider audience. James McBryde, the promising artist in question, died at a tragically young age and James decided to publish a selection of the ghost stories complete with McBryde’s illustrations as a posthumous tribute to his young friend. The stories were very well-received, however, and although James’s academic achievements hardly went unrecognised, it is for his ghost stories that he is best remembered today.

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Five volumes of James’s ghost stories were published during his lifetime: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925) and Collected Ghost Stories (1931) – the latter contained the entire contents of the previous four volumes, together with a few further pieces: ‘There Was a Man Dwelt By a Churchyard’, ‘Rats’, ‘After Dark in the Playing Fields’, ‘Wailing Well’ and ‘Stories I Have Tried to Write’. A further three completed stories remained uncollected during James’s lifetime: ‘The Experiment’, ‘The Malice of Inanimate Objects’ and ‘A Vignette’. I have included all of these in the edition for this blog (see below) along with a selection of James’s writings on the ghost story genre. I got the latter from the always splendid ebooks@adelaide.

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A number of unpublished drafts were also left extant on James’s death. These haven’t been included in the ebook below for copyright reasons, but you can read them at the Ghosts & Scholars website – Rosemary Pardoe’s outstanding online resource for all things Jamesian. The drafts are ‘The Game of Bear’, ‘Merfield House’, ‘The Fenstanton Witch’, ‘Marcilly-le-Hayer’ and ‘John Humphreys’ (an early version of ‘Mr Humphreys and His Inheritance’). Rosemary Pardoe’s notes on these stories are also available. Three other related pieces by James have not been included, but can also be read online. These are the early story, ‘A Night in King’s College Chapel’, James’s scholarly article, ‘Twelve Medieval Ghost Stories’ and his children’s novel The Five Jars (1920).

Here are the download links for the ebook edition of Collected Ghost Stories I’ve prepared for this blog:

Collected Ghost Stories [Kindle]

Collected Ghost Stories [Epub]

Collected Ghost Stories [PDF]

Finally, readers might be interested to know that, in collaboration with Jane Mainley-Piddock and James Mussell, I am currently organising the first ever academic conference dedicated solely to James’s ghost stories. Information, including a call for papers, is available here.

Christmas Ghost Stories

 winter landscape (1811)

The first of four festive ebooks I’ve prepared for the blog, this is a collection of Victorian and Edwardian ghost stories with a Christmas (or at least a wintery) setting. There’s nothing startlingly new here – all of these tales have been widely anthologised before – but they’re just the thing for the darkest nights of the year.

Enjoy – and feel free to share with friends!

Christmas Ghost Stories [Kindle]

Christmas Ghost Stories [Epub]

Christmas Ghost Stories [PDF]

 

 

Madam Crowl’s Ghost and Other Stories (1923) by Sheridan Le Fanu

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This is a posthumous collection of ghost stories by Sheridan Le Fanu which, at the time of publication, remained uncollected since their original appearance in various Victorian periodicals, most notably the Dublin University Magazine and Charles Dickens’s All the Year Round. The collection was edited by M.R. James, upon whose fiction Le Fanu was a great influence. As well as selecting the stories, James also provided an introductory note, a bibliography and a brief bibliographic introduction to each story in the collection. The original title was ‘Madam Crowl’s Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery’, but I’ve shortened it here in order that it might better fit the screen of an e-reader.

Madam Crowl’s Ghost [Kindle]

Madam Crowl’s Ghost [Epub]

Madam Crowl’s Ghost [PDF]

James’s collection led to a revival of interest in Le Fanu studies and he would no doubt have been pleased to know that an open access journal dedicated to the author is published twice yearly.

Most of Le Fanu’s short fiction can be read online here. More of James’s own thoughts on Le Fanu’s writing can be found in his unpublished lecture on the author, available at the Ghosts & Scholars website.

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In Ghostly Company (1921) by Amyas Northcote

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Amyas Northcote’s collection of ghost stories, his only published fictional work, was published by John Lane in 1921 (although the first edition is dated 1922). Northcote was the son of a wealthy Tory politician, Sir Stafford Northcote. After emigrating to America and marrying, he returned to England in the early 1900s and became a Justice of the Peace in Buckinghamshire. He died suddenly in 1923.

Despite producing only a handful of stories, his single collection is strikingly varied – ‘The House in the Woods’ and ‘The Young Lady in Black’ evoke the sentimental Victorian ghost stories of Margaret Oliphant and Isabella Banks, while the similarly titled ‘In the Woods’ is firmly in the tradition of the Pan-worship fashionable in the early twentieth century; ‘Mr Mortimer’s Diary’ might have come from the antiquarian mind of M.R. James, while the longest tale in the collection, ‘Mr Oliver Carmichel’ resembles a retelling of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde along theosophical lines. My personal favourite is ‘The Late Mrs Fowke’ – an unusual and highly effective werewolf story.

