Ghosts & Scholars
M.R. James

Issue 11 (March 2007)

The Ghosts & Scholars M.R. James Newsletter is published approximately twice a year. Click here for further information on how to buy the full hard-copy edition. Contributions are welcome - click here for Guidelines.

Editor: Rosemary Pardoe (e-mail); Assistant Editors: David Rowlands and Steve Duffy.

Copyright © 2007 Rosemary Pardoe. All rights retained by the contributors. All unassigned material by Rosemary Pardoe. Not to be reproduced without the permission of the authors/artists.


(Unlinked contents can only be read in the hard-copy edition of the Newsletter)



"'The shadow of the occupant of Number 13': A Visit to Viborg" by Helen Grant

"John Humphreys" by M.R. James - see the revised and newly annotated transcription in the G&S Archives

"The Head of John the Baptist" by Jane Harrison

"Some Remarks on 'The Head of John the Baptist'" by M.R. James

"Jamesian Notes & Queries" ("'A View from a Hill': A Reply" by C.E. Ward; "'Two Doctors' Revisited" by Peter Bell; "An Eton and King's Query: An Answer?")


"Reviews" (The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories [Joshi]; A Pleasing Terror: Two Ghost Stories by M.R. James [Parry]; Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin [Showers])

"An Index to Issues 1-10"

Illustrations: "The Ash-Tree", collage by Rosemary Pardoe; "The Green Man" from Tales from Lectoure, by Douglas Walters; Photographs of Viborg by Helen Grant and William J. Bond; Plan of Viborg by William J. Bond

"The shadow of the occupant of
Number 13"

A Visit to Viborg

by Helen Grant

The cathedral town of Viborg, scene of M.R. James's story "Number 13", was supposed to have been founded "1850 years after the Creation and 193 years after the Flood".[1] Certainly since pagan times it has been a significant site; the name Viborg comes from the two words vi, meaning we, and bjerg, meaning mountain, signifying that it was a holy place, where the people of mid Jutland would gather to offer sacrifices. As early as the year 1000AD there was a small town here, and in approximately 1130 Bishop Eskil laid the foundation stone of the cathedral. Medieval Viborg was an important political centre - it was in fact the capital of Jutland - and a significant ecclesiastical centre, with a number of monasteries, parish churches[2] and chapels. For a period after the Reformation, Viborg retained political and mercantile importance, but war and political changes led to a rapid decline in the town's fortunes, and in 1726 a major catastrophe occurred, when fire swept through it and burnt nearly everything to the ground. Rebuilding was slow, with whole areas remaining burnt-out wastes for years. In the 1800s, the town gained a hospital, an asylum and a garrison, as well as the National Archives. The train line from Århus to Struer was laid. In 1864-76, the cathedral, which had been poorly rebuilt after the fire of 1726 and was in danger of collapse, was almost completely recreated in the Romanesque style on the old foundations.

M.R. James visited Jutland in both 1899 and 1900, and stayed in Viborg itself in 1900.[3] Sepia photographs of Viborg in the early 1900s show a relatively small town, with a combination of cobbled streets and dirt roads, some of them very muddy and deeply rutted with the tracks of cart wheels. The majority of buildings are quite low, with no more than two or three stories. Cottages on the edge of the town have thatched roofs. Livestock is apparent on the streets: here we see a donkey, here some chickens scratching up the dirt road. A farmer is using an old-fashioned ox cart. Motor cars mix with horse-drawn carriages. Grubby-faced children in smocks play on doorsteps. There are several hotels for the visitor to choose from: Preisler's, where MRJ himself stayed in 1900, an imposing stone building with large windows and a big central archway in the façade; the Phoenix, which stands close by; and by 1925 the Jernbane Hotel, also stone-built, and situated on a street corner. This was the Viborg of a century ago, the Viborg which inspired an English ghost-story writer to write his tale of phantoms and sorcery: "Number 13".

"Number 13" is one of the numerous ghost stories by MRJ which were based on real places; it is perhaps the hardest to trace in the modern location. Steinfeld, scene of "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas", remains a village, "for town I will not term it"; St Bertrand de Comminges retains much of its decayed charm, and indeed the structure of the upper town, laid out within ancient walls on the crest of a hill, precludes major new building works. But Viborg has changed radically since MRJ's visit in 1900, the scene of Mag. Nicolas Francken's necromancy having fallen prey itself to the malignant and transforming magic of Development.

