M. R. James Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The scholarly writings of M. R. James were varied and extensive. He cataloged most of the medieval manuscript collections in the Cambridge colleges, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the Canterbury Cathedral. He was an early researcher in Christian archaeology, contributing dozens of articles and monographs on stained glass, roof bosses, statuary, and wall paintings. James was also one of the foremost biblical scholars of his time and was responsible for producing editions of both old and new testament apocrypha. He edited a number of ancient books in modern translation or in contemporary editions, and researched ancient libraries, as well as works in local history and what might loosely be described as classical studies.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

M. R. James won a number of prestigious awards and scholarships at both Eton College and King’s College, Cambridge, including the Newcastle Scholarship at Eton and the Eton Scholarship, the Craven Scholarship, the Carus Undergraduate Prize, a Bell Scholarship, the annual Jeremie Septuagint Prize, and the senior Chancellor’s Medal for 1886 at King’s. He was elected to a fellowship at King’s in 1887, became dean in 1889 and provost in 1905. In addition, he served as both assistant director and later director of the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, was on the syndicate of the library and the university press, and also became vice-chancellor of the university. James became provost of Eton in 1918 and was awarded the Order of Merit in 1930.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Briggs, Julia. “No Mere Antiquary: M. R. James.” In Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story. London: Faber and Faber, 1977. This chapter provides a good overview of James’s achievements in the genre, with a discussion of his methods of handling locale, the past, domestic terrors, mythology, and even ghosts themselves within his fiction.

Cox, Michael. M. R. James: An Informal Portrait. New York: Oxford University Press, 1983. A good, intimate biography that provides a detailed overview of the life of James. Only one chapter is devoted to the ghost stories, “A Peep into Pandemonium.”

Joshi, S. C. “M. R. James: The Limitations of the Ghost Story.” In The Weird Tale: Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, Ambrose Bierce, H. P. Lovecraft. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. This critical chapter by an author who acknowledges his dislike for James’s ghost stories nevertheless sheds some light on the drawbacks of his method and general narrative strategies.

Mason, Michael A. “On Not Letting Them Lie: Moral Significance in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James.” Studies in Short Fiction 19 (Summer, 1982): 253-260. This essay discusses how James’s ghost stories interweave moral values among the accurate evocations of the past, the subtle...

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