Two ingredients most valuable in the concocting of a ghost story are the atmosphere and the nicely managed crescendo
M(ontague) R(hodes) James (1862-1936), the son of a Kent curate, enjoyed a glittering academic career, and was acknowledged as a leading authority on medieval manuscripts and biblical apocrypha. By way of diversion, over a period of time he wrote thirty four of what are acknowledged to be the best ghost stories ever written. The passing of time does not lessen their popularity or their ability to chill, and our edition of 'Collected Ghost Stories' remains the best-selling book in the series.
To read David Stuart Davies’ article on M.R. James, click here.
Montague Rhodes James, the son of a Kent curate, was born near Bury St Edmunds in 1862. He became an avid reader at a very early age, taking a special interest in antiquarian books. At the age of six he fell ill with bronchitis. While recovering, he asked to see a rare, 17th century Dutch bible that belonged to Bishop Ryle, a friend of his father. James studied it intently. It was the beginning of a career that would take him eventually to Eton and Cambridge.
At King’s College, Cambridge he became assistant in classical archaeology at the Fitzwilliam museum. His dissertation on The Apocalypse of St Peter won him both election as a Fellow of King’s and a position lecturing in divinity. His interests diversified, and by the time he was made Dean of the college in 1889, he was widely regarded as an authority on medievalism. During this period, James was a prolific writer on a wide range of academic subjects. His academic career led him to be provost of King’s College in 1905, and later vice-chancellor of the University.
For all his academic achievements, James is best remembered for his masterly ghost stories. There are approximately forty supernatural tales (some incomplete). His first collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), was followed by More Ghost Stories (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), A Warning to the Curious (1925) and The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James (1931). Wordsworth Editions’ Collected Ghost Stories remains the best-selling book in the series.
Apart from the ghost stories, James’ output of medieval scholarship was phenomenal. He catalogued many of the manuscript libraries of the Cambridge and Oxford colleges. Among his other scholarly works, he wrote The Apocalypse in Art, which placed illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts into family groups. He also translated the New Testament Apocrypha.