I visited Viborg in November 2005. Driving north from the tiny airport at Billund, one passes through a landscape which probably has not much changed since MRJ's time. The land is flat, so flat that the diminutive swelling on which Viborg stands could be termed a bjerg, and the sky above, grey and clouded on this autumn day, seems vast. There are few buildings to interrupt the vista of raw-looking ploughed fields and heaths interspersed with coniferous forest; those we do see are low whitewashed buildings, often arranged in a square with a central yard, and generally giving the impression of huddling together against the elements. It is a wild, bare landscape, and in its way romantic; one can imagine trolls lurking in those dark forests, and one can see the attraction for the amateur of ghost stories and folk tales.

But reach the outskirts of Viborg, and the spell is rudely broken. In the late 1800s, trees and fields reached right to the foot of the cathedral itself;[4] now the old heart of the town is surrounded by acres of concrete, garages, modern office blocks and multi-lane highways. Tarmac has rolled like an inexorable river over the quaint dirt roads; cobblestones have given way to neat paving stones. Where Preisler's hotel once stood at Sct. Mathias Gade 29 there is a branch of The Body Shop; at the rear of the building - final indignity - is an ugly public carpark which is what now comprises Preislers Plads.[5] The Phoenix, which stood at Sct. Mathias Gade 21, has also vanished, making way for the Jyske Bank. The town boasts a burger bar, an indoor shopping mall and a Blockbuster video rental store. Faced with the onslaught of modernity, we might ask ourselves: is there anything left here to conjure up the spirit of "Number 13"?

Take heart: the answer is certainly Yes, if we only know where to look. If we turn our backs upon the bustling shops where Preisler's once stood, and walk east along Sct. Mathias Gade, we first pass the Hjultorvet (wheel square), where the Diocesan Museum and Local Archive are situated. The fire that laid waste to Viborg in 1726 is said to have started here, at the merchant Peter Vandet's: a servant lit a fire to brew beer, then left it unattended. Popular legend has it that the lady of the house could have extinguished the fire if she had used the beer to do it, but she was too miserly! The resultant blaze leapt from house to house, only burning itself out after three days. This is the "great fire" from which the Golden Lion is supposed to have escaped in MRJ's story. The buildings here date from after the fire.

Leaving Hjultorvet, and continuing along Sct. Mathias Gade, we next come to the Nytorv, or New Square; passing up the east side of it we find ourselves in Sct. Mogens Gade, a quiet street running north-south and within sight of the cathedral. At last we can see something of the old Viborg. The majority of buildings to survive the fire of 1726 are clustered here, on Sct. Mogens Gade or the streets which surround it. It is here that the Golden Lion of the story must have stood, had it existed. That the Golden Lion is a fiction has long been established;[6] no such building survived the fire. MRJ's description of the Golden Lion is detailed: it is a "great red-brick house" with "corbie steps on the gables and a text over the door"; it has a courtyard large enough to admit an omnibus, and constructed of black and white "cagework". We can deduce a little more: the date of the house must be not later than 1536; Bishop Jørgen Friis (who really existed) lost his position that year, but the "talk of a house owned by the Bishop - but not inhabited by him" occurred whilst he was still Bishop. It must comprise four floors, since the story mentions a top, second and first floor; this would make it a particularly large and grand building - Preisler's was not so tall. It must stand close to other town houses, since Mr Anderson rejects number 17 because it looks out onto the wall of the house next door. A thorough traversing of Sct. Mogens Gade and the surrounding streets turns up no single building which has all these characteristics.

Willsens Gård, at Sct. Mogens Gade 9, dates from 1520, is of red brick and is one of the few old houses which has four floors (although the fourth is merely an attic); it also has corbie steps on the front gable, though these are an addition from 1884. It even has a small alleyway running between it and the neighbouring Hauchs Gård at number 7, which would certainly make any bedrooms on that side very dark. However, this alley is the only access to the rear of the building from Sct. Mogens Gade, and there is most definitely no courtyard of black and white cagework.

