Stories that inspired M.R. James

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Episode 98 – The Nature of the Evidence by May Sinclair

March 27, 2024 | Episodes | Comments (5)

M.R. James said that sex had no place in a ghost story. But was he right? This episode we attempt to answer this question and more, as we cover The Nature of the Evidence by May Sinclair, a tale from 1923 about a couple who just want to enjoy their wedding night. Is that too much to ask? Apparently, yes.

Thanks to Debbie Wedge for providing the readings for this episode, and don’t forget to check out Ghostly Encounters, the haunting free interactive event that Debbie is helping organise in Oxford on the 20th April 2024.

Show notes:



  1. Jeff says:

    I think that M. R. James was asexual all of his life.

  2. Seán says:

    To me this story came off as totally psychological. This is a (rather good) story about grief, and Marston descending into this chasm of guilt personified by visions of his dead wife. He needs the vision of Rosamund to justify his feelings betrayal in “sealing the deal” his cold rational self won’t otherwise allow. However, Pauline’s experiences in accidentally groping a scary boob make this purely psychological approach a problem, but you MIGHT be able to put down to some kind of shared psychosis?

    But then Marston goes off has cosmic euphoria sex with his ghost wife and throws all that out the window! I will say though, I felt that ending was delivered almost like a Lovecraft story, just the way Marston is talking. He’s seen beyond he LIKES IT.

    As for James and his remarks, I think by “sex” he means romance and overt physical passions having an intrusive presence in a story. Apart from being The Arch-Victorian, he had a pretty hardline aesthetic when it came to his genre fiction. He had a formula. He liked absolute focus, everything must serve the vision, and I’d say that did him pretty well as a writer. He’s not completely wrong about sex and so on in genre fiction, some writers do insert romantic subplots (Hollywood is still doing it!) that can drag down a narrative, but he was also rather Victorian about it, which is to be expected.

  3. Andrew says:

    I can’t think of a single MR James story that would have been improved by a sex scene. However, I suspect it would be very amusing to read a sex scene written by Monty! I think such matters were of very little interest to him. He would have regarded them as a distraction in his life let alone his stories!

    Was it just women that Monty was disinterested in? Maybe, but we can compare and contrast with comparable stories written by a gay author at the time. Read through E F Benson and I can see the similarities and the differences.

  4. Dave says:

    Could this be what inspired ‘Blithe Spirit’ the Red Harrison film implies some form of sexy contact between the deceased wife Elvira and Rex Harrison. As for the story personally I enjoyed it with everything implied it didn’t become lurid – hardly ‘The entity’ territory.

  5. Kim says:

    Strongly agree with Sean (above) that MRJ’s comments about “sex” refer to what we would currently describe as “romance”. It seems like a usage familiar from other writers in the first couple decades of the 20th.

    One of my grad school friend’s professor was a _bit odd_, including the belief that his house was haunted by the ghost of a Jazz Age dandy, and they were boinking regularly. Fortunately, the professor’s partner was understanding (or so I gathered). So this kind of thing is maybe more widespread than we assume! For all the torrents of paranormal media these days, it doesn’t seem to get much attention.

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