In Ghostly Company [Kindle]

In Ghostly Company [Epub]

In Ghostly Company [PDF]

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A Mirror of Shalott (1907) by R.H. Benson

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R.H. Benson’s supernatural fiction has been accused of being nothing more than thinly-veiled Catholic propaganda. This is only half true. For while his ghost stories present and promote an ontology that is rigidly Catholic,  it would be churlish to dismiss them as nothing more than mere dogma. In this second collection of uncanny tales, for example, the stories succeed through a carefully heightened sense of unease and mounting horror. Despite the underlying religious certainty, several of the tales also skilfully evoke the ‘cosmic’ horror of the weird fiction tradition, revealing an unseen world in which uncontrollable forces, immeasurably more powerful and more ancient than humanity, are locked in a constant struggle. As well as a writer of essays and fiction, Benson was an ordained Catholic priest and the stories take the form of ‘tales told at a symposium’ of priests, who pool their experiences of the supernatural in order to see if a consensus can be reached regarding the ‘point’ of these experiences in a divine schema. Unsettlingly, such a point is not immediately apparent and the narrators are left only with their faith in a merciful deity working ultimately for the benefit of humankind.

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Benson at the time of publication

Another intriguing feature of this collection is Benson’s determination to bring the process of oral storytelling to the fore and to emphasise its relationship to the impact of the stories on the listeners present. All three of the Benson brothers had been present at M.R. James’s ghost story readings, but Robert Benson’s tales differ from James’s in that they make the immediate (although, admittedly invented) context of the tales’ reception an intrinsic part of the tale itself and of its effect. This is an appropriate device given that the ‘ghost’ in many of the tales is not a visible spectre, but rather a malevolent atmosphere, doubt or dread – a lingering emotional response that has somehow become untethered from the events that originally inspired it and has taken on a life of its own…

A Mirror of Shalott [Kindle]

A Mirror of Shalott [Epub]

A Mirror of Shalott [PDF]

The collection first appeared in 1907 and this text is based on a 1912 reprint, which corrects several errors in the original printing and changed the subtitle slightly: the original subtitle was ‘tales told at an unprofessional symposium’.

Frivola (1896)

Haunted Library

Augustus Jessopp (1823-1914) was a schoolteacher, cleric and antiquary, and was also a prolific writer of entertaining historical and antiquarian articles for various periodicals (most notably The Nineteenth Century). For readers of supernatural and Gothic fiction, however, Jessopp’s work is of interest mainly as a possible source of inspiration for the ‘antiquarian’ ghost stories of M.R. James. This is most obviously reflected by the title of ‘An Antiquary’s Ghost Story’, included in Frivola, a collection of essays published by Jessopp in 1896. The collection also includes an essay on ‘The Dying Out of the Marvellous’, which seems to encapsulate the ethos of the antiquarian ghost story, as well as ‘The Phantom Coach’. I’ve also included Jessopp’s essay on Hill-digging and magic (a possible source for James’s ‘A Warning to the Curious’) as an Appendix.

In addition to these pieces, Frivola also includes the powerful (but little-read) novella ‘Simon Ryan’ – a tale of religious mania with several Gothic elements.

Frivola [Kindle]

Frivola [Epub]

Frivola [PDF]

Critical edition:

The Phantom Coach and Other Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, introduced by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (Richard H.Fawcett, 1998). [The Introduction is available to read on Salmonson’s website]

A note on copyright:

The text is a collation of the first and second editions (1896 and 1907) and I explain my editorial choices in a textual note within the ebook. In this sense, the ebook offered here is a totally new edition of Jessopp’s collection, unavailable elsewhere. This makes it slightly different from the other books on offer at this blog. As with all the other files on this site, readers are free to use or distribute this ebook in any way they choose without my prior permission. This also applies to the individual pieces contained within the present ebook. If anyone wishes to reproduce the ebook in full, however, I would greatly appreciate if they could acknowledge this blog as a source.

Phantom Coach

Haunted Scholars: Antiquarian Ghost Stories from Cambridge Magazines

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This selection of tales by ‘B.’, ‘D.N.J.’ and another anonymous writer appeared in Magdalene College Magazine and the Cambridge Review between 1911 and 1920. The identity of the writers is not known, but the tales themselves are so reminiscent of the style originated by M.R. James (scholarly protagonist, haunted objects, strange old texts) that they must have been acquainted with James’s circle of friends, colleagues and admirers at Cambridge. Unknown for many years, they were reprinted in Ghosts & Scholars magazine in the 1980s and 1990s. They are now available at the Ghosts & Scholars online archive and I extend my grateful thanks to Rosemary Pardoe for permission to reprint the material here.

Haunted Scholars [Kindle]

Haunted Scholars [Epub]

Haunted Scholars [PDF]

Critical Editions:

When the Door is Shut and other ghost stories by ‘B.’, ed. Rosemary Pardoe (Haunted Library, 1986)

The Moon-Gazer and one other, ed. Rosemary Pardoe (Haunted Library, 1988)

Web links:

Ghosts & Scholars archive

Ghosts & Scholars main site

The main online resource page for all things related to M.R. James and his circle, it contains a fascinating array of stories, articles, bibliographies and other material. Click on the individual story links in the archive page for more information about the authorship and publication history of the stories of ‘B.’, ‘D.N.J.’ and the anonymous author of ‘An Old MS.’

Haunted Library