Seminar on Ghost Walks – Mariane Vinhas
Seminar on Ghost Walks presented by Scott Brewster
‘The ghost walk is an abiding feature of the contemporary tourist landscape in many parts of the world, and its popularity shows no sign of diminishing. The narrative structures and pedestrian rhythms of this leisure experience are strongly indebted to the literary ghost story, and the seminar explores the ways in which the work of M. R. James anticipates the pattern of wandering and digression encouraged by the contemporary ghost walk. Ghost walks, like ghost stories, mark the enduring appeal of a story that lingers, or of a resonant place that makes one pause.’
– Scott Brewster
Dr. Scott Brewster was invited to Radboud University to give a lecture on his main field of research: M. R. James. “Scott Brewster is a Reader in English in the College of Arts [from the University of Lincoln]. His research expertise lies in the fields of Gothic literature, Irish Studies, psychoanalysis and modern poetry.” This lecture was related to his research on the ghost story and he is currently working on the Routledge Handbook to the Ghost Story. This book:
[…] sets out to survey and significantly extend a new field of criticism which has been taking shape over recent years, centering on the ghost story and bringing together a vast range of interpretive methods and theoretical perspectives. The main task of the volume is to properly situate the genre within historical and contemporary literary cultures across the globe, and to explore its significance within wider literary contexts as well as those of the supernatural. The Handbook offers the most significant contribution to this new critical field to date, assembling some of its leading scholars to examine the key contexts and issues required for understanding the emergence and development of the ghost story.
The lecture was entitled “Ghost Walks: M. R. James and The Casual Tourist.” Brewster focused on the very definition of the ghost walk using different sources and quotations pointing out similarities found within M. R. James’ short stories.
The popularity of ghost walks is still alive today; for instance, Wendy Holden asserts that exploring what happens after dark, telling stories are fundamental. In other words, people are curious of what can possibly scare them but are stimulated by this specific form of storytelling. In addition, Hanks’ Haunted Heritage explores the cultural politics of ghost tourism, populism and the past; Hanks affirms that the narrating is related to the pleasure of listening to ghost stories. “The touristic engagement with ghosts is not unique to England. Ghost walks are the most globally ubiquitous form of ghost tourism available in cities throughout the world like Prague, Singapore, Venice, Amsterdam, Melbourne, and Montreal to name only a few.” (16) Emma McEvoy, in Gothic Tourism, clearly defines the ghost walk as a singular activity: “A ghost walk is no mere assemblage of all the ghost stories that are associated with a place (whether pre-existing or invented for the walk itself). It is a sculpted and crafted phenomenon, not merely a walk plus stories, but a journey that creates a narrative in its own right” (123). Indeed, Brewster acknowledges that the ghost walk can be seen as a form of secular pilgrimage in its way of leading people in places while telling ghost stories. In keeping with the idea of pilgrimage, in M. R. James’ “Count Magnus,” the main character, Mr. Wraxall, finds out about Count Magnus who has been on the ‘Black Pilgrimage’ and brought a spirit back with him. Here, Brewster mentions a particular aspect of M. R. James’ short stories: the importance of, what surrounds its characters. Mr. Wraxall reflects that “’it is curious […] how on retracing a familiar path one’s thoughts engross one to the absolute exclusion of surrounding objects” (62). Most of James’s characters are distracted while walking and the distraction is fundamental. The distraction creates suspense and emphasizes the dubious atmosphere which, predict that something might happen.
The students were required to read – along with “Count Magnus” – “Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” “A Neighbour’s Landmark” and “A View from a Hill.” These stories are part of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary published in 1904. The main themes of these short stories are: the forbidden, knowledge and male-centeredness. Indeed, each character seems to start on a quest for the inexplicable to have access to the knowledge of the supernatural, crossing the forbidden, which exists.
Ghost walks are part of the daily folklore. This kind of entertainment is appealing, hence the audience’s curiosity and excitement. M. R. James’s ghost stories do have similarities with today’s ghost walks searching for the forbidden, for instance. I hope I will be able to participate in one of them once, why not here in Nijmegen, as I heard that it was possible. This seminar was very interesting, I like ghost stories quite a lot and I am an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe’s works.
Michele Hanks, Haunted Heritage: The Cultural Politics of Ghost Tourism, Populism, and the Past (USA: Left Coast Press, 2015)
Emma McEvoy, Gothic Tourism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)
Montague Rhodes James, Collected Ghost Stories (UK: Wordsworth Classics, 1992)