Praestegården (the vicarage) at number 11, has a red brick front, and black and white cagework at the rear, but it is of much too late a date (built 1736) and has only three stories, nor does it have corbie steps. Number 12, opposite, though too late in date (1780) is a Golden Lion in miniature; it has only two stories but has a red brick front with corbie steps on the gables, and a timber archway leading into a small courtyard with black and white cagework. Further along the street, number 29 is all of cagework, the plaster painted yellow; the architectural style is wrong, but the house has the only cagework courtyard of any size in the street, entered through a large archway which could accommodate carriages. Beside it stands Karnapgården (the house with the oriel windows) at number 31; again far too late to be the Golden Lion (1643-1649), it is at any rate of an imposing size, built in red brick with corbie steps on the gables. Karnapgården even has its own ghostly occupant, a White Lady. Until 1964 some of the "many storks" mentioned by MRJ at the beginning of "Number 13" nested here.

If we leave Sct. Mogens Gade and slip down a tiny lane at its east side, we find ourselves at the Gråbrødre Kloster; first inhabited by Franciscans, in 1541 the monastery was converted into an institution for the care of the sick and elderly. Now the building is used as retirement homes. Tall and imposing, it is built of red brick with the now familiar corbie steps, but its large courtyard is of brick, with no cagework in sight. Here in the courtyard it is utterly tranquil, the still waters of the ancient stone basin which stands there reflecting the skies like an unblinking eye. It is impossible to imagine this place having been the inspiration for a bustling inn. If we slip through the gate at the corner of the courtyard and circle the cathedral, we may pass along Skolestraede and cross the road into Sct. Leons Gade. At the intersection of this street with Sortebrødre Kirke Straede there is a short and steep path of very rugged cobblestones leading to the Provstegården, the dean's residence, said to be Viborg's best preserved secular medieval building. Dating originally from about 1450, though with later additions, it is a large house of red brick, with the characteristic corbie gables; at the north side it has a courtyard entered via a timber archway bearing the text Viborg Domprovstegaard; the buildings on either side of the archway are of black and white cagework, although the walls within are not. Red brick; black and white cagework; corbie steps; the Golden Lion is everywhere and nowhere in old Viborg. A wander around the streets of the old town yields a kaleidoscope of impressions, each fragment forming part of the phantasmal Golden Lion.

Curiously enough, the town of Viborg is full of lions, golden and otherwise; they appear on fountain-heads, church walls, even shop signs. In the cathedral, the stone before the high altar which shows where Erik Klipping lies, bears a shield with three lions on it. The huge seven-branched medieval candelabrum which stands in the nave is supported by three brass lions. The pulpit itself is supported by pillars with lions at their bases. Many of these lions predate MRJ's visit in 1900; others have appeared since, such as the two golden lions which adorn the imposing General Kommando (General Headquarters) at the far east end of Sct. Mathias Gade, built in 1913 by the architect Søren Vig-Nielsen. Perhaps the most stunning golden lion of all belongs to the Løve Apoteket, or Lion Pharmacy on Sct. Mathias Gade: fixed above a large window on the corner of the building, it gleams brilliantly in the sunlight, head and tail erect, one forepaw raised to grasp a staff. This lion is of more recent date than MRJ's visit; the pharmacy has been there since 1878 but became the Lion Pharmacy later, probably in 1918. Is there any special significance in this proliferation of lions; does the lion have a particular symbolic meaning for Viborg? During my visit, I was fortunate to be able to interview Peter Brinch of the Lokalhistorisk Arkiv (Viborg Local Archive) on this and other topics. It seems that the lion does not have any heraldic significance specifically for Viborg, whose city arms in fact depict two senators conversing. The lions which adorn Erik Klipping's tombstone are the lions of the Rigsvåben (arms of dominion) of Denmark. What is clear, however, is that when MRJ visited the town he would have seen a great many of these beasts which seem to be dear to the heart of Viborg, and the choice of name for his haunted inn was not a random one.

