M. R. James

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Montague Rhodes James, OM, MA, (1 August 1862 – 12 June 1936), who used the publication name M. R. James, was an English mediaeval scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905–1918) and of Eton College (1918–1936). He is best remembered for his ghost stories which are widely regarded as among the finest in English literature. One of James's most important achievements was to redefine the ghost story for the new century by dispensing with many of the formal Gothic trappings of his predecessors, and replacing them with more realistic contemporary settings. At the same time, James's protagonists and plots tend—like himself—to be absorbed with antiquarianism. As such, he is known as the originator of the "antiquarian ghost story".

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Early influences

James was born in Goodnestone Parsonage in Kent, England, although his parents had associations with Aldeburgh in Suffolk. From the age of three (1865) until 1909 his home, if not always his residence, was at the Rectory in Great Livermere, Suffolk. This had also been the childhood home of another eminent Suffolk antiquary, "Honest Tom" Martin (1696–1771) "of Palgrave." Several of the ghost stories are set in Suffolk, including "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" (Felixstowe), "A Warning to the Curious" (Aldeburgh), "Rats" and "A Vignette" (Great Livermere). He lived for many years, first as an undergraduate, then as a don and provost, at King's College, Cambridge. The university provides settings for several of his tales.[1] Apart from mediaeval subjects, James studied the classics and appeared very successfully in a staging of Aristophanes' play The Birds, with music by Hubert Parry. His ability as an actor was also in evidence when he read his new ghost stories to friends at Christmas time.

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