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The Classic Ghost Story, with Michael Dirda

Two Wednesdays: October 23 and November 6 (there is no class on October 30), 1 - 3 p.m.

This class is now sold out. Email to be added to the waitlist.

Price: $70/65 members

classSoft shadows creep in the mist. Antiquaries and scholars stumble upon ancient artifacts or strange old books. A Latin fragment warns about a great treasure’s “guardian.” In this two-session course we will read and discuss some of the classics of supernatural fiction, with an emphasis on the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this period atmosphere and menace are brilliantly depicted, while gore and gratuitous violence are avoided. These stories are, in some ways, the equivalent of “cozy” mysteries—though there is nothing soft or sentimental about them. Many don’t even involve ghosts, so much as demons or strange beings or eerie happenings. But all of them are haunting—and make for ideal reading for dark evenings between Halloween and Twelfth Night.

Rather than sampling selections from an anthology, I thought it more useful and fun to focus on three different Edwardian masters of the eerie tale: M.R. James, Edith Wharton and E.F. Benson. Three books will be required, all available in inexpensive paperbacks from Wordsworth Classics: The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James, The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, and Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson. There are other editions available, and any of these can be substituted. 

In the first class I will present a history of the ghost story, then focus on M.R. James as the central figure. The second class will discuss James’s disciples (the so-called “James Gang”), parallel developments in occult and supernatural fiction (the writers Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood, in particular), and then look at stories by Wharton and Benson. I will talk a lot—I am very fond of ghost stories—but I will expect class participation. Bring your books to each class.

The Collected Ghost Stories of M.R. James
The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton
Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E.F. Benson

To be read before the first class:
M.R. James: “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook,” “Casting the Runes,” “Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad,” “The Mezzotint,” and “Count Magnus"

Michael Dirda is a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic for The Washington Post. He's also a member of The Ghost Story Society and a contributor to the All Hallows online discussion group. Over the years he's written frequently about the early masters of fantasy, mystery and science fiction, and even conducted two courses on the adventure novel at the University of Maryland. His most recent book, On Conan Doyle (Princeton), received a 2012 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

REFUND POLICY: Please note that we can issue class refunds up until seven (7) days before the first class session.

Promotional Period: 
Oct 23 2013 - Nov 6 2013
ISBN-13: 9781840225518
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Wordsworth Editions, 7/2007

ISBN-13: 9781840221640
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Wordsworth Editions, 5/2009

Night Terrors (Paperback)
Model: 9781840226850