So much for the Golden Lion; what of the dramatis personae of "Number 13" - the bold Bishop and the dubious Mag. Nicolas Francken? As I have said, Bishop Jørgen Friis was a real person, and indeed the last Catholic bishop to hold the post, as MRJ relates. A relatively young man (about thirty) when he became bishop of Viborg in 1521, he has been variously described as "worldly-minded"[7] and "very tough."[8] Certainly he was unequal to the moral challenge raised by Hans Tausen,[9] who preached against Rome in the now-vanished Gråbrødre Kirke, a stone's throw from the cathedral. By 1530 the cathedral was in the hands of the Protestants. Expelled from the bishopric, Jørgen Friis retired to the castle of Hald, where he was imprisoned in his own dungeon in 1536. Later released, he led the life of a lay nobleman until his death in 1547. MRJ's use of the character of Bishop Jørgen Friis in "Number 13" is significant; there is a kernel of historical truth within the fiction of the story. Jørgen Friis was quite clearly and literally no saint. Cast in the role of villain of the piece by the reformers, who ousted him from the see, took over the cathedral and had him imprisoned in a dungeon, he was the man on whose watch the Catholic cause was lost. MRJ makes the Bishop's connection with Mag. Nicolas Francken part and parcel of his growing unpopularity in the town. It is interesting to compare this aspect of "Number 13" with the use of historical background in "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book". In the latter, MRJ makes the unfortunate Canon a descendant of Jean de Mauléon, the unconventional Humanist Bishop who ornamented the church of St Bertrand with images of the Labours of Hercules, Julius Caesar and Hector, Prince of Troy. The charge of necromancy rings truer when the Bishop has gone to the bad.

When I enquired about Mag. Nicolas Francken at the Local Archive, the name met with an absolute blank, and appears to be a fiction, although it may perhaps have been suggested to MRJ's medievalist's mind by the almost identical name of Nicholas Francken (c.1515-1596), a Flemish artist and father of a family of painters. However, Viborg did have its own alchemist, Valdemar Daa (1616-1691), who was immortalised by Hans Christian Andersen in his story "The Wind". Andersen relates how Daa, by birth a rich nobleman and owner of the splendid Borreby Manor, wasted all his fortune in pursuit of alchemy, and at last he and his daughters died in abject poverty. Daa himself died in a small house somewhere in Viborg, and his remains now lie in a small side chapel in the cathedral crypt. It is possible to descend the steps into the crypt and peer at Daa's curious-looking leather-covered coffin through the bars of the chapel gate. Perhaps this unconventional character may have contributed to the creation of Nicolas Francken, MRJ's dabbler in the black arts.

A few questions remain. Is 13 really considered so unlucky in Denmark that hoteliers would avoid giving a guest-room that number? Certainly neither of the hotels in which I stayed had a number 13, one of them having entirely three-digit room numbers, and the other leaving a wide margin of safety by jumping from number 6 straight to number 16! Peter Brinch at the Local Archive also relates how as a young man he stayed in a college near Copenhagen which had thirteen rooms, of which the thirteenth was numbered 14 instead. So it would appear that this superstition persists.

Finally, what of Hald, "accounted one of the prettiest things in Denmark", and visited by Mr Anderson on the day upon which he and the landlord closed with the denizen of number 13? As we leave Viborg and travel south back to Billund, it is but a short detour to see Hald Hovedgård, the imposing red-brick manor house, and the lake, Hald Sø. The manor house, with its cluster of black and white outbuildings, is not our destination; we are heading for Hald Ruin, which stands on a little promontory on the lake. The ruin can only be reached by foot, leaving the car in a small clearing carpeted with autumn leaves, and making our way along an avenue of golden trees. From here we follow the path across an open field and onto the little causeway leading to the ruin. All that is recognisable here is the stout circular tower built of red brick, with a narrow slit for a doorway, through which only the slimmest can pass. All else is grass-covered ruins. A few steps take us up onto the flat top of the tower, which commands a tranquil view of the lake. This tower was rebuilt on the remains of the medieval "third Hald", the Hald of Jørgen Friis, where the ousted Bishop retreated and was eventually imprisoned. On this November day we are utterly alone here; the silence is unbroken by human voices, the trees which cluster on the banks of the lake are reflected undisturbed in its smooth waters. It is possible to forget the bustle and noise of twenty-first century Viborg, and to truly believe ourselves in the Jutland of one hundred years ago, with the Englishman who saw the shadow of the occupant of Number 13...

Very grateful thanks are due to the staff of the Viborg Stiftsmuseum and Lokalhistorisk Arkiv, both for assistance with gathering information for this article, and for supplying the photograph of Preisler's. Thanks also to Claudia Grossmann, Theresia Meyer-Wilden and Sylvia Paustian for helping with the logistics of this trip!

