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A Life without a Jolt

Ferdinand Mount: M.R. James, 26 January 2012

Collected Ghost Stories 
by M.R. James.
Oxford, 468 pp., £14.99, October 2011, 978 0 19 956884 0
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... He always comes on his own, this bachelor of antiquarian tastes. Sometimes he is a book dealer, more often an academic. He is a dry, crotchety character, not particularly sympathetic. He is usually on holiday, in East Anglia or an old town in France or Denmark. He is staying in an inn or a hotel, an uncongenial sort of place far from his familiar institutional comforts ...

Midges

J.I.M. Stewart, 15 September 1983

M.R. JamesAn Informal Portrait 
by Michael Cox.
Oxford, 268 pp., £14.50, June 1983, 0 19 211765 3
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... For M.R. James it is Eton and King’s that are gardens – incomparable gardens which are, however, precisely made for thus exclaiming about as one sits in their created shade. With the exclamation itself nobody need quarrel. It is as applicable to the material fabric as to much in the life and spirit of these magnificent royal foundations ...

At the Fitzwilliam

Ian Patterson: A tidying-up and a sorting-out, 11 August 2016

... famously the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book), paintings by Veronese, Titian, Rembrandt and others, and more than forty thousand prints. All these he bequeathed to the university ‘for the purpose of promoting the Increase of Learning and the other great objects of that Noble Foundation’, along with a sum of money sufficient to build ‘a good substantial Museum ...

Mystery and Imagination

Stephen Bann, 17 November 1983

The Woman in Black 
by Susan Hill and John Lawrence.
Hamish Hamilton, 160 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 0 241 10987 6
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Legion 
by William Peter Blatty.
Collins, 252 pp., £8.95, October 1983, 0 00 222735 5
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The Lost Flying Boat 
by Alan Sillitoe.
Granada, 288 pp., £8.95, October 1983, 0 246 12236 6
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Snow, and Other Stories 
by Antony Lambton.
Quartet, 134 pp., £6.95, September 1983, 0 7043 2407 5
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New Islands, and Other Stories 
by Maria Luisa Bombal, translated by Richard Cunningham, Lucia Cunningham and Jorge Luis Borges.
Faber, 112 pp., £8.50, October 1983, 0 571 12052 0
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The Antarctica Cookbook 
by Crispin Kitto.
Duckworth, 190 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 0 7156 1762 1
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Sole Survivor 
by Maurice Gee.
Faber, 232 pp., £7.95, October 1983, 0 571 13017 8
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... line led back, through such expert modern practitioners as L.P. Hartley and Walter de la Mare, to the definitive achievements of M.R. James, Stevenson and Le Fanu, and their Gothic predecessors. The ghost story, or original tale of the supernatural, was essentially a short story, delicately crafted to obtain the ...

At Eton

Charles Hope, 7 March 2013

... obscured by wooden stalls until 1923. Only then, through the efforts of the provost of Eton, M.R. James, now best known for his ghost stories, were the paintings once more revealed and restored, in the first of several such campaigns. Although they have been known to specialists (and Etonians) since that time, few people ...

Playing the Seraphine

Frank Kermode: Penelope Fitzgerald, 25 January 2001

The Means of Escape: Stories 
by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Flamingo, 117 pp., £12.99, October 2000, 0 00 710030 2
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... career of a writer who never yielded to the temptation to go on until there seemed to be nothing more to say. Her novels are exactly long enough. They accommodate her unique ability to imagine and record all the necessary authenticating detail of her settings: Cambridge before the Great War, Germany in the time of Goethe and Novalis, Pre-Revolutionary ...

A Dreadful Drumming

Theo Tait: Ghosts, 6 June 2013

The Undiscovered Country: Journeys among the Dead 
by Carl Watkins.
Bodley Head, 318 pp., £20, January 2012, 978 1 84792 140 6
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A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof 
by Roger Clarke.
Particular, 360 pp., £20, November 2012, 978 1 84614 333 5
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... Yorkshire in the 1190s. It’s a tale Bram Stoker could have used, one that could feature in the more old-fashioned sort of horror film even today. A local man who became convinced that his wife was unfaithful hid in the rafters of their bedroom; when her lover arrived and the man’s fears were confirmed, he fell from his hiding place in a fury and ...

Diary

Jeremy Harding: Ash Dieback, 6 December 2012

... wouldn’t have known what an ash tree looked like but I knew that such a thing existed from M.R. James. ‘The Ash Tree’ is a sinister tale, set at the end of the Restoration, about a woman found cutting twigs from an ash tree, tried as a witch, hanged and buried: she migrates back to the veteran specimen of fraxinus excelsior on the land of the squire who ...

Raven’s Odyssey

D.A.N. Jones, 19 July 1984

Swallow 
by D.M. Thomas.
Gollancz, 312 pp., £8.95, June 1984, 0 575 03446 7
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First Among Equals 
by Jeffrey Archer.
Hodder, 446 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 340 35266 3
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Morning Star 
by Simon Raven.
Blond and Briggs, 264 pp., £8.95, June 1984, 9780856341380
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... to do with the real-life Peter Morrison MP but was inspired by boyhood memories of the real-life James Prior. The fictional ‘Peter Morrison MP’ reappears in Morning Star, the first volume of Raven’s new novel sequence, but now he seems nothing like James Prior MP. We are ...

