REVIEW: “Lost Hearts” by M. R. James

Review of M. R. James, “Lost Hearts,” in Minor Hauntings: Chilling Tales of Spectral Youth, edited by Jen Baker (British Library, 2021): 167-180 — Order here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Many — but not all — of the stories in this collection are first-person recollections of events experienced first-hand, all told to a present audience who is clearly expecting to receive something extraordinary. James’s narrator is recounting his tale in a similar fashion, but unlike some of the other narrators he doesn’t claim to have witnessed the events himself: In fact, the most perplexing part of the story is how it is that the unnamed narrator actually knows any of these events to recount in the first place, if he did not see them first-hand. In particular, we are given insight into the actions and experiences of Stephen Elliot, an 11yo orphan who has come to live with a distant cousin Mr. Abney, that by rights no one but Elliot himself should have had. So: Who is the narrator, and how does he know the story he is narrating? That’s the mystery I want solved!

(First published in The Pall Mall Magazine, 1895.)

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