[1] Svend Sørensen's guide, The County of Viborg (1997), relates this piece of legend gleaned from "an ancient script".
[2] The parish churches were pulled down in 1523 by royal consent.
[3] Michael Cox's notes on "Number 13" in M.R. James: Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories (Oxford World Classics, 1987), p.307; reprinted in M.R. James, A Pleasing Terror (Ash-Tree Press, 2001), p.51.
[4] A painting of Viborg seen from the lakes, painted by C.M.W. Gullev in 1864, and now in the Viborg Diocesan Museum, shows this clearly. What is now the old part of a much larger town was surrounded by green.
[5] Preisler's Square.
[6] Michael Cox noted that the Golden Lion was fictitious in his annotations to Casting the Runes, p.307; and A Pleasing Terror, p.51.
[7] In the Catholic Encyclopedia.
[8] Peter Brinch, Lokalhistorisk Arkiv.
[9] 1494-1561; Protagonist of the Danish Reformation.

Click on the map to go to a page of photographs of Viborg.

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The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories by M.R. James, introduced and with notes by S.T. Joshi.
Penguin Classics (USA), 2006, xxii + 308 pp, ISBN: 014303992X, US$15.00/£9.99.

Reviewed by Rosemary Pardoe.

Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories, the first volume in Penguin Classics' two-part "Complete Ghost Stories of M.R. James", centred around the contents of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary and More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary. In the same way, MRJ's other two collections, A Thin Ghost and A Warning to the Curious, form the core of the second volume, The Haunted Dolls' House. Included with them are the extra tales from the Collected Ghost Stories, and three others which were forgotten for a long time but are now quite well known (i.e. "A Vignette", "The Experiment" and "The Malice of Inanimate Objects"). To these, editor S.T. Joshi has added the complete story draft of "The Fenstanton Witch", which was first published in Ghosts & Scholars 12. The version here, however, is the much revised and corrected one I produced a few years ago and which can now be found on the G&S web site, but nowhere else in hard-copy. Non-fiction in The Haunted Dolls' House consists of Joshi's nine-page introduction, a new translation of the "Twelve Medieval Ghost-Stories", and several of MRJ's essays ("Some Remarks on Ghost Stories", "Ghosts - Treat Them Gently!", "Stories I Have Tried to Write") and introductions (to Ghosts and Marvels and the Collected Ghost Stories). All of the material is freshly annotated by Joshi, and in the case of some of the non-fiction this is the first time it has received such treatment. Suggestions for further reading throughout also increase the value of the book.

The introduction continues on from the one in Count Magnus, concentrating this time firstly on MRJ's later stories, "generally agreed" to be "inferior to those of his two landmark volumes" (but surely not agreed by everyone!); and secondly on his critiques and statements concerning supernatural fiction. Joshi points out that, unlike the earlier tales, the later stories are entirely set in England, as though after the Great War MRJ "felt the need to reestablish his roots with the country of his birth - especially the rural countryside..." MRJ was becoming, Joshi asserts, "increasingly disinclined to mask the autobiographical details that form the core of genuine experience at the foundation of many of his tales". Writing of MRJ's growing fascination with the technique of the ghost story, Joshi will endear himself to many of us with his suggestion that this reached its apex in "Two Doctors", which "hardly deserves the bad press it has received" and is "an extraordinarily clever supernatural detective story". Further on MRJ's technique and 'rules', Joshi discusses why MRJ often broke his own rule that a ghost story should have a roughly contemporary setting, and explains why MRJ might not have thought he did break it ("James's own antiquarianism allowed him to believe that even the seventeenth century was a period of relative recency that requires only the citing of certain telling historical details to elicit the reader's sense of vital reality"). Finally Joshi, probably rightly, criticises MRJ for some of his severe comments on other authors: "his emphasis on reticence and indirection has betrayed him into wholesale condemnations of authors and works that have far more merit than he was willing to acknowledge". Not, of course, that MRJ was invariably reticent himself, as Joshi remarks.

The new translation of the "Twelve Medieval Ghost-Stories" is mostly fine, and is accompanied by the original Latin: as far as I know, its first appearance in full since 1922. There are however some problems with places names (e.g. it's Rievaulx not Ryedale, Newburgh not Newbury, and the tomb of St James not St Jacob), and an occasional hiccup with the translation: for instance, the line previously correctly translated as "buried in front of Byland Hill" (or perhaps Belland Hill) has become the nonsensical "buried in the presence of his dear little Bellalande".

