Monday, May 23, 2011

Two Doctors, By M.R. James

Did Dr. Abell wish ill on Dr. Quinn? Perhaps. Quinn not only gained the desired services of Abell’s former servant Jennett, but was also taking his patients. Quinn wasn’t doing it on purpose; they all just wanted to come to him. There was something about Abell that put these people ill at ease, including their rector. The narrator is asking for help. He (presumably a he, given the era in which this story was written) has found a collection of papers in an old ledger he acquired. He is asking the reader if they also think there was some supernatural work at play.

Apparently, this is part of M.R. James’ style; he was the creator of the “antiquarian ghost story”. He used more realistic settings and stayed away from the Gothic. He wrote during the early twentieth century and his ghost stories are thought to be some of the best in English Literature. If this is the case, I wonder which or whether any current horror writers have read him.

I’m not sure what I thought of the story itself. Two Doctors was definitely interesting. Did I enjoy it? I don’t know. Maybe I’m too tired these days to be reading something written in such a dense style. Initially I was confused. The story is only eight of the pages in my Oxford Book of English Short Stories, but I found that I kept having to go back and re-read a paragraph or two that I just finished, so I would know what was going on. I didn’t dislike the story. It just left me feeling ambivalent towards it. I think it’s one of those stories I’m likely to forget in a few weeks.

You can read the story here or here.

Thanks to John Mutford at The Book Mine Set for hosting Short Story Monday.


  1. When your initials looked like "Mister," you'd think you'd choose your full first name.

    Though you didn't seem to enjoy it, I'm curious about what the heck an "antiquarian ghost story" is. I've bookmarked it to read in October, closer to Halloween, but I have a strong feeling I won't be scared.

  2. From what I read after reading the story, James was trying to distance himself from Gothic horror, like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. He seemed to be trying to make the supernatural a question instead of a fact of the plot. It was not scary.

    M.R. stands for Montague Rhodes; maybe that was too much of a mouth full?

  3. I haven't heard of M.R. James or antiquarian ghost stories, but am definitely intrigued! I'd like to read this in October...