M. R. James

Literary Birthday – 1 August – M. R. James

M. R. James was born 1 August 1862 and died 12 June 1936.


  1. Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are, to me, the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo.
  2. Let us, then, be introduced to the actors in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings; and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.
  3. Another requisite, in my opinion, is that the ghost should be malevolent or odious: amiable and helpful apparitions are all very well in fairy tales or in local legends, but I have no use for them in a fictitious ghost story.
  4. Reticence may be an elderly doctrine to preach, yet from the artistic point of view, I am sure it is a sound one. Reticence conduces to effect, blatancy ruins it, and there is much blatancy in a lot of recent stories.
  5. If any of [my stories] succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.
  6. Do I believe in ghosts?…I am prepared to consider evidence and accept it if it satisfies me.

According to Wikipedia: ‘James perfected a method of story-telling which has since become known as Jamesian. The classic Jamesian tale usually includes the following elements:

  1. a characterful setting in an English village, seaside town or country estate; an ancient town in France, Denmark or Sweden; or a venerable abbey or university
  2. a nondescript and rather naïve gentleman-scholar as protagonist (often of a reserved nature)
  3. the discovery of an old book or other antiquarian object that somehow unlocks, calls down the wrath, or at least attracts the unwelcome attention of a supernatural menace, usually from beyond the grave.’

M. R. James (Montague Rhodes James) was an English author, medievalist scholar, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. He is remembered for his ghost stories, in which he abandoned many of the formal Gothic clichés of the genre and used more realistic, contemporary settings. He is known as the originator of the ‘antiquarian ghost story’. His stories were published in a series of collections: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925).

Source 1 & Source 2 for quotes / Source for image

 by Amanda Patterson

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