As with Count Magnus, there is much of interest in the annotations, with not a few original insights and new references, but also some errors and omissions. The notes on the non-fiction are particularly valuable, containing background (some of it new to me) on the stories and books mentioned by MRJ in his essays. I especially applaud the short and to-the-point observation concerning Chambers's Repository and "The Vampire of Kring" (one way or another, Peter Haining got it wrong!). On the other hand, the details of Cambridge life and history trip Joshi up at times: in "The Fenstanton Witch" notes, Isaac Newton is said to have been at King's instead of Trinity; and Roderick is described as Vice Chancellor of King's, which is a non-existent post. Despite the accessibility on the Net of my annotations for "The Experiment" (and they are cited amongst the recommended further reading), Joshi has clearly not picked up on the fact that both the Cambridge manuscript and the spell in this story are genuine. He therefore makes the now superseded assumption that the demon or angel named "Nares" is an invention of MRJ's.

But if there are a few problems with The Haunted Dolls' House (confusingly, this was also the title of a Penguin selection of MRJ's tales edited by Penelope Fitzgerald in 2000), it's still a cheap and convenient (in fact the only cheap and convenient) way to obtain almost all of MRJ's ghost stories, a representative sample of his ghost story-related non-fiction, and some useful critical apparatus.

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A Pleasing Terror: Two Ghost Stories by M.R. James, performed by Robert Lloyd Parry
(Nunkie Theatre Company) in locations throughout Great Britain during 2006.

Reviewed by Katherine Haynes.

Friday the thirteenth can be lucky for some and so it proved for those visiting the Maltings Arts Theatre, St Albans, on 13th October 2006. I was accompanied by Julia Kruk, Chair of The Dracula Society, and, even if we hadn't known what we were going to see, the poster with Paul Lowe's illustration of Dennistoun and the demon from "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" would have lured us inside.

I had heard good things of the production from David Rowlands, who had been fortunate enough to see it in the library at Eton, so knew what to expect. But I'm sure it came as a surprise to most of the audience to have what they thought to be a bundle of clothes sit up and reveal itself to be a man, bent over a bowl with a blanket draped over his head and shoulders, as though trying to rid himself of a cold. The blanket and bowl were put aside and Robert Lloyd Parry began to tell us the first of "Two Ghost Stories by M.R. James".

Set and props were of the simplest: a table and chair; a decanter and jug of water, from which our narrator took a drink now and again at an appropriate moment; books to which he referred from time to time; and three candles, which had burned so low, we wondered if they would last the night. Julia commented afterwards that with his round glasses and domed forehead, Lloyd Parry had reminded her of the portrait of Wilkie Collins by Millais.

Being familiar with "Canon Alberic", it was interesting for me to see how the audience reacted to various points, laughing at the humorous moments and giving a delighted shudder at the appearance of the demon. Toward the end of the tale, Lloyd Parry extinguished two of the candles and when it came to the description of the demon's hand, when Dennistoun is pondering over what it could be - "A penwiper? No, no such thing in the house. A rat? No, too black. A large spider? I trust to goodness not - no. Good God! a hand like the hand in that picture!" - he held his own hand over the one remaining candle, which threw a huge shadow of it onto the ceiling. On the line about its being "drawn from the life", he took a gulp of his drink and muttered again, "drawn from the life".

During the interval, Christmas carols played quietly in the background. There had been some music throughout the telling of the story, chanting and organ music, very suitable for its setting, and Julia commented she would have liked more of the same. The carols seemed a bit out of place, though people do tend to think of M.R. James as being linked with the festive season, probably because of the BBC versions of his work which have been shown at Christmas. I said maybe we could have had sung psalms instead of carols and was reminded of the point in "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral", when archdeacon Haynes comments: "Oct. 11 - Candles lit in the choir for the first time at evening prayers. It came as a shock: I find that I absolutely shrink from the dark season".

The second of our ghost stories was "The Mezzotint", the link connecting them, of course, being Dennistoun, which is possibly why these two were selected. Being a shorter tale, "The Mezzotint" is ideal as a 'second act'. Lloyd Parry obviously relished taking on the roles of the various characters in each of the stories and raised a laugh as he argued with himself over the appearance of the picture and as to whether or not it contained a figure.

