Extra-Textual Encounters: Locating Place in the Text-as-Event: An Experiential Reading of M.R. James’ ‘A Warning to the Curious’

James Thurgill


Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a British historian, archaeologist and writer. He is widely known for his short tales of the supernatural, many of which are set in the actual-world landscape of Suffolk, England, where James spent much of his early childhood. James’ writings offer the reader an interesting, albeit disturbing, glimpse into the horrors afforded by the East Anglian landscape, weaving together ghostly narratives of the imagined with regional folklore, local history and topographical description. The use of semi-fictionalised versions of actual-world locations makes it possible to locate and explore Jamesian hauntings in their extra-textual settings. The potential to experience these spectral environments both on and off the page further strengthens the role of place in the unfolding of James’ narratives, and particularly so for those readers who share the author’s intimate knowledge of the Suffolk landscape. 

This paper sets out to examine the performativity of place under such conditions, aiming to articulate a specific text-as-spatial-event (Hones 2008, 2014) through an extra-textual engagement with James’ short ghost story, ‘A Warning to the Curious’ (1925). The paper explores the particular affective qualities that are afforded by a narrative set within a landscape that is known to both author and reader, and where a performance of place can be seen to underpin the nature of the extra-textual encounter. Focusing on the sensory engagements with spectrality articulated both within and exterior to the landscape of the text itself, the work presented here also demonstrates how place can function in the co-production of specific extra-literary hauntings.


extra-textual; literary geography; literary haunting; M.R. James; place; spectrality; text-as-event

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