Stories that inspired M.R. James

Twelve tales of terror recommended by the master of the genre!

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Episode 59 – The Haunted and the Haunters by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

April 26, 2017 | Episodes | Comments (7)

The Haunted and the Haunter by Edward Bulwer-LyttonThis episode Mike and Will cover ‘The Haunted and the Haunters‘ by Charles Dickens’s BFF, Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

M.R. James considered this story essential reading, saying “Nobody is permitted to write about ghost stories without
mentioning ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’.” (Some Remarks on Ghost Stories). Will it live up to our expectations?

Our reader for this episode is talented artist and family member, Peter Ross!

We also mention the new book from friend-of-the-podcast Patrick J. Murphy, Medieval Studies and the Ghost Stories of M. R. James, check it out!

Show notes:

  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton (Wikipedia)
    Some basic biographical details about EBL’s life. A more detailed biography can be found at
  • Edward Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (
    Inspired by EBL’s famous clunker “It was a dark and stormy night…”, this competition challenges would-be writers
    to come up with the worst possible opening line to a novel!
  • 50 Berkeley Square, London (Wikipedia)
    Often touted as ‘the most haunted house in England’, this place gained a fearsome reputation for ghostliness in the
    latter half of the 19th century. It’s description and locations are tantilisingly close to the house described in
    this story, although the story pre-dated the house’s notoriety.
  • The Haunted House (Wikipedia)
    The ‘haunted house’ as a concept goes back for at least 2000 years, and has inspired writers for just as long.
  • ‘The Haunted House’ by Charles Dickens et al (Wikipedia)
    Could the publication of this story be connected in any way to the publications of ‘The Haunted House’, the
    portmaneau story that was ‘conducted’ and published by EBL’s friend Charles Dickens in the same year that EBL’s
    story was published?
  • Essay by Ellis Jordan (
    This essay on ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ sheds some more light onto the story and EBL’s aims in writing it. It
    also compared the two differing versions of the story that were published.

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  1. Mark Williamson says:

    Another excellent and entertaining analysis of what turns out to be a bit of a dud tale. I wonder if ghost tales are like humour. They are of their time and for succeeding generations baffling in their appeal.
    Nitpicking time: isn’t Berkeley Square pronounced BARKley?

  2. Jeff says:

    It’s pronounced ‘Barkley’ Square. The upper classes and their wacky names eh?


    Hypolyte Crichton-Wriothesley 😉

  3. Wally H says:

    I was very sad you didn’t cover the longer version, but it’s always enjoyable to listen to your podcast…so whatever. 😉

  4. A Rat In The Wall says:

    I really have to wonder what exactly it is James saw in this story. Above all else, it completely lacked any sense of subtlety or reticence which James believed was all-important as well as the overwrought theorizing and explanations throughout that completely drive the story to a halt. Were they cut out, or heavily toned down it would have been much easier to digest.

    It wasn’t a bad story, it was okay, but its build up was much better than its its wollop, of which the story had MANY. One of its wollops was actually somewhat reminiscent of Lovecraft’s ‘From Beyond’, which the HPPodcraft guys noticed when they covered this story a few years ago, the part with the lights floating around and the horrible maggot things in the air eating each other and flying about. The best image was the hand coming from under the table to snatch the letter, I think, other than that I was pretty nonplussed by this one, which is a shame since my two favourite writers love it. Truth be told, if they took anything from this story, they did it better.

  5. RogerBW says:

    Odic force was Baron Carl von Reichenbach’s term for the “vital principle”, the unique thing that life has and dead things don’t – which was slightly more respectable in 1845 when he invented it. Pasteur disproved it comprehensively in 1859, the same year as this story was written, but of course it took a while to die. Bulwer-Lytton himself invented “vril” for The Coming Race (1871) (the hollow Earth novel you mentioned), which lent its name to Bovril. The proponents of Odic force tried to revivify it by claiming that it explained mesmerism.

    Spiritualism in the USA took off hugely in the 1850s, after the Fox sisters made their fraudulent claims, and would certainly have been something any reader would be familiar with.

    Larvae (aka lemures) in classical Roman mythology are restless spirits of the dead; that is likely to be what EBL was talking about. The zoological use only started in 1768 with Linnaeus.

    The impression I got from this is that James himself would have stopped the story after the first series of incidents, and not gone into the kitchen-sink stuff.

  6. Chris Jarocha-Ernst says:

    Just got Patrick Murphy’s book on interlibrary loan. I’ve only flipped through it, but I was pleased to see the podcast got a mention in the Acknowledgments, along with Rosemary Pardoe and Robert Lloyd Parry. More to come as I read on.

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