More commonly known by his published name M. R. James, he was an English mediaeval scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905–1918), and of Eton College (1918–1936). He is best remembered for his ghost stories, which are regarded as among the best in the genre. James redefined the ghost story for the new century by abandoning many of the formal Gothic clichés of his predecessors and using more realistic contemporary settings. However, James's protagonists and plots tend to reflect his own antiquarian interests. Accordingly, he is known as the originator of the "antiquarian ghost story".

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