Every so often a seat creaked or someone sneezed and at one point somebody was rattling some coins or a chain behind us, but there must have been distractions like these when James first read his ghost stories to a group of his friends. The Maltings Arts Theatre, though very modern, is small and intimate, so was an ideal venue for such an event. Lack of a set and the minimal props, with the stories being acted out by a single person, allowed one's imagination to get to work; people may have laughed in the comfort of their creaky seats, but did a sense of unease creep over them once they had settled into bed and switched out the lamp? Surely what we see in our own minds is more horrific than anything dreamed up by a special effects department?

Robert Lloyd Parry finished with the visit of the toad to James's study and the mention of "formidable visitants".

This is a production any fan of M.R. James will be bound to enjoy and I would strongly urge you to go and see it, should it come to your neck of the woods.

[Robert Lloyd Parry is now preparing a new production of two more stories by M.R. James. See the News for more on this.]

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Literary Walking Tours of Gothic Dublin by Brian J. Showers.
Nonsuch Publishing (73 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2, Irish Republic), 2006, 160pp, ISBN: 1845885236, 18.99 euros plus p&p.

Reviewed by David Rowlands.

Tours of places with literary associations (with or without an informed guide) have become a staple part of the tourist industry and are popular with specialist groups and societies. There are also those who wish to make a personal tour at their own convenience, and a number of printed guides to such have come into being in recent years. This present book (with a striking cover design by Meggan Kehrli) from G&S contributor Brian J. Showers, covers walking tours of those parts of Dublin associated with three writers "in the Gothic tradition": Charles Maturin (1782-1824), Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) and Bram Stoker (1847-1912). As well as the illustrated tours and street maps, an example of each author's work is included. In the case of Le Fanu - who is the only writer relevant to the G&S Newsletter - it is "Ghost Stories of Chapelizod", with illustrations by Duane Spurlock.

As this review is not concerned with the other two tours it is worth saying that the Stoker tour includes a visit to St Michan's church vault (ref. "Lost Hearts") and the Maturin tour visits the Hell Fire Club Lodge, Montpelier, which is associated with R.H. Malden's "The Dining Room Fireplace". These associations are not mentioned in the text; nor is the fact that Stoker's "The Judge's House", reprinted in this book, clearly derives from Le Fanu's "Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street". There are also appendices: A Dublin Directory (public buildings, museums & galleries, pubs, restaurants etc); information on Societies embracing the three authors and the ghost/fantasy genre generally; footnotes in the text; a bibliography; some notes about author and illustrators and (thankfully - in these careless days) an Index. The book is attractively produced with many photographs and maps. Directions to the start of each tour are given from the main thoroughfare in Dublin: O'Connell Street.

The Le Fanu tour is divided into four sections, each with clear street map, and twelve photographs; and it starts in Dominick Street Lower, where Le Fanu was born - at no. 45. This corrects the common misinformation that he was born at the Royal Hibernian School in Phoenix Park. The point is well made that the nearby Dublin Writers' Museum in Parnell Square has nothing on Maturin (or Lord Dunsany come to that) and only a small, shared exhibit of Le Fanu and Stoker. The tour leads on to Phoenix Park (where the family lived for eleven years) and Chapelizod - now a suburb but retaining a village-like isolation - and so to "The House" in Martin's Row (i.e. "... by the Churchyard") of which a good photograph is included (as are ones of the church and churchyard), though blighted by aerial power cables.

On to Trinity College and Merrion Square (where Le Fanu wrote most of his work); then to Aungier Street (though the house itself cannot be definitely identified); and ending up at "The Bleeding Horse" pub which is mentioned in Le Fanu's first novel The Cock and the Anchor, as an engraved flagstone just outside the doorway records. Finally we are taken to the Mount Jerome Cemetery, where Le Fanu is buried with his wife, and precise directions are given for locating the vault with its engraved slab. There are two photos of the cemetery and the vault.

My insularity is well-known and I have not personally tried out Mr Showers' tours, but I took the liberty of faxing the Le Fanu one to a cousin who lives in Dublin. He and his wife undertook it for me, albeit hastily in an afternoon, and found the descriptions and maps helpful and accurate. If you like literary tours then you cannot fail to enjoy these in the company of Mr Showers and the ghosts... notably perhaps the walk from Trinity (Nassau Street) to Merrion Square when you will be following in Captain Barton's footsteps in "The Watcher".

[Gothic Dublin can also be obtained direct from the author.]

Click on the picture to go to a page of Douglas Walters' Tales from Lectoure pictures.

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