M. R. James Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In his time, Montague Rhodes James was equally famous as a prolific antiquarian scholar and as a ghost-story writer whose sophisticated fictions maintain a continuing life in anthologies and on British radio and television. He was born on August 1, 1862, the youngest child of the rector of Livermere, Suffolk. He attended Temple Grove preparatory school, Eton College, and, as a scholarship student, King’s College, Cambridge, receiving his baccalaureate in 1885 and his master’s in 1889. His subsequent career was exclusively academic and administrative, though bicycling holidays took him to Ireland, France, Austria, Denmark, and Sweden, as well as to native sources of his research and some of his stories.

The quality, range, and originality of James’s scholarly work was recognized in a succession of positions and honors. He won a fellowship at King’s College, where he lectured until 1893, and was elected dean of the college in 1889, tutor in 1900, and provost in 1905. He became director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, in 1893, the year he began the annual tradition of reading his ghost stories at Christmas. He was awarded a doctorate in literature by the University of Cambridge in 1895 and later honorary doctorates from the University of Dublin, St. Andrews University, and the University of Oxford, as his immense and estimable productivity continued. From 1913 to 1915, James was vice chancellor of Cambridge; in 1918, he became provost of Eton, and, in 1925, he was made a trustee of the British Museum. Among other distinctions, he was a member of several royal commissions, the British Academy, and the Society of Antiquaries. He was given the Order of Merit in...

(The entire section is 688 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Montague Rhodes James was reared in a family of academics and clerics. His father was a parish priest at Livermore in Suffolk where James grew up. He prepared for Eton at Temple Grove where his father had gone before him, entering Eton in 1876 as a King’s scholar. His years at Eton were among the happiest of his life, and he demonstrated a scholarly precocity. He was both a popular boy and a successful student and passed on to King’s College, Cambridge, on an Eton Scholarship in 1882. He remained at King’s for the next thirty-six years as an undergraduate, fellow, vice-provost, and finally provost. During these years he also fulfilled a number of other academic and administrative posts at the university. He was briefly vice-chancellor of the university during the 1914-1918 war. In 1918, partly in response to various changes taking place at Cambridge, James accepted the provostship of Eton, a position he held until his death in 1936.