Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Episode 40 – The Experiment

November 22, 2014 | Episodes | Comments (8)

Bishop John MooreThis week Mike and Will attempt some foul necromancy with MR James’ little-known tale ‘The Experiment’.  Ghosts and Scholars described it as “weak and difficult” story: can your hosts revive it from the dead?

Story notes

  • Rosemary and Daroll Pardoe’s invaluable notes, from Ghosts and Scholars
  • Bishop Moore: a hardcore bibliophile after James’ own heart, his manuscript collection doubled the size of the Cambridge University Library when it was purchased in 1714.
  • Was the murder of the rector of Rockland St Peter on Twelth Night in 1608 one of James’ inspirations for this story?
  • Will and Mike also investigated some spooky goings on at Mill Hill Surgery: do check out the Halloween special of BBC soap Doctors before it disappears from iPlayer.

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  1. Rafael says:

    Inspired by your field trips to MRJames locations, we visited the Steinfeld Abbey in Germany. Here a short blog entry with many pictures that should convince MRJames fans that it is worth the trip:
    Keep up the good work with your podcast. We enjoy it a lot.

  2. Christie F says:

    In regards to the Squire’s widow not attending his funeral, if we date this story to the 17th century, then she wouldn’t necessarily have done so: there was a long period of time when women *didn’t* attend burials. Mary Shelley didn’t attend her husband’s burial as late as 1822.

  3. A Rat In The Wall says:

    Now this is a really cool idea, this ‘middle state of the soul’ in which you remain a ghost or revenant of some kind where you can interact with the living, but in this interaction the living might see or hear other things a living person maybe ought not to hear. It’s such a small detail for such a really good idea.

    And on that whole woman character thing, I think it should be noted that for every unpleasant female character, we get a Count Magnus or a William Ager or Mr. Abney – infinitely more unrepentantly evil characters.

    Also, is there any way to see the Doctors ‘Oh Whistle’ adaptation anywhere else than the BBC iPlayer? You can’t access it here in Ireland.

    • Will Ross says:

      Although we couldn’t possibly condone such behavior, if you google ‘bbc iplayer proxy’ you will probably find some help with accessing Iplayer from Ireland (or elsewhere). The doctors episode will be online until Sunday!

      • A Rat In The Wall says:

        Absolutely reprehensible behaviour, how dare you even suggest this incredibly useful piece of information, cheers!

  4. Jim Barrett says:

    I had always assumed that the squire and Fowler had a pact that they would both arrange to have themselves buried in a manner that would facilitate whichever of them survived the other performing the ‘experiment’.

  5. Michael Dura says:

    Yes, about the ‘middle state’… The Catholic belief is that if one dies in the ‘state of grace’, in other words, as basically a good person, without any serious or mortal sin like murder, or whatever, then one is destined for heaven but is probably not spiritually advanced enough to see the face of God because of minor sins or imperfections. This deficiency would be made up somehow by a period in purgatory. This belief is absolutely crucial if there are to be ghost stories. This opens the door to the possibility of deceased people coming back to take care of unfinished business, warn loved ones, or whatever ghosts general do.
    I agree with Jim Barrett’s comment. I think Fowler had a reason for wanting to be buried the way he was and it could well have been so he could be brought back during his middle state.

  6. MarkB says:

    Jim and Michael seem to have hit the nail on the head – I’m surprised this wasn’t mentioned in the podcast. The title tells it all – The Experiment. The story is the story of an experiment. And who is doing the experiment? The most likely answer is the Squire. With his interest in the near-afterlife (and a suspicion that his wife means him ill), he has sequestered his surplus money somewhere, and has set a trap. The incomplete letter to his correspondent was left for his wife to find. And the correspondent has done as planned and set a ‘package’ of information on how to re-animate the recently dead. Like many doctors who tested their new treatments on themselves, the Squire has proved willing to use himself in this gruesome experiment. And as a result, the correspondent got the proof of their success.

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