Sunday, 30 September 2018

Through a Glass Darkly

Since I mentioned the M.R. James event in York last week in my previous post, I thought I would write a brief account of what it was all about.

The event was 'A Celebration of the Work of M.R. James on the 120th Anniversary of his Visit to York'. It began on the afternoon of Wednesday 26th at the Bar Convent, with general welcome and the first session of talks. Paul M. Chapman set the ball rolling with a look at the invention of a 'new type of ghost', focusing on MRJ's development of the antiquarian ghost story. That was followed by Mark Valentine on the figure of the scholar in the stories. Terry Hale rounded off the first session with 'M.R. James and French fin de siecle Occultism'.

All of these talks led to interesting Q&As and general discussion. They certainly inspired me to rethink and ponder some aspects of the ghost stories, which is the point, and of course they reminded me of just how much I enjoy them.

After a nice cup of something talks resumed with John Reppion on 'Adapting M.R. James for Comics' - an area of total ignorance for me. I am not slightly better informed! Then there was a panel discussion with Mark Valentine, Helen Grant, and Peter Bell. Again, lots of ideas, good-humoured and intelligent discussion.

In the evening most of us hied ourselves to Bedern Hall where Pat Smith, a York guide, talked about the gruesome (and possibly) supernatural history of York. Then Robert Lloyd Parry performed A Pleasing Terror, consisting of 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book', followed by 'The Mezzotint'. Very atmospheric stuff! Just the right balance of humour and darkness.




On Thursday morning there was a walking tour of York in the footsteps of MRJ. We saw the stained glass of two churches - All Saints, North Street, and St. Denys, Walmgate. Talks were given by expert guides at each. Truly fascinating. Many thanks to Dr Charles Kightly of St. Denys, and Dr Robert Richards of All Saints.

On Thursday afternoon Helen Grant discussed the link between MRJ's story about the sinister Abbott Thomas and the very real stained glass from Steinfeld Abbey. Peter Bell followed that with some insights into the 'lamia' in 'An Episode of Cathedral History'. The final talk in the session was by Gail-Nina Anderson, and a fascinating analysis of 'Experience, Text, and Oral Tradition in A Neighbour's Landmark'.

The final session consisted of Darryl Jones discussing his ongoing work on a new biography of MRJ, followed by another panel. Chaired by Terry Hale, the panel of John Reppion, Paul M. Chapman and Darryl Jones offered more insights and answered more questions from the floor.

As you can see, it was a scholarship-packed couple of days. I enjoyed it a lot, not least because it was superbly organised by the Friends of Count Magnus - Mark Jones, Paul M. Chapman, and Teresa Dudley. If you get the chance to go to an event run by this team, you would be wise to grasp it.

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