The Haunting of M. R. James: An "English Catholic Sensibility"?.
It is worth noting here, at the outset, the context in which James was to work in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There is the well-known proposition, forwarded most notably in the work of Max Weber, positing the notion that modernity constitutes a radical "disenchantment" of the world. (4) David Torevell's book Losing the Sacred: Ritual, Modernity and Liturgical Reform (2000) expounds this interpretation particularly well: that "the Middle Ages' overriding involvement with an embothed experience of the sacred," which he argues was "rooted in the centrality of the body as a site and route for an experience of the sacred," was superseded by "a far more cerebral approach to the sacred" based around the "Protestant emphasis on the word coupled with the emergence of a highly suspicious," arguably Cartesian, "attitude to the body." (5) Glenn W. Olsen agrees, citing "Descartes's separation of mind from matter," as well as "the non-sacramental (by Catholic definition) Christianity of Calvin," which he believes "prepared the way for the disenchantment of the world." As an example of this, Olsen forwards the "Pre-Protestant" doctrine of "the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist," which "kept the visible and invisible worlds connected... . For literally in the Eucharist each world was present to the other." (6) In this way, too, Peter L. Berger, the noted sociologist and theologian, believed that "Protestantism served as a historically decisive prelude to secularization." For "the Protestant believer," he wrote, "no longer lives in a world ongoingly penetrated by sacred things and forces." Consequently, Protestantism really ought to be regarded "in terms of an immense shrinkage in the scope of the sacred in reality, as compared with its Catholic adversary," since the former divests "itself as much as possible from the three most ancient and most powerful concomitants of the sacred--mystery, miracle, and magic." It is vital, then, that we note this "shrinkage," since this was the world to which James essentially belonged, especially in his Anglicanism, and which he would, I think, attempt to extricate himself, through his ghost stories, in favor of what Berger deemed "the 'fullness' of the Catholic universe"--pre-dating, it has been argued, the Reformation and its aftermath. (7)
"Old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning" was how George Orwell characterized Anglicanism in the twentieth century. (8) This wistful, if somewhat reductive, summation of the culture of the Church of England is a beguiling vista, perhaps, but one devoid of all supernatural content. As the English Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh once complained, the Anglican chaplains he had known in the army "seemed to have no sense of the supernatural at all." (9) This observation, especially relevant when we come to consider the work of James, ultimately made its way into Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy (1952-61), in which the protagonist, an English Catholic named Guy Crouchback, asks a padre whether he agrees "that the Supernatural Order is not something added to the Natural Order, like music or painting, to make everyday life more tolerable," but is something that "is everyday life." "The supernatural is real," Crouchback asserts, and "what we call 'real' is a mere shadow, a passing fancy. Don't you agree, Padre?"The padre replies, rather tellingly: "Up to a point." (10) Waugh's implication is clear: Anglicanism has some trouble recognizing, hence associating itself with, a sense of the supernatural made manifest in the world of time and place. Nevertheless, it was exactly this notion, of "the More-Than-World from within the world," that James would evoke in his ghost stories and which he would also, rather suggestively, I think, relate to an age of Catholic history that, in England at least, had ended centuries before.
What is quite apparent in James's stories, certainly, is his interest, however notional, in Catholicism and the world of magic. Indeed, James appears to revel in a realm of shifty clerics and the occult. Interestingly, the prospect of the coming Reformation, poised to sweep that world away, also tends to loom large in his short fiction. James's story "Number 13"--relating to a room in Vigorg, in Denmark, inside a house once owned by "Bishop Jorgen Friis, the last Roman Catholic who held the see"--is a clear example of this. James's modern-day protagonist, who is examining papers "relating to the last days of Roman Catholicism in the country," discovers that one of the bishop's tenants was Nicolas Francken, "a scandal and a stumbling-block to the reforming party." He was, it was said, "a disgrace," practicing "secret and wicked arts," having "sold his soul to the enemy," meaning the devil. And "it was," it would seem, "of a piece with the gross corruption and superstition of the Babylonish Church that such a viper and blood-sucking Troldmand should be patronized and harboured by the Bishop." (11) It is suggestive that James should choose to connect this story, and especially its evocation of a supernatural reality, to Catholicism's "last days" in Northern Europe. We see this again in "The Treasure of Abbott Thomas," a tale about a fictional, once again somewhat dubious, Catholic clergyman who dies in 1529--the same year the Reformation Parliament was inaugurated in England. "A View from a Hill" also refers to the disestablishment of Catholicism in England. In this story, set in James's own day once more, magic binoculars afford the central character a ghostly glimpse of the destroyed tower of Fulnaker Abbey, presumably demolished as a result of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century. In this case, the protagonist is haunted by the very stones of Catholic England.
Apart from the image of the abbey itself, it is also the body of English Catholicism, its materiality and supernatural musculature, pointing to some interior theology at work within it, which takes center stage in James's stories. In other words, many such "Jamesian" hauntings are rooted in the real, such as the infamous whistle, a material object, discovered on the site of a reputed Templar preceptory in England -- once again looking back to a lost Catholic heritage--in "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad." In this instance, the ill-fated Parkin, who blows the whistle, discovers too late that the whistle is connected to some manner of supernatural agency, which, having been invoked, insists on haunting him. The materiality of the past, arguably pre-Cartesian in terms of its capacity to be at one with a sense of spirit, is also apparent in James's story "An Episode of Cathedral History," which focuses on a fifteenth-century tomb that is discovered to contain a supernatural being; and we may reasonably assume that this creature was last out and about toward the latter end of the Middle Ages, when Catholicism's days in England were numbered. It is also telling, I think, that the sceptic in this story is the Anglican dean who, centuries later, thinks any such talk of metheval demons is arrant nonsense. But it is through such embothed terrors, which pervade so much of James's work, that the author advances his cosmos. In fact, most of James's ghost stories are not ghost stories at all, which is also significant.
The sudden manifestation of an ancient grotesque mothballed towards the end of the Middle Ages is a typically Jamesian trope. Indeed, James evidently delighted in bringing such demons out of retirement in stories like "An Episode of Cathedral History," where the demonic being is said to be "a thing like a man, all over hair, and two great eyes to it." (12) In"Count Magnus," too, the central character comes into contact with another "strange form" with a "tentacle" for an arm, a terrifying fiend brought back from what James referred to as "the Black Pilgrimage" to Chorazin, a city in Galilee that had reportedly rejected the works of Jesus Christ. (13) Vitally, most of these terrors are not ghosts; rather, they are corporeal beings that are horrifically immediate. In this way, as the horror writer Howard Philips Lovecraft observed, James created "a new type of ghost" that was not at all ghostly. In doing so, Lovecraft argued, James "departed considerably from the conventional Gothic tradition; for where the older stock ghosts were pale and stately, and apprehended chiefly through the sense of sight, the average James ghost... [was] lean, dwarfish, and hairy--a sluggish, hellish night-abomination midway betwixt beast and man--and usually touched before it is seen."(14) Of course, really this was a rediscovery and retransmission of a type of spirit that "for the greater part of metheval Christians... was the most imminent fear," as James R. Ginther has stated--a fear that was linked to both the body of the Christian as well as the embothed terror itself. (15) As Debra Higgs has also observed, "the most striking and consistent feature of demons in metheval art is their combination of animal and human physical forms to create a bestial perversion of God's image," reflecting "metheval beliefs concerning demons, which emphasized their physical appearance and carnal nature." (16) Accordingly, James, who had stuthed such metheval art, could call on a considerable menagerie of animalistic monstrosities that was particularly well stocked and developed by the late metheval period. (17) In this way, James's demonic forms, somewhere between man and beast, owe their immediacy to the "theological reflection on angels and demons [that] reached its high point in the Middle Ages." (18) And it is worth exploring this archetypally Jamesian fiend, since it does, I think, constitute a sort of recovery of what Torevell referred to as the "centrality of the body," as well as the "embothed experience," which he argues was a vital part of the religion of the Middle Ages.
What Lovecraft likely had in mind when he noted James's departure from the traditional ghost story was "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book," first published in 1895. Written between 1892 and 1893, this was James's first attempt at a ghost story. In it, we can observe many of the tropes mentioned previously that would come to define his craft. The story, set at the time of writing, is centered around the experiences of a man named Dennistoun, who journeys, as James once did, to Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminge in France. After encountering a nervous sacristan in the cathedral there, which is clearly haunted by some presence, Dennistoun purchases a manuscript that once belonged to "the unprincipled Canon Alberic, who had doubtless plundered the chapter library of St. Bertrand to form this priceless scrap-book." One of the items that the scrapbook contains is an antique sepia image of a demon plucked straight out of the pages of the Old Testament:
At first you saw only a mass of coarse, matted black hair; presently it was seen that this covered a body of fearful thinness, almost a skeleton, but with muscles standing out like wires. The hands were of a dusky pallor, covered, like the body, with long, coarse hairs, and hideously taloned. The eyes, touched in with a burning yellow, had intensely black pupils.... Imagine one of the awful bird-catching spiders of South America translated into human form, and endowed with intelligence just less than human, and you will have some faint conception of the terror inspired by this appalling effigy.
After purchasing the valuable scrapbook, including the sepia image of the demon, for a mere two hundred and fifty franks, Dennistoun returns to his lodgings, where James's story reaches its horrifying climax. Examining Canon Alberic's collection of pieces poached from the cathedral library, the demon finally manifests itself, placing its hand on Dennistouns's desk:
[Dennistoun's] attention was caught by an object lying on the red cloth just by his left elbow.... A rat? No too black. A large spider? I trust to goodness not--no. Good God! a hand like the hand in that picture! In another infinitesimal flash he had taken it in. Pale, dusky skin, covering nothing but bones and tendons of appalling strength; coarse black hairs, longer than ever grew on a human hand; nails raising from the ends of the fingers and curving sharply down and forward, grey, horny and wrinkled. He flew out of his chair with deadly, inconceivable terror clutching at his heart. The shape, whose left hand rested on the table, was rising to a standing posture behind his seat, its right hand crooked above his scalp. (19)
As we can see, James takes a particular interest, and even a certain amount of glee, in emphasizing the frightful body of the perceived terror. Indeed, what underscores his ghost stories, it is clear, is the intrusion of an embothed metheval world upon the contemporary scene. As so often is the case in James's created universe, an unwitting protagonist, who is almost always a sceptic, stumbles across the surviving, still terrifyingly alive, vestiges of a Christendom thought dead and buried beneath the accumulated sediments of Protestant history. In the case of "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book," these remnants take the form of the scrapbook and the image of the demon, leading to its bodily manifestation in the hotel room. A noted methevalist scholar and Cambridge don, James was familiar with such metheval grotesques commonly found in such manuscripts, which he had himself catalogued. (20) And it might be argued that the study of such illustrations was his induction into the metheval "More-Than-World from within the world," just as Dennistoun's purchase of the scrap-book was his initiation, albeit in a wholly more terrifying way. And it does seem that James developed an especially perceptive understanding of this world--and even, it might be said, a particular sympathy for it that bordered on desire. Hence, having delved into that world and become familiar with its darkest regions, James might just have turned native.
There will be those reading this who will question whether I am simply presenting James as a very good methevalist, a don who put his extensive knowledge of the Middle Ages to good use in the realm of ghost fiction, or rather, an Englishman who, sitting snugly in his Anglicanism, could never quite bring himself to convert to the Church of Rome. Actually, I drink either of these categorizations much too simplistic. Moreover, they do not serve the purpose of this article, which is to forward James as an especially poignant example of an English sensibility that regained, or perhaps even retained, a degree of Catholic feeling that was at its core metheval, in the sense that it was especially sacramental--viewing the world as a sacred arena where God's drama was being played out.
A certain amount of Catholic sympathy has been observed before in James, it should be noted. Ralph Harrington, for instance, has detected in James's stories "a knowledgeable and sympathetic respect for Catholicism on the part of their firmly Protestant author." (21) Peter Ackroyd has also noted this tendency in James, writing that, though he evidently possessed "a thoroughly English mind," he was "not untouched by intimations of the Catholic past." (22) This is not to say that James did not display occasional bigotry toward Catholicism. In 1909, for example, as provost of King's College in Cambridge, he would not permit a performance of Edward Elgar's The Dream of Gerontius, since he considered it to be "too papistical." (23) Before this, in 1901, following the alleged discovery of some relics in Toulouse, James also complained "about the bones of St Edmund which the Papists are foisting upon us." (24) Despite such remarks, James was not entirely taken in by the so-called "Whig interpretation of history" regarding the Reformation. In his Great Western Railway guidebook, Abbeys (1925), he wrote that "whatever the venal commissioners of Henry VIII may have said, the monasteries were not hotbeds of crime and luxury." He continued:
Your mental picture of the monk should not be that of the fat man holding his stomach and bursting with laughter at a good story, or brandishing his goblet in the conventional attitude of the stage carouser. Nor need you fly to the other extreme and figure them all as pallid ascetics passing their lives on their knees. There were monks of both sorts, no doubt: but the bulk of them were steady prosaic men, perhaps more like the Fellows of Colleges in the eighteenth century than anything else.
Many monks "were somnolent, many were insolvent," James concluded, but "few were evil." And there really was no need to be "shocked" at the sight of "the opening of a subterranean passage" that led "to a nunnery five miles off." "You may rest assured," he informed the reader, that it "really [was] the main drain of the establishment." (25)
It does seem that James's sometimes prejudiced attitude toward Catholicism was to a certain extent tempered by his donnish knowledge of the Middle Ages. He might, then, have escaped G. K. Chesterton's censure that accused Charles Dickens of having "the most babyish ideas about the past," supposing "the Middle Ages to have consisted of tournaments and torture-chambers." And it is worth noting Chesterton's point here, that the nineteenth century misunderstood, and therefore misrepresented, what the Middle Ages really were. For even "the admirers of the Middle Ages"--"the Pre-Raphaelites, the Gothicists," most notably, he wrote--"had in their subtlety and sadness the spirit of the present day." In this way, Chesterton absolved Dickens on one point: that at least "in his buffoonery and bravery" Dickens exhibited something of "the spirit of the Middle Ages," for "he was much more metheval in his attacks on methevalism than they," the Pre-Raphaelites, for example, "were in their defences of it." (26) It may also be said that James, in his ghost stories, was closer to the spirit of metheval religion than has previously been attested to.
Though they might at times seem absurd in their caricature of a nefarious Catholic clergy, James's stories do at least forward a sense of the spiritual assumptions of the Middle Ages, as well as its recognition of an ontologically "pre-modern cosmos," which, as Torevell has described it, was "a thing of symbolic and spiritual potency, a sacred arena for discovering knowledge and truth, another book like scripture." (27) In this way, James's demonic beings are vital additions, in that they are themselves symbolic players within that "sacred arena," even though they are "a bestial perversion of God's image"--and as Stanley J. Grenz writes, demons, along with angels, "play an integral role in the biblical drama." (28) This is a point that has generally been missed by other scholars. Julia Briggs, for example, the author of Night Visitors:The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story (1977), states that the "Monty Jamesian" ghost story is "a vehicle for nostalgia."(29) Darryl Jones writes that "what James's stories do, it seems, is to give articulation to a particularly English longing for the past"--for "the temptation to retreat into an idealized Etonian youth," he adds, "must have been overwhelming." (30) It seems to me that such observations just miss the mark in associating such "nostalgia" with the supposed gentility of James's youth. "Nostalgia" is a hazardous and imprecise word, which is often taken to mean a certain sense of unreality on the part of the person who experiences it. However, if we return to the word's Greek root, nostos, which means "to return home," we may say that James was returning home--not to the cozy English idyll of "old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning," however, but something altogether more symbolic, spiritual, and terrifyingly alive. And it is important that we recognize here the exact nature of the past that James was returning to in his stories.
As we can see, James's stories are far from idyllic; they are packed with considerable terrors and grisly fates. His notions are not "babyish," since he does not long for a "Merry England" of village fetes, damsels in distress, and court jesters, but rather, an Old Testament tableau suffused with fire and brimstone. Indeed, James plainly was fascinated by the idea of a cosmos where, as the Catholic Waugh once described it, "the supernatural order in all its ramifications was ever present." (31) In James's story "A Warning to the Curious," for instance, a character excavates one of the lost crowns of the kingdom of Anglia, despite the warning that some manner of supernatural agency guards over it; later, his dead body is discovered on a lonely beach, having paid the terrible price for his curiosity. As Michael A. Mason notes, the typical Jamesian protagonist, who has "awakened trouble for himself by his temerity or even by his criminal actions," usually experiences a terrible "retribution" that, though apparently "just," is very much "unmerciful." (32) John Alfred Taylor writes that, "judging from some of James's stories, a person must be careful to the point of near-paralysis" to avoid an unfortunate end. (33) Regarding this, Simon MacCulloch is on point when he affirms that "the central deity of James's fictional cosmos, although never explicitly stated, can be discerned as something... [resembling] an Old Testament-styled god of patriarchal anger and vengeance." (34) In this way, James's world is extremely perilous, though not necessarily disordered, especially for the agnostic intellectual who dismisses it.
Interestingly, there was another English don who wrote fiction similar to James's own stories, but works that were more obviously Catholic and self-aware in their presentation of a perilous, as well as supernaturally charged, cosmos that was not unlike James's own. For sure, J. R. R. Tolkien's work The Lord of the Rings (1954-55) details a world that is just as haunted and dangerous as any of James's stories. And it is worth taking a brief look at his own creation, Middle-earth, which was accompanied by an articulated philosophy of "Faerie": a theory that appears to parallel James's own conception of what Tolkien, the Catholic, would dub the "Perilous Realm."
In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's Barrow-downs articulate a past age of forgotten nations cloaked in the mists of prehistory, a history that is, nonetheless, still palpable in the burial mounds and rings of stone that litter the crests of its hills. Frodo the hobbit finds them "somehow disquieting," while Tom Bombadil, a sort of sage, warns him and his friends that such disquiet is rooted in a very real terror called the "Barrow-wights," specters that now "walked in the hollow places with a clink of rings on cold fingers, and gold chains in the wind." However, Bombadil tells the hobbits that they need not worry about such ghosts so long as they "mind their own business."This is, of course, a sort of Jamesian warning to the curious to "keep to the green grass.""Don't you go a-meddling with old stone or cold Wights or prying in their houses," Bombadil tells them. (35) As it turns out, the hobbits blunder into the cold embrace of the Barrow-wights, legitimizing the warning, and have to be rescued by Bombadil later on.
The sinister sight of the Dead Marshes, another landscape that has to be traversed in Tolkien's epic fantasy, is yet another instance of a ghostly circumstance incorporating both history and injunction. "There was a great battle long ago," the creature Gollum informs Frodo and Sam: "a great battle. Tall Men with long swords, and terrible elves, and Orces shrieking. They fought on the plain for days and months at the Black Gates." Like the Barrow-downs, the Dead Marshes are essentially a burial ground, since the marshland, which is "always creeping," has "swallowed up the graves" of the soldiers who died there three thousand years ago. What makes this environment so creepy is that the dead can be seen in the watery mire below: "They lie in all the pools, pale faces, deep deep under the dark water. I saw them: grim faces and evil, and noble faces and sad. Many faces proud and fair, and weeds in their silver hair. But all foul, all rotting, all dead. A fell light is in them... . I know not who they are; but I thought I saw there Men and Elves, and Orcs beside them." Each body, we are told, is accompanied by "misty flames flickering slowly above unseen candles; here and there they twisted like ghostly sheets unfurled by hidden hands." Gollum warns the hobbits: "Don't look at the lights!" That is the vital injunction in this instance, in the form of a prohibition: "Or hobbits go down to join the Dead ones and light little candles." (36)
In his treatise On Fairy-Stories (1947), Tolkien noted "the great mythical significance of prohibition": "Thou shalt not--or else thou shall depart beggared into endless regret. The gentlest 'nursery-tales' know it. Even Peter Rabbit was forbidden a garden, lost his blue coat, and took sick. The Locked Door stands as an eternal Temptation." One could not, Tolkien asserted, deny the "strong moral element" at the heart of fairy stories. (37) Moreover, the injunction itself was obviously biblical in intonation, echoing such commandments as: "And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely the.'" (38) Indeed, in Tolkien's created universe, Iluvatar (God) drowns the kingdom of Numenor for the sin of pride, in The Silmarillion (1977), after the Numenoreans attempt to sail west to the forbidden Undying Lands--a cataclysm that takes place many centuries before the events of The Lord of the Kings. However unpleasant the punishment was for breaching such a religious ban, Tolkien's point, and I think James's too, was that such retribution did at least point to a moral universe, which man, in their century, no longer quite believed in. What James also appears to imply, in his own stories, is that the post-Protestant order was partly, if not wholly, responsible for this, as Berger conceded as well.
Compared to James, Tolkien evidently had a far better understanding of the metaphysical and moral concepts underlying his stories, including the notion of "Faerie... the Perilous Realm itself," delineated in his work On Fairy-Stories. At first sight, wrote Tolkien, Faerie entailed "freedom from the domination of observed 'fact.'" In this sense, too, it was "plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability." This did not mean that it was untrue.
Rather, it was an instinct that pointed to a higher truth about the world, which was ultimately supernatural, echoing Waugh's opinion about the reality of the Natural Order, as Tolkien also related: "It is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural." (39) This is what Michael Tomko means, I think, when he writes about "the spiritual depth" of Tolkien's "countercultural response to modernity." Essentially, this was what The Lord of the Rings was; for, as Tomko writes, Tolkien's work "re-presents and embodies a Catholic view of the world," as well as the author's "own sincere expression of relief and joy in discovering it." (40) To clarify Tomko's point here, the purpose of Faerie is to remind readers, who have been brought up by modernity to accept only "observed 'fact,'" that they are themselves "supernatural" beings, and that, being enchanted, life is itself a wholly religious experience. As Chesterton once wrote: "We have all forgotten what we really are." (41) Perhaps this was what James was hinting at in his ghost stories as well, or at least what he desired--at whatever cost of peril.
Writing to his publisher Stanley Unwin in 1937, Tolkien explained that "the presence (even if only on the borders) of the terrible" was what gave the "imagined world its verisimilitude. A safe fairy-land is untrue to all worlds." (42) "Faerie," Tolkien insists, is, and must be, a "perilous land." (43) What he was responding to here, in particular, was the author Richard Hughes's suggestion to Unwin that certain parts of Tolkien's story The Hobbit (1937) might prove to be "too terrifying for bedtime reading." (44) Tolkien thought the "terrible" an essential aspect of Middle-earth, however, or rather Faerie: "the realm or state in which fairies have their being." In other words, the "terrible" was a large part of its appeal. Dragons, especially Tolkien's dragons, are dangerous, of course; but he freely admitted that he "desired dragons with a profound desire... at whatever cost of peril." Of course, his "timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood," least of all in Oxford. Yet, he concluded, "the dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the heart is hard though the body be soft." (45) It was this, I think, that James also desired "at whatever cost of peril," returning to the sacramental, as well as moral, notion that sees the "cosmos as an objective reality bearing the capacity for meaning," as the Dominican Friar Ephraem Chiffley has described it. (46) And it was Waugh who wrote that, as a consequence of "the Tudor revolution," English "village churches" were, to a Catholic, merely "empty shells, their altars torn out and their ornaments defaced." (47) For what Protestantism came to represent, especially to Catholics, was a loss of the sacred and the "Perilous Realm," a loss that, I think, James ultimately came to lament on an instinctual and imaginative level, just as much as Waugh did intellectually.
Tomko has argued that Tolkien's work The Lord of the Rings owes its "strange resonance" and "countercultural" appeal to the "English Catholic sensibility," which, in the wake of John Henry Newman's proposed "Second Spring"--the revival of English Catholicism in the nineteenth century--moved against "the current of Victorian historical progressivism." Accordingly, "one can trace a pattern of ruin to revival" in The Lord of the Rings; and Tomko forwards the prospect of the ruined watchtower at Weathertop as one such "ruin" that is passed by the hobbits on the way to revival. And England is, of course, besprinkled with such ruins as well, of identifiably Catholic origin, just as Middle-earth contains the remnants of a past age, mirroring, from an English Catholic perspective, such melancholy wrecks as Bolton Priory in Yorkshire. (48) And it was this ruin, in particular, which inspired the historian Christopher Dawson, an English convert to Catholicism in the twentieth century. Indeed, in an unpublished memoir, Dawson reflected that Bolton Priory seemed to him "the perfect embodiment" of the "lost element in the northern [European] culture--a spiritual grace which had once been part of our social tradition and which still survived as a ghostly power brooding over the river and the hills." (49) In this way, Dawson's view, of almost complete loss and consequent haunting, is much closer to James's vision of Fulnaker Abbey than Tolkien's wielding of Weather-top as a signpost pointing toward ultimate recovery. However, this does not mean that James was not in possession of some manner of "English Catholic sensibility."
Of course, it might be said that what James's ghost stories really underscore is an implicit romanticism rather than any sense of Catholic loss--and James was not, after all, Catholic. And ruins are a romantic commonplace, indeed, as we can see in the work of such English artists as J. M. W. Turner and Thomas Girtin, for example. Still, the Jamesian haunting, it seems to me, goes beyond this, in that his terrors are very much embodied hauntings. As Hans Urs von Balthasar explained, the "Romantic vision" may be defined by the image of Helena dissolving into mist before Faust's eyes, signifying that "the world, formerly penetrated by God's light," is "but an appearance and a dream." (50) Significantly, James's vision actually acts in reverse, gathering that mist together and giving it substance once again, therefore returning to the sacramental theology that underpinned the Middle Ages, which James did in some way understand and sympathize with, though it never led him to convert to Catholicism.
Michael Alexander, writing in Methevalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England (2007), has made the point that such nineteenth-century figures as Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, despite their great interest in the Middle Ages, had "little to say about the Christianity of Britain in the past." Carlyle's work Past and Present (1843), for instance, forwarding the Abbey of St. Edmundsbury and its abbot as a twelfth-century example of good governance and moral leadership, took no interest in the theological assumptions of metheval religion. Nevertheless, there was "a second Metheval Revival" at the end of the nineteenth century, Alexander posits, which, unlike the first, "was consciously Christian." (51) This is what James might be said to belong to--a revival that was also, I would say, more specifically Catholic, but not always consciously Catholic, which is an important distinction to make. Although Tolkien, for example, referred to The Lord of the Rings as "of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work," it was "unconsciously so at first." Moreover, Middle-earth, as Tolkien described it, was "a monotheistic world of 'natural theology,'" the "religious element" being "absorbed into the story and the symbolism." (52) In other words, Tolkien's work does not openly declare itself to be Catholic, and, in its initial conception, was not even intended to be a "Cadiolic work." As for James, I think that his created world was "unconsciously" Catholic and, unlike Tolkien's, remained so. This is what needs to be added to Tomko's account: that just because James's stories were apparently unaware does not mean that they were not informed by some manner of "English Cadiolic sensibility," especially in their treatment of the English Catholic past.
What this article has sought to do is broaden Tomko's definition of the "English Cadiolic sensibility." I do not drink that such a sensibility should be defined exclusively by the theme of "revival," but also by a sense of loss without any prospect for recovery. Unlike Tolkien's apparent "pattern of ruin to revival," James's stories exhibit the rather more poignant path of ruin to embodied haunting. Indeed, it may be said that James's ghost stories are themselves a ghostly manifestation of the English, not always Catholic, sensibility that has come to realize that something vital really was lost as a consequence of the Reformation, and that this was to be regretted, since it also led to a process of secularization. What deserves more attention in the future, I think, is the question whether the "English Catholic sensibility" is actually much more closely aligned to a general English sense of nostalgia, meaning, I would argue, the desire to return home to the sacramental cosmos of Tolkien's and James's metheval forebears.
(1.) This was a notion and vital realization about Catholic England that, as Eamon Duffy has elucidated, was "informed by a conviction that the Reformation as actually experienced by ordinary people was not an uncomplicated imaginative liberation, the restoration of true Christianity after a period of degeneration and corruption, but, for good or ill, a great cultural hiatus, which had dug a ditch, deep and dividing, between the English people and their past." Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), xiv.
(2.) Adrian J. Walker, "'Constitutive Relations': Toward a Spiritual Reading of Physts," in Being Holy in the World: Theology and Culture in the Thought of David L. Schindler, eds. Nicholas J. Healy Jr. and D. C. Schindler (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2011), 124.
(3.) In this way, we are touching upon the idea of a type of Christianity that is essentially "incarnational," as Harry Blamires has termed it; explaining that we exist in history, and that "to think Christianly" is to live within, as well as give due credit to, the world and its "positive richness," especially as something "derivative from the supernatural" itself. Accordingly, the "Christian mind," he writes, thinks "sacramentally." Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think? (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing,  2005), 156, 173.
(4.) "For Weber, the development of practical rationality from magic to disenchantment entails an increase in the ratio of the calculable to the incalculable... . Protestantism is its ultimate product." Charles Turner, Modernity and Politics in the Work of Max Weber (London: Routledge,  2002), 177. "In the beginning of human history, according to Weber, magic ruled. The modern world, in contrast, is characterized by disenchantment or the lack of a belief in magic, spirits, and the like." Richard Swedberg, The Max Weber Dictionary: Key Words and Central Concepts (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), 153. "Weber posits that disenchantment has shaped not only the institutional structures and procedures in modern society but also the psychological attitudes of modern human beings." Basit Bilal Koshul, The Postmodern Significance of Max Weber's Legacy: Disenchanting Disenchantment (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 11.
(5.) David Torevell, Losing the Sacred: Ritual, Modernity and Liturgical Reform (Edinburgh: T &T Clark, 2000), 12, 200.
(6.) Glenn W. Olsen, TheTurn to Transcendence: The Role of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Washington, DC:The Catholic University of America Press, 2010), 219.
(7.) Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Anchor Books, 1990 [orig. 1967]), 111, 113.
(8.) George Orwell, "The Lion and the Unicorn: Part 1: England Your England," in Essays (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 139.
(9.) Evelyn Waugh, The Letters of Evelyn Waugh, ed. Mark Amory (London: Phoenix, 2009), 283.
(10.) Evelyn Waugh, Sword of Honour (London: Penguin Books, 2001 [orig. 1965]), 65, 66.
(11.) M. R. James, "Number 13," in Collected Ghost Stories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 48, 51.
(12.) James, "An Episode of Cathedral History," in Collected Ghost Stories, 266.
(13.) James, "Count Magnus," in Collected Ghost Stories, 71.
(14.) Howard Philips Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (New York: Dover Publications, 1973 [orig. 1945]), 102.
(15.) James R. Ginther, The Westminster Handbook to Metheval Theology (Louisville, KY: West-minster John Knox Press, 2009), 11.
(16.) Debra Higgs Strickland, Saracens, Demons, & fews: Making Monsters in Metheval Art (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 65, 73.
(17.) "In the late metheval period, as secular patrons increasingly commissioned depictions of the end of days, the menageries of monstrous devourers dramatically expanded, reflecting artistic developments, contemporary appreciation of symbolic complexity and demands for prestigious objects of beauty. As such, within the chaotic range of monstrous forms, the motif of bestial consumption remained an important element throughout the Middle Ages, in displaying the treatment and status of the damned." Aleks Pluskowski, "Apocalyptic Monsters: Animal Inspirations for the Iconography of Metheval North European Devourers," in The Monstrous Middle Ages, ed. Bettina Bildhauer and Robert Mills (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), 172.
(18.) Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000), 214. There was, still, considerable debate regarding the materiality of demons, as Tina Beattie writes, for example: "While Augustine is prepared to accept that demons can therefore be corporeal, Thomas [Aquinas] wants to retain the idea that demons are immaterial beings that only assume the appearance of corporeality." Tina Beattie, Theology After Post modernity: Divining the Void--A Lacanian Reading of Thomas Aquinas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 145. Also, see Walter Stephens's chapter "Sexy Devils: How They Got Bothes," which charts the metheval obsession surrounding the reality, as well as the corporeality, of demons, including their interaction with human beings; and Walter Stephens, Demon Lovers-Witchcraft, Sex, and the Crisis of Belief (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press,  2003), 58-86.
(19.) James, "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book," in Collected Ghost Stories, 8, 9, 11.
(20.) Michael Cox has detailed how James's study of such metheval works, including apocryphal literature, which provided great insight into the "philosophic inheritance of the metheval mind," provided him with "a means of deepening his appreciation of [the] Christian art... architecture and literature of the Middle Ages," as well as their "Christian origins." Michael Cox, M. R. fames: An Informal Portrait (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), 79.
(21.) Ralph Harrington, "Supernaturalism, Christianity and Moral Accountability in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James," unpublished essay, 2006, 1.
(22.) Peter Ackroyd, Albion:The Origins of the English Imagination (London: Vintage Books,  2004), 375, 377.
(23.) Quoted in Harrington,"M. R. James," 5.
(24.) Quoted in Cox, M. R. fames, 117.
(25.) M. R. James, Abbeys, Second Impression (London: The Great Western Railway,  1926), 17.
26. G. K. Chesterton, Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (New York: Dodd Mead & Company,  1911), 162.
27. Torevell, Losing the Sacred, 73, 76.
28. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 214.
(29.) Quoted in James, Collected Ghost Stories, xxix.
(30.) Darryl Jones, "Introduction," in James, Collected Ghost Stories, xxix.
(31.) Waugh, Sword of Honour, 5.
(32.) Michael A. Mason, "On Not Letting Them Lie: Moral Significance in the Ghost Stories of M. R. James," in Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M. K. James, ed. S.T. Joshi and Rosemary Pardoe (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2007), 118.
(33.) John Alfred Taylor, "'If I'm Not Careful': Innocents and No-So-Innocents in the Stories of M. R. James," in Warnings to the Curious, 197.
(34.) Simon MacCulloch, "The Toad in the Study: M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, and For-bidden Knowledge," in Warnings to the Curious, 78.
(35.) J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the King (London: HarperCollins Publishers,  2002), 176, 181.
(36.) J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (London: HarperCollins Publishers,  2011), 627, 628.
(37.) J. R. R. Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, exp. ed. (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014 [orig. 1947]), 36-37, 49.
(38.) Genesis 2:16-17, King James Version.
(39.) Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, 28, 32, 55, 60.
(40.) Michael Tomko, "'An Age Comes On': J. R. R. Tolkien and the English Catholic Sense of History," in The Ring and the Cross: Christianity and The Lord of the Rings, ed. Paul E. Kerry (Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2013), 207.
(41.) G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Cavalier Classics,  2015), 39.
(42.) J. R. R. Tolkien, The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006 [orig. 1981]), 24.
(43.) Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, 27.
(44.) Tolkien, Letters, 24.
(45.) Tolkien, On Fairy-Stories, 32, 55.
(46.) Ephraem Chiffley, OP, "The Altar: Place of Sacrifice and Sacred Space in the Religious Building," in Altar and Sacrifice: The Proceedings of the Second International Colloquium of Historical, Canonical and Theological Studtes on the Roman Catholic Liturgy, ed. Sean Finnegan (London: Saint Austin Press, 1998), 27.
(47.) Evelyn Waugh, Edmund Campion: Jesuit and Martyr (London: Penguin Classics, 2012 [orig. 1935]), 93-94.
(48.) Tomko, "An Age Comes On," in The Ring and the Cross, 206, 213, 217.
(49.) Christopher Dawson, "Tradition and Inheritance," in The Wind and the Rain (1949); reprinted with an introduction by John J. Mulloy (St. Paul: The Wanderer Press, 1970), 26.
(50.) Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of God: A Theological Aesthetics, vol. 1, Seeing the Form, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (San Francisco: Ignatius Press/New York: Crossroad Publications, 2009 [orig. 1982]), 18-19.
(51.) Michael Alexander, Methevalism: The Middle Ages in Modern England (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 98, 212, 265.
(52.) Tolkien, Letters, 172, 220. There is a significant literature linking Tolkien's work, especially The Lord of the Rings, to his Catholic faith: see Jeffrey L. Morrow, Seeking the Lord of Middle Earth: Theological Essays on J. R. R. Tolkien (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017); Joseph Pearce, Frodo's Journey: Discovering the Hidden Meaning of The Lord of the Kings (Charlotte, NC: Saint Benedict Press, 2015); Bradley J. Birzer, J. R. R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle Earth (Wilmington, NC: ISI Books, 2003); and The Ring and the Cross.
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