The Obdurate Knoll

Colin Kidd: The Obdurate Knoll, 1 December 2011

Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan 
by Jeff Greenfield.
Putnam, 434 pp., £20.25, March 2011, 978 0 399 15706 6
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11.22.63 
by Stephen King.
Hodder, 740 pp., £19.99, November 2011, 978 1 4447 2729 6
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... The cultural consequences of 22 November 1963 are far more interesting than the events of the day itself. Historians like me tend not to find much of interest in the killing of one person by another, especially when the killer seems to have been a dysfunctional misfit. Of course, the assassination had puzzling aspects: Lee Harvey Oswald’s lengthy stay in the Soviet Union during some of the hottest years of the Cold War; the unlikely trajectory of one of the three bullets fired from the Texas School Book Depository, the ‘magic bullet’ which passed through the president’s neck and then through the body of the Texas governor, John Connally; and Oswald’s own murder while in police custody at the hands of Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner ...

Browning Versions

J.I.M. Stewart, 5 July 1984

Oscar Browning: A Biography 
by Ian Anstruther.
Murray, 209 pp., £12.50, October 1983, 9780719540783
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... in itself, yet something with which common sense and judicious sampling could probably cope. A more formidable difficulty lay at the very core of the project. As a recognisable character, an integrated personality, O.B. simply refused to add up. Faced with the need to describe him, friend and enemy alike were apt to produce a ...

Suffering Souls

Marina Warner: Ghosts in the middle ages., 18 June 1998

Ghosts in the Middle Ages: The Living and the Dead in Medieval Society 
by Jean-Claude Schmitt, translated by Theresa Lavender Fagan.
Chicago, 290 pp., £26.50, May 1998, 0 226 73887 6
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... the efficacity of churchmen’s offices, or expressed a wish that his family should bequeath more money or land to continue the monastic task of intercession. The French title of this book was simply Les Revenants, and ‘revenant’ catches better than ‘ghost’ the author’s view that the commemoration of the dead, in Christian ritual, seeks to ...

Things

Karl Miller, 2 April 1987

The Oxford Book of English Ghost Stories 
by Michael Cox and R.A. Gilbert.
Oxford, 504 pp., £12.95, October 1986, 0 19 214163 5
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The Ghost Stories of M.R. James 
by Michael Cox.
Oxford, 224 pp., £12.45, November 1986, 9780192122551
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Supernatural Tales 
by Vernon Lee.
Peter Owen, 222 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 7206 0680 2
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The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural 
edited by Jack Sullivan.
Viking, 482 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 670 80902 0
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Ghostly Populations 
by Jack Matthews.
Johns Hopkins, 171 pp., £11.75, March 1987, 0 8018 3391 4
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... a story by A.E. Coppard, chosen for the Oxford Book, in which a dressy female revenant performs a more than usually disappointing strip-tease. She is also taking part in a literary jeu d’esprit. The editors claim, oddly, that ‘the working class and those in trade are generally too busy to concern themselves with ghosts.’ But it is certainly true ...

Open that window, Miss Menzies

Patricia Craig, 7 August 1986

A Taste for Death 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 454 pp., £9.95, June 1986, 0 571 13799 7
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A Dark-Adapted Eye 
by Barbara Vine.
Viking, 300 pp., £9.95, March 1986, 0 670 80976 4
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Dead Men’s Morris 
by Gladys Mitchell.
Joseph, 247 pp., £9.95, April 1986, 0 7181 2553 3
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Laurels are poison 
by Gladys Mitchell.
Hogarth, 237 pp., £2.95, June 1986, 0 7012 1010 9
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Dido and Pa 
by Joan Aiken.
Cape, 251 pp., £7.95, June 1986, 0 224 02364 0
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... The epigraphs of P.D. James (now that she has taken to using them) are important. ‘There’s this to say for blood and breath,’ runs the latest one, from A.E. Housman: ‘They give a man a taste for death.’ Are we being directed to hold in mind those other lines of Housman’s? Oh like enough ’tis blood, my dear, For when the knife has slit The throat across from ear to ear ’Twill bleed because of it ...

The Immortal Coil

Richard Barnett: Faraday’s Letters, 21 March 2013

The Correspondence of Michael Faraday Vol. VI, 1860-67 
by Frank James.
IET, 919 pp., £85, December 2011, 978 0 86341 957 7
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... In the summer of 1831, James Woods, master of St John’s College, Cambridge, and Wordsworth’s former tutor, decided that his college should have a portrait of its most celebrated living alumnus. He commissioned Henry William Pickersgill – an apprentice Spitalfields silk-weaver turned Royal Academician – to produce a full-length oil painting of Wordsworth in an appropriately sublime setting, and in the early autumn of 1832 Pickersgill made the journey to Rydal Mount ...

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