H.E. Bulstrode

Author Website

The Ghost Stories of M.R. James and E.F. Benson

E.F. Benson and M.R. James, two of the best known writers in the history of the ghost story genre, were near contemporaries from similar upper-middle class backgrounds: Benson’s father was a headmaster who went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury, whereas James’s was an evangelical Anglican clergyman. Both men went to leading public schools, Benson to Marlborough and James to Eton, and both studied at Cambridge, where James would remain for many years as an eminent mediaeval scholar. The two were also confirmed bachelors, although it is commonly considered that Benson did form discreet attachments which, given the prevailing social norms and legal situation at the time, were of necessity concealed.

Of the two, one might be forgiven for thinking, given his reputation, that it was James who was the more prolific author of supernatural fiction, but this was not the case. Benson’s output was both larger and broader in compass than that of James, and that, perhaps, is where one of the reasons for this divergence in association lies, for Benson is more commonly remembered for his satirical Mapp and Lucia novels than for his ‘spook stories’. Moreover, whereas James’s output was spare – he did, after all, work full-time as an academic – Benson was a professional author who experimented more widely with both genre and tone. James’s ghost stories possess the declared aim of inspiring ‘a pleasing terror’, whereas many of Benson’s works – such as Mr Tilly’s Séance and Thursday Evenings – are satirical or light-hearted, with the singularly titled The Psychical Mallards even featuring a pair of clashing levitating mediums which possesses one of the most bizarre and absurd scenes that I’ve ever encountered in a tale of the supernatural.

Whilst there have been many well-received television adaptations of James’s stories such as The Stalls of Barchester (1971),  A Warning to the Curious (1972), Lost Hearts (1973), and A View from a Hill (2005), as part of the A Ghost Story for Christmas strand initially produced by the BBC during the seventies and then revived in 2005, none of Benson’s ‘spook stories’, as the author termed them, have been selected for such treatment. This is something of a missed opportunity, for Andrew Davies’s masterful adaptation of Dickens’s short story The Signalman in 1976 proved that other authors’ works could succeed under this banner. The tradition of A Ghost Story for Christmas only ran into trouble in 1977 and 1978 when the decision was taken to commission two original pieces by new writers which were eminently forgettable. Quite why Benson’s tales have been overlooked in this respect is something of a mystery, for although it would be true to say that there is a greater variation in the quality of his writing when compared to that of James, he did write some first-rate ghost stories that would be suitable for adaptation, such as The Face, In the Tube, Monkeys, or How Fear Departed the Long Gallery.

Today though, some might say that the type of protagonist favoured by these two authors might possess a somewhat limited appeal, given that they tended to be bachelors cast very much in their own mould. Thus in James’s stories we normally encounter a slightly fusty antiquarian of a scholarly bent, whereas Benson’s leads were of a more frivolous type – upper-middle-class chaps of independent means who possessed no greater pleasure than a rubber of bridge of an evening (no, I hadn’t heard of that term either until I read these stories), and renting a house in the country, or at the coast, for a month or two to escape the unclean air of London.

In the unlikely event that you are a reader of supernatural fiction who has not read the ghost stories of either of these authors, then I would recommend that you purchase and enjoy the following inexpensive paperbacks published by Wordsworth: Collected Ghost Stories, by M.R. James, and Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson. Both are worth every penny.

Next Post

Previous Post

17 Comments

  1. Skin Tag Removal 4th May 2020

    Pretty element of content. I just stumbled upon your site and in accession capital to say that
    I get in fact enjoyed account your blog posts. Anyway I will be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you get admission to constantly
    quickly.

  2. Brooklyn 5th May 2020

    hey there and thank you for your information – I have certainly picked up anything new from right here.

    I did however expertise several technical issues using this web site, since I
    experienced to reload the site many times previous to
    I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if
    your hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining,
    but slow loading instances times will very frequently affect your placement in google and
    could damage your high quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords.

    Well I’m adding this RSS to my e-mail and could look out for much more of your respective exciting content.
    Make sure you update this again soon.

  3. Zaria 5th May 2020

    Simply wish to say your article is as surprising.

    The clarity for your submit is just cool and i could think you are a
    professional in this subject. Well together with your permission allow me to clutch your feed to keep up to date with coming
    near near post. Thanks a million and please continue the
    rewarding work.

  4. Mariyah 9th May 2020

    You really make it appear so easy along with your presentation but I find this topic
    to be really one thing which I think I would by no means understand.
    It sort of feels too complicated and extremely broad
    for me. I am looking forward to your subsequent put up, I’ll try to
    get the grasp of it!

  5. Madalynn 11th May 2020

    obviously like your website however you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts.
    Many of them are rife with spelling issues and I to find it very troublesome to
    inform the reality on the other hand I’ll certainly come
    again again.

  6. johan 11th May 2020

    Wonderful blog! I found it while surfing around on Yahoo News.

    Do you have any suggestions on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
    Thanks

  7. Zack 15th May 2020

    Great web site you have here.. It’s difficult to find excellent
    writing like yours these days. I honestly appreciate people like
    you! Take care!!

  8. Austin 16th May 2020

    Hey! I could have sworn I’ve been to this site before but after
    checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to me.
    Nonetheless, I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back frequently!

  9. Hannahsmit 17th May 2020

    Hi there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace group?
    There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content.
    Please let me know. Thanks

  10. Jacob 17th May 2020

    Hurrah, that’s what I was exploring for, what a information! present
    here at this webpage, thanks admin of this web site.

  11. Keto Advanced 17th May 2020

    If some one wishes expert view regarding blogging
    and site-building after that i suggest him/her to go to see this web site, Keep up the nice job.

  12. Nora 17th May 2020

    Peculiar article, just what I was looking for.

  13. Meghan 21st May 2020

    Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in reality
    was a enjoyment account it. Glance advanced to more brought agreeable from you!
    By the way, how can we keep in touch?

  14. Brooklyn 24th May 2020

    Keep on writing, great job!

  15. Lennox 27th May 2020

    I just could not go away your web site before suggesting that I actually enjoyed the standard information a person provide for your guests?
    Is gonna be back ceaselessly in order to inspect new posts

  16. Bonnie 29th May 2020

    Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this
    post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this.
    I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have
    a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  17. Rory 29th May 2020

    Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it.
    Look advanced to more added agreeable from you! However, how could we communicate?

Leave a Reply

© 2020 H.E. Bulstrode

Theme by Anders Norén