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197 GHOSTLY ANTIQUARY: THE STORIES OF MONTAGUE RHODES JAMES By J. Randolph Cox (Library, St. Olaf College) In the bibliography of M. R. James appended to S. G. Lubbock's MEMOIR, the Ghost Stories appear, almost as an afterthought, under "Miscellaneous." Today, more than thirty years after James· death, only a few of his major works are still in print. The scholarly catalogues of medieval manuscripts, the guides to cathedral architecture, as well as his translations of Biblical Apocrypha are largely forgotten. The Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. James is still available from its original publisher and^as gone through numerous reprintings. Individual stories appear from time to time in anthologies and have appeared on British television in dramatic adaptations. Christmas is a time for Ghost Stories in England. The tradition of an annual Ghost Story from James began in 1893 - he read two of them at a meeting of the Chitchat Society. These two, "Lost Hearts" and "Canon Alberic's Scrapbook,"were subsequently published in the Pall Mall Magazine and the National Review, respectively. James was living at King's College, Cambridge, at the time and it was at gatherings there that the stories were continued: Some pressure was needed; and on the appointed evening the partfr met and waited till at last, about 11 p.m. as a rule, Monty appeared with the ink still wet on the last page. All lights except one were turned out and the story was read. Afterwards, when he was Provost, the same ritual was preserved; but by then the small party had grown, and . . . there was a large gathering in the big drawing room of the Lodge.1 The fame of the stories spread and eight of them were collected and published in 1904 as Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. In 1918, when he was installed as Provost of Eton, 15RaWlInS, then ViceProvost , alluded pointedly to them in his speech on Chapel steps; and at the words 'Lémures lstos* a grim smile for a second curved the lips of the new Provost."2 Two obvious questions may come to mind. What makes these stories superior to others in the genre? Why should a paleegrapher, biblical scholar, and antiquary write ghost stories? Peter psnzoldt, in his The Supernatural in Fiction, seems to find it a bit odd that James could have become ^ttie most successful ghost-story writer of this oentury" when he was both a "sceptic and a scholar." Why should someone who did not believe in ghosts write stories which present mysteries without natural explanations? He also wonders "why should a scholar compose better thrillers than many professional writers?"3 198 Nevertheless, James has been classed with Arthur Machen and Sheridan Ie Fanu as one of the best writers of ghost stories. He collected Ie Fanu's stories, acknowledged him as his inspiration, and read a paper on him before the Chitchat Society. In later years he contributed an Introduction to a collection of Ie Fanu's stories. James seems to have had few concrete theories regarding his craft: "He always made fun of the talk of 'craft· and 'style' and the "art of writing" and to those who hoped to Interview him he would say that he hadn't any art, and that when he had something to say he put it down."^ He felt that the ghost story was "at its best, only a particular sort of short story, and is subject to the same broad rules as the whole mass of them."5 The same sort of disclaimer appears in his Preface to the Collected Ghost Stories as he mentions the settings which he had in mind when he weete the stories. Both H. P. Lovecraft (In Supernatural Horror in Literature) and Joseph Jerome (in Montague Summers ; a Memoir) refer to James' "rules" for writing ghost stories. Jerome paraphrases James as saying that the terror "must be a mainly intellectual one and the ghost must needs be malevolent . . . and the writer must himself believe in ghosts If he is to convince his readers."" Lovecraft sets the "rules" down in this fashion '· A ghost story . . . should have a familiar setting In the modern period, in order...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 197-202
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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