Pseudoscience in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James

The next session of the Reading Group will be on Monday 17 November between 6.00 and 7.30  at the Lit and Phil, Newcastle. Mike Pincombe, Professor of Tudor and Elizabethan Literature and with a special interest in M. R. James, will introduce a session on Pseudoscience in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James.

M. R. James was notoriously conservative in his attitudes toward almost any kind of intellectual innovation in the general area of ‘science’, especially what we would now call ‘the human sciences’. More than one of his early stories pokes fun at what he regarded as spurious new sciences, such as the ‘ontography’ professed by the weak-kneed hero of one of James’s best-loved stories: ‘”Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”‘. But what does James put in the place of this kind of knowledge? In the tale we shall be looking at tonight, it seems to be no more than ‘superstition’, maybe even ‘heathen superstition’ . . . Or is there more to it than that?

Both of the readings for this session are contained in the link below.

M. R. James, ‘”Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”‘, in M. R. James: Collected Ghost Stories, ed. by Darryl Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011) pp. 76-93.

Brian Cowlishaw, ‘”A Warning to the Curious”: Victorian Science and the Awful Unconscious in M. R. James’s Ghost Stories’, in Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M. R. James, ed. by S. T. Joshi and Rosemary Pardoe (New York: Hippocampus, 2007), pp. 162-176.

M R James

In the meantime, you might want to try and find out what is meant by ‘ontography’!

The reading group is open to all. Wine and nibbles provided. Please contact Pat Beesley for further information at




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