Evidence! Evidence! From the Supernatural to the Fantastic in M.R. James and Others (Public Lecture, 27th October)


Illustration by James McBryde for M. R. James's story "Oh, Whistle, And I'll Come To You, My Lad" [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Illustration by James McBryde for M. R. James’s story “Oh, Whistle, And I’ll Come To You, My Lad” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What traces do ghosts leave behind for people to find? Is seeing a ghost sufficient proof of its existence? Ghost stories often display a fascination with evidence – both the hunt for it or the lack of it. In this public lecture, Professor Mike Pincombe examines the role evidence plays in ghostly plots, from M.R. James to Elizabeth Bowen. Everyone is welcome to come on Tuesday 27th October at 18.15, in Elvet Riverside 140.

“Evidence, evidence,” he said, walking to the window, “that something happened in this room after I left it this morning. The maids believe they found a strange woman’s nightgowns crumpled on the floor. As a matter of fact they are Hettie’s nightgowns. I suppose a doctor would say I’d done it myself in a trance.”

So Mr Templeton at a key moment in Edith Bagnold’s ‘The amorous ghost’ (1929). This talk will pick up on some of the threads which make up the text at this point to examine the role of ‘evidence’ in the English ghost story from M. R. James to Elizabeth Bowen. The discovery and interpretation of evidence as a narrative device is obviously important; but the ghost story’s preoccupation with the confusion between being and seeming means that evidence – from the Latin videre, ‘to see’ – is itself under suspicion as a basic fact of the genre. Todorov’s remarks on le fantastique are a tried and trusted way of approaching the topic of evidence in the ghost story, and we will apply to a selection of tales from the first half of the last century; but Prof Pincombe also wants to direct attention towards evidentia as a rhetorical figure of description, and will draw on the less familiar work of Philippe Hamon on le descriptif as well.

This series of lectures forms part of the Institute of Advanced Study’s year on the theme of ‘evidence.’ Future lectures will look among other things at the ghost stories of Charles Dickens, John Keats’s shadows, and ghosts and goblins in Japan. Full listings can be found at the Institute of Advanced Study.

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