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Back to the future – M R James’s ghost stories and their relevance to today

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Back to the future – M R James’s ghost stories and their relevance to today


This Halloween with the press and television screens full of bad news about the pandemic, it can feel as if we are in a very perilous age, and sometimes it is reassuring to take refuge in comforting rituals such as ghost stories.

As the master of the classic ghost story, there is a tendency to view M R James…

A Visit to examine M R James's letters

Monday, 19 October 2020

A Visit to the Archives

Many of you who have supported my book, and are eagerly awaiting its publication might not know how one conducts a visit to examine M R James’s letters. For those of you who do, please forgive this update and perhaps go and read something else, perhaps my website where there are lots of interesting articles on James.

For those of you who are new…

What do we mean when we talk about the “Jamesian” ghost story?

Tuesday, 29 September 2020

What do we mean when we talk about the “Jamesian” ghost story?

There have been many attempts to explain the M R James ghost story. Different authors have sought to explain why an academic of James’s standing, an expert on palaeography, manuscript research and apocrypha, would have a sideline in writing ghost stories. Shane Leslie, a friend of over thirty years to James, saw James’s ghost stories…

M R James and his Joie De Vivre

Wednesday, 2 September 2020


M R James is often portrayed as a serious academic, and an austere man, a palaeographer, cataloguer, academic and a writer of ghost stories, as the writer S T Joshi noted:

At times it seems as if Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) led not one life, but a multitude. That the same man could have described all the mediaeval manuscripts at the various colleges of Cambridge University, prepared…

M R James and The Mechanics of writing as Jungian Catharsis

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

M R James and The Mechanics of writing as Jungian Catharsis

One of the most striking things about James’s ghost stories is the dramatic manner in which he wrote them, dashing them off in a state of “fever heat”, at the very last minute before he was due to deliver them to a large and eager audience. [1] Indeed, the circumstances of the composition of the stories resemble something from those stories…

Asexual, Homosexual, Bisexual or Straight – The confusing world of M.R.James

Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Asexual, Homosexual, Bisexual or Straight – The confusing world of M.R.James

James’s ghost stories contain deeper layers of violence which can certainly be viewed as containing a sexual element, an element which in some stories contains acts which contain sexual perversion. For instance, the moment when William Ager is on the back of Paxton in the burrow, where he was in the act of retrieving the…

Some notes towards a Mythic Jungian analysis of James's ghost stories

Monday, 6 July 2020

James’s stories all feature the appearance of the revenant in response to some feature of “change” in the actions of the characters, the place in which they live, or in the structure of the story.

Whether it is an anima (a female) that has produced this change or another facet of the Jungian persona (self, ego, shadow, and anima/animus) or the phylogenetic inherited archetypal part of the persona…

M. R. James and Hans Christian Andersen

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

M R James and Hans Christian Andersen

Besides writing ghost stories, cataloguing manuscript collections, palaeography and biblical apocrypha, M R James possessed another interest in Folklore and Fairytales, particularly the fairytales

of the Danish storyteller Hans Christian Anderson. Stephen Gaslee wrote in his memoirs, that James had learned Danish and Swedish on many of their long European…

An M R James Story for Mid-Summer - My analysis of "After Dark in the playing fields"

Thursday, 18 June 2020

An M R James Story for Mid-Summer - "After Dark in the playing fields"

One tale that has many folkloric references is “After Dark in the playing fields”. Written in 1924 and published on the 28th of June for Issue 10 of College Days, an Eton ephemeral it is seen as a companion piece to James’s book “The Five Jars”.[1]

Rosemary Pardoe has termed this story a “seriously underrated piece”, and a…

Could M. R. James have been a modern day media “Personality”?

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Could MRJ have been a modern day media “Personality”?

Watching Qi the other night I was struck at how the very witty Stephen Fry and indeed many of his contempories had one thing in common; they had all been members of a club that had honed their acting and presentation talents, the Cambridge Footlights. Monty had also been a member of the precursor of this club, the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Club…

The Fate of the Humble Spook in this age of Surveillance

Thursday, 28 May 2020

The Fate of the Humble Spook in this age of Surveillance


In Oscar Wildes short story ‘The Canterville Ghost’, the ghost Sir Simon De Canterville, has been successfully haunting Canterville Chase for over four centuries, since 1584. His latest success had been to ensure no one from the family had lived in the house since he had put his skeletal hands on the shoulders of the dowager aunt, the…

M R James and the time he stalked Queen Victoria

Saturday, 16 May 2020

M R James and his Queen Victoria Fixation

In today’s world we are very accustomed to what is termed “celebrity culture”, with all of the plethora of reality television shows and the ‘red top’ tabloid papers keeping a breathless public up to date with every facet of their favourite stars life, no matter how trivial. From so called C list celebrity stars up to our own royal family, no one it seems…

M R James and The Marriage Problem

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

M. R. James and The Marriage Problem

I am often asked by many people with an interest in M. R. James whether he was homosexual and why (even if he was) he never had a wife somewhere in the background, a la Oscar Wilde. Despite all of this application of various theories on James, no evidence of supposed homosexuality has ever been found. Both his biographers Cox and Pfaff never found anything to…

M. R. James the Notorious Arachnaphobe

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

James the Notorious Arachnaphobe

M R James long held a hatred of spiders, noting in one of his letters to his friend Gwendolen McBryde that they terrified him, “Especially the one that turns up unaccountably in the Bath”[1]. That they were a personal motif of horror for him can be located in his stories, of which, three have the terrifying presence of these arachnoid forms, which for a small body…

M R James Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens

Friday, 24 April 2020

M R James and the Edwin Drood Syndicate

M R James loved to read detective novels in the rare time he had away from his academic work or writing ghostly fiction. His enthusiasm for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been noted by his biographer Richard Pfaff (although he did out Doyle’s “Cribbing of the plot for The Firm of Girdle Stone” which Doyle had taken from Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Uncle Silas…

James and The Buffalo Bill Wild West show

Monday, 20 April 2020



James regulary exchanged letters with the daughter of one of his friends, Walter Fletcher, her name was Sibyl Cropper, but her friends always called her Billy. These letters often belied his occupation as an academic and cataloguer of Mss, provost and curator it would not be automatically compare with the lighter side of life, but the one outstanding characteristic that all of James…

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