M. R. James

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I'm not at all sure that he was alive.

Montague Rhodes James OM (1 August 1862 – 12 June 1936) was an English biblical scholar, medievalist, palaeographer and bibliographer, but is best remembered for his Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and other works of supernatural fiction.


  • I heard one cry in the night, and I heard one laugh afterwards. If I cannot forget that, I shall not be able to sleep again.
  • "There was a man sitting or kneeling on Sampson's window-sill, and looking in, and I thought he was beckoning…He looked as if he was wet all over: and," he said, looking round and whispering as if he hardly liked to hear himself, "I'm not at all sure that he was alive."
  • A ghost story of which the scene is laid in the twelfth or thirteenth century may succeed in being romantic or poetical: it will never put the reader into the position of saying to himself: "If I'm not careful, something of this kind may happen to me!"
    • Preface to More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911); cited from Michael Cox (ed.) Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) pp. 337-8.
  • Reticence may be an elderly doctrine to preach, yet from the artistic point of view I am sure it is a sound one. Reticence conduces to effect, blatancy ruins it.
    • "Some Remarks on Ghost Stories", in The Bookman, December 1929; cited from Michael Cox M. R. James: An Informal Portrait (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986) p. 150.

Quotes about M. R. James

  • James is regularly cited as a – or the – founder of the ‘tradition’ of English ghost stories. It is commonplace to then wryly point out that James’s ghosts are in fact often not ghosts, but inhuman ‘demons’ of one sort or another.
    • China Miéville, "M.R. James and the Quantum Vampire". Collapse IV, May 2008. Quoted in James Machin, Weird Fiction in Britain 1880-1939. Cham : Springer Nature Switzerland AG, 2019 (p.21).
  • There are some authors one wished one had never read in order to have the joy of reading them for the first time. For me, M. R. James is one of these.
    • Ruth Rendell, "Introduction" to A Warning to the Curious: The Ghost Stories of M. R. James, London, Hutchinson, 1987 (p.iv).