Monday, April 15, 2019

M.H. James

M.H. James (b. Eltham, Kent, 17 July 1858; d. Marylebone, London, 9 December 1938)

Margaret Helen James was the oldest of four children, two sons and two daughters, of Henry Haughton James (1827-1885) and his first wife, Sophia Courthope (1833-1866).  Margaret also had one half-brother and one half-sister from her father's second marriage in 1867, to Annie Sparks (1838-1909).  She was a first cousin of the ghost-story writer M.R. James--her father was the younger brother of Reverend Herbert James (1822-1909), the father of M.R. James.

Her only book was Bogie Tales of East Anglia (Ipswich: Pawsey & Hayes, 1891). Despite its title, which makes it sound like a collection of weird tales, it is a collection of twenty folk tales, as recorded or remembered by Miss James.  Only the first thirteen have a "bogie" element, while the remaining seven are not supernatural at all.

M.H. James worked as an index-maker for over forty years. According to her obituary in the journal of the Alpine Club, she possessed "two assets of great value to her in her work: a wide knowledge and a really brilliant memory."  Her work was praised for its accuracy and completeness.  She was responsible for the index to her cousin M.R. James's Suffolk and Norfolk (1930). Margaret Helen James died of pneumonia at the Nightingale Hospital in Marylebone. 

Bogie Tales from East Anglia was reprinted in 2019, with an appropriate new subtitle "A Victorian folklore collection" and an introduction by Francis Young.  The contents are slightly altered (mostly in terms of punctuation), but also the footnotes, originally at the end of the book, now appear throughout the book on relevant pages. Francis Young interestingly notes that Morley Adams (1876-1954), in his book In the Footsteps of Borrow and Fitzgerald (1914), plagiarized some of James's stories without any credit to her. 

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