It probably will not come as a surprise to you that Eton College Library is haunted. While you may be sceptical of the paranormal, I believe everyone can enjoy a good ghost story. Not the least of which is old Etonian, M. R. James. James was a medievalist and scholar, but he is best remembered for his ghost stories. By depicting supernatural events through implication and suggestion, James fostered a narrative structure that stood out against his Gothic predecessors. He devised tropes such as a small village setting, a naïve, nondescript scholarly protagonist, and haunted antique objects. Today, ghost stories with these elements are ‘Jamesian tales.’ Furthermore, James’ focus on mundane details of setting and character provides greater contrast to the macabre and often violent events in his stories.
Illustration of “The Mezzotint”. Anonymous Eton Student [FDA-E.1319-2014]
I will admit that I enjoy giving myself a scare every now and again, so I spent one crisp evening in Edinburgh wandering through the closes listening to a recording of James’ “The Mezzotint.” The story is about a curator of art for a university library receiving a disturbing engraving that changes every time someone looks at it.
Let’s just say I found myself sufficiently scared. When I sat down to start writing about ghost stories for the October blog post you’re reading now, I couldn’t help but draw the similarities between the adventures of Williams in “The Mezzotint” and some curious events that happened in the College Library. When I lock the library up at night, I can easily imagine why M. R. James wrote the haunting tales he did. So please dim your lights and raise your volume because I have a fantastic story to share…
Illustrations by Kat Lewis.
Narrative framing inspired by ‘The Mezzotint’ by M. R. James and illustrations inspired by ‘The Story of a Troll Hunt’ by James McBryde.
Simpson, Jacqueline. “”The Rules of Folklore” in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James.” Folklore 108 (1997): 9-18. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1260702.
Wanting more of the macabre? See the exhibition Death and the Doctor on now in the Tower Gallery open until the 1st of November.
Project cataloguer, College Library