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Botanicult Fiction: Horticultural Horror (The Rose Garden by M.R. James)

May 13, 2020

By Alex Henderson, Curator of Collections, Royal Botanical Gardens

Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a prolific mediævalist scholar and Provost of King’s College Cambridge (1905-1918) and of Eton College (1918-1936) and became Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (1913-1915). He was considered to be a leading scholar of mediæval manuscripts and biblical apocrypha but is best known for his short ghost stories of which he is considered to be the best in the genre. He is also known as the originator of “antiquarian ghost stories”. These are typically characterised by:

  • Landscapes and countryside set in rural towns, seaside villages or country estates. These are invariably in England, France, Denmark or Sweden.
  • Nondescript and rather naive gentleman-scholars as protagonists of an aloof or reserved disposition
  • Discovery of old books or other antiquarian objects that attract the wrath of supernatural menace from beyond the grave

The Rose Garden was published in Rhodes’ second collection of short tales called “More Ghost Stories” in 1911. The story revolves around a married couple, Mr. and Mrs. Anstruthers, who after recently moving to a large house in the countryside, ignore advice, and decide to demolish an old summerhouse in their garden and replace it with a rose garden.  The summerhouse has been there for a very long time and when cleared away results in the revelation of a sinister secret, ghastly whisper’s, and malevolent nightmares of a terrible past event.

You will no doubt, be happy to learn, that all possible preