Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Episode 58 – The Familiar by J Sheridan Le Fanu

February 27, 2017 | Episodes | Comments (7)

The Familiar - Illustration by M. Grant Kellermeyer

Illustration by M. Grant Kellermeyer

In this bumper episode we examine M.R. James’s favourite story by his favourite author, ‘The Familiar’ by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu! Praise doesn’t get much higher than that, but is it all it is cracked up to be? If you are a fan of owls, diminutive, angry men in fur caps and incredibly long sentences, then you are in for a treat.

This episode also features an interview with noted Le Fanu expert Brian J Showers of Swan River Press and readings by Debbie Wedge.

This episodes artwork comes curtesy of M. Grant Kellermeyer of Oldstyle Tales Press.

Story notes

Also mentioned in this episode


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  1. InheritedUncle says:

    Missed you guys tremendously (time wise), please don’t try to break records. Anything like can a two month absence is unbearable. Now for the truly good, great stuff: if I had turned to Le Fanu, as any proper Jamesian naturally would, I’d have started with this very one. It has a lot going for it and ultimately I do think it delivers the goods. Spooky, atmospheric, not in your face terror. Plus owls. So yes, grand and insightful analysis from you as ever -This isn’t actually my favourite Le Fanu, so I am keeping my fingers crossed that you will venture further into the realms he has so magnanimously bequeathed us – thank you for yet another superbly entertaining and quirky (that’s not an insult, in my book it’s high praise) podcast, all kinds of best wishes with your personal real lives and I hope you can go on living them merrily and podcasting macabrely. I hope such an adverb exists. It suits you to ..perfection? Yes, I rather think it does.

  2. Andrew says:

    This is not necessarily an important or academic point, but “rump and a dozen” in the phrase “I’ll wager a rump and a dozen I collar the ghost, and convince even you before many days are over”, clearly means a steak and 12 oysters.

    I wouldn’t mind a rump and a dozen now.

  3. Joe Muszynski says:

    Have to agree with Will on this one – it started strong and the initial scene of Barton walking through the lonely construction site had me going, but as soon as the little angry man appeared, it was over. Thankfully your show was way better!! This was my first LeFanu so I hope others are actually better. Here is a link to a pic of the little guy I imagined

    so you can see why the illusion was instantly dashed. Amazing you guts talking about such a story is still so fun!

  4. RobP says:

    Congrats on the new arrival!
    Agree with the above on this one, started strong then got “unscary” for the most part. Still, was good to hear the show, nice work!

    As for the owl….couldn’t help but think of this….

  5. A N Donaldson says:

    Well done chaps, I’m loving ‘season 2’ of the podcast. Did you know that Le Fanu’s wife suffered from a mysterious lethargy-enduring psychiatric disease and died of hysteria (no doubt influencing the plot of Carmilla), after which he himself became reclusive and prone to nightmares, dying in his bed. His doctor – who I’d like to think had read the Familiar, described his final expression as being contorted with horror. That said I’m afraid I also partly agree with Will about The Familiar, though I rate the rest of In a Glass Darkly. I’d recommend his ‘Account of Some Strange Disturbances is Aungier Street’ (an earlier version of the Harbottle story), which strikes me as much more Jamesian. What James made of le Fanu’s lesbian vampire theme is anyone’s guess…

  6. Joyce W. says:

    Enjoyed the show! Would love to hear you natter on about “Squire Toby’s Will” by Le Fanu. The dog in that story is quite creepy.

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