By in Sci Fi & Paranormal

Ghost Story Review: "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" by M. R. James

While cataloguing manuscripts at [Blank] College, Cambridge, the unnamed narrator of this story comes across the obituary for the Venerable John Benwell Haynes, aged 57, Archdeacon of Sowerbridge and Rector of Pickhill and Candley, an alumnus of the same college. He doesn’t think much of it until he comes across a box of papers, donated by the archdeacon’s niece. It’s been sitting unopened for decades.

With the library’s permission, the cataloguer takes it home and thumbs through it. He reads how a former elderly archdeacon, Pulteney, fell down the stairs and broke his neck. A careless maid is blamed for not properly securing the carpet in the staircase. Dr. Haynes steps in and spends three years getting the bishopric in order. Everything seems well and happy, except Dr. Haynes himself. He confides to his journal that he’s hearing voices. An odd and aggressive cat seems to be roaming the halls. A feeling of dread is overcoming him. He doesn’t like being alone.

There’s a little bit of see-it-coming here, but the suspense-building is nicely done. It might move too slowly for modern readers. It is heavy and gothic. The bad guy gets his. While the ending might stretch things a bit, as karma plays itself out and plays itself out again to its logical extreme and a smile-worthy release of tension. I know this will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is enjoyable.


Title: “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” first published in More Ghost Stories of an Antiqutarian 1911

Author: Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) (penname M. R. James)

Source: ISFDB




Last review: "Service with a Smile" by Charles L. Fortenay

Last ghost story: "Through the Ivory Gate" by Mary Raymond Shipman Andrews


© 2015 Denise Longrie


An earlier version of this review appeared on another site. It has been removed and is no longer visible there. It have been updated and expanded for its inclusion in PP.

Image Credit » by Maxiline

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Rufuszen wrote on August 21, 2015, 7:07 AM

I have a feeling the BBC made this into one of their Christmas Ghost Stories, for late night on the Eve. Must look that up.

msiduri wrote on August 21, 2015, 9:19 AM

Could very well have. It would have a lot of excellent visuals and could easily have been made into a TV show. I don't know of one specifically, but I can see it being done. I hope you enjoy it should you come across it. It is rather slow in the beginning. Not everything is as it appears, so much is implied rather than stated until the very end.