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A Ghost Story for Christmas: ‘There Was A Man Dwelt By A Churchyard’

I recently recorded a dramatic reading of M. R. James’s story ‘There Was A Man Dwelt By A Churchyard’ for the Churches Conservation Trust, as a special online event for Christmas Eve. The story is one of James’s shorter stories, and perhaps one of his lesser known – but given its setting next to a churchyard and its association with Midwinter (the title is taken from a passage in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale) it seemed an appropriate story to tell. The story also reveals James’s deep knowledge of early modern ghostlore, since the story follows the classic pattern of a 16th-century ghost narrative – a revenant correcting an injustice involving the disposal of their estate; to say more would be to give away the story! Telling this particular story – written in the 20th century but rooted in Tudor ghostlore – seemed a fitting way to follow up on the online talk I gave the CCT on 3 December about Christmas ghosts.

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