Reading M. R. James, visually

Bowman, Matthew (2024) Reading M. R. James, visually. In: Sequestered Places, Heaving Seas: The Life and Works of M. R. James, 30 April, The Hold, University of Suffolk. (Unpublished)

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Many ghost stories contravene the adage “seeing is believing” by imagining the revenant through other affects disclosing a malign presence—the chill in the air, arm hairs suddenly standing erect, the almost sixth sense that there is something else there. But emerging from the ever-more sophisticated optical technologies of the nineteenth century developed in support of empiricist worldviews, and perhaps even through his directorship of the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, M. R. James’ writings evince a fascination with the visual.

Taking manifold forms, that fascination appears as images (“The Mezzotint”), the usage of vision-aiding instruments (binoculars in “A View from a Hill”), and a repeated engagement with the marginalia of ecclesial details in books and architecture. James, on occasion, seems enmeshed within the pictorial representations of John Constable and Thomas Gainsborough as if he was mapping a distinctly English literary version of the landscape that differs from the literary impressionism of a Joseph Conrad.

There is an easily missed darkness underpinning notions of the picturesque that thus becomes visible in James’ writings, almost as if there was no need for him to turn towards the genre of the gothic as such. Such darkness exists in a manner that coincides with the visual recording of the phantasmagorical in the late nineteenth century. This talk will therefore speculate on the distinct visualities operative in James’ ghost stories.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: paper, conference talk, M.R. James
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Business & Applied Social Science > Department of Arts & Humanities
Depositing User: Matthew Bowman
Date Deposited: 08 May 2024 08:00
Last Modified: 08 May 2024 08:00

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