The horror of history and the historical moment in the fiction of M.R. James

  • Innes McGarry

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

Abstract

In the tradition of supernatural fiction and in the literature of the Edwardian period Montague Rhodes James exists as a paradoxical figure. Publishing only four volumes of ghost stories during his career, James has, despite being neglected for many decades by literary critics and historians, exerted an influence over British popular culture comparable only to more celebrated writers of the supernatural such as Bram Stoker and Arthur Machen. In recent decades attempts have been made to understand this phenomenon, but many of these studies, undertaken by established critics, conclude that James' work is flimsy, devoid of depth and a niche interest: ghosts and ghouls signifying nothing. The vast difference between the way James' work has been received by the public and the reception it receives from critics suggests there is more to James' work than meets the eye, and as his work has underwent reevaluation, opinion has shifted (1).;In the past twenty years work by Andrew Smith, Mark Fisher and Victoria Lehmann Imfeld among others, have done much to reveal the philosophical potency of James' work and the ways in which his work intersects with concerns of the Edwardian period. This thesis will advance upon the work produced by these critics and expand our understanding of the philosophical, religious and sociological potential of James' tales by an analysis of his 1904 collection Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. By so doing, we shall be able to greater understand the reason for James' diffuse popularity and revaluate his position both in the tradition of supernatural fiction and his place in the literary culture of the Edwardian era. Alongside the opportunity to revaluate James' place in Edwardian literature we will also see the potential for a new understanding of the period's literature in which James' work exists in dialogue with other, more canonical, writers.;Far from existing as simple tales to frighten undergraduates after the All Hallows feast at King's College, Cambridge, we shall see how James' fiction reacted to the dawn of the modern age, the rise of secularism and the revaluation of the place of humanity in a cosmos now divested of a god. [See thesis text for footnote]
Date of Award7 Dec 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University Of Strathclyde
SponsorsUniversity of Strathclyde
SupervisorSarah Edwards (Supervisor) & Churnjeet Mahn (Supervisor)

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