Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kick off James-A-Day with Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book

I'm so excited about sharing an M. R. James story with you every day!  This is going to be great.  Experts seem to call him MRJ all the time, so that's what we will do too, if only to save my fingers.  I'll try to post some tidbits about him throughout the month along with the stories.

One of the story's original illustrations
Our first tale is "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book."  It was James' first story, written sometime in 1892 or 1893, and is semi-autobiographical--Dennistoun is himself.  MRJ did cycle through the French countryside with two good friends looking for cathedrals and antiquities, and he did discover a book--though that was in Suffolk.  He must have had some fun spinning his own trip into a ghost story! 


James read this story out to his literary group, the Chitchat Society, on October 28, 1893.  This became quite a tradition, though it usually moved to Christmastime.  Ghost stories at Christmas is a venerable English tradition that we are (sadly) missing here in the US--maybe a couple of Brits will tell us whether it still happens?  I presume that's what the Doctor Who Christmas Special is for, but do people still read aloud too?  (OH!  That's why The Children of Green Knowe is a ghost story too, yes?)

"Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" is quite a creepy story to my mind; what do you think of it?  MRJ seems to have had a bit of a thing for hair in his scary creatures--keep an eye out for it.

A later illustration--a little too much, do you think?

7 comments:

Cat said...

I haven't read MRJ before but if this is his usual style then I love it!
I like the restraint and that he doesn't go overboard with details but leaves it to the imagination of the reader to fill in the gaps - I think this is often scarier and creepier than having it described for you. I haven't come up with a reason why the sacristan wouldn't take more than 250 francs though?

Loved the touch of humour at the end when Dennistoun payed for the masses.

Also enjoyed an interesting hour exploring St.Bertrand de Comminges and its church on the internet.

The tradition of telling ghost stories hasn't survived here in NZ either but I started The Woman in Black today and it begins with Christmas Eve ghost stories.

A great start to James-a-day!

Jean said...

Yep, that's James--he never gets too detailed. Very scary that way.

My theory about the 250 francs limit is that he thought profiting from the deal might keep the curse on him. Perhaps he paid that much for the book himself? It didn't belong to the church, it was the sacristan's property.

Risa said...

Thank you for hosting this, Jean! I'd never heard of M R James before now, and when I realised I could find Etexts for a few of his stories online, I decided to take the plunge. While I didn't particularly feel the horror of the story (I guess this could be due to the fact that I was reading it in broad daylight with a lot of noise in the background) I liked the writer's style and the rather risky tendency he has to leave much to the readers' imagination.

I'm with Jean on the 250 francs. It was the same thought that struck me when the little man offered the book for only that much.

Cat said...

Makes sense - and I suppose he'd also be feeling guilty knowing what he was passing on.

missy said...

I loved it too! I was reading in September with a Paris focus and I was delighted to learn I was still in France! :-) I had never heard of James either, but I love his interests. The old cathedrals are such an enchantment with me (though I have never seen them). I love his writing and the atmosphere. I've got the Penguin editions and I'm reading all the background notes which I like all those details. Cat, I also explored on the internet. Just beautiful country. Thank you, Jean, so much for hosting this. I'm so pleased to learn about M. R. James.

PS Ghost stories at Christmas sounds excellent!

missy said...

I love the original illustration! It is definitely better than the later. Too much like a cartoon.

Amanda said...

This is a marvelous idea! A few years back I read Count Magnus and other Ghost Stories. Right now I'm currently working my way through The Haunted Doll's House and Other Ghost Stories. Thus far I've read "The Residence at Whitminster" and "The Diary of Mr. Poynter." I need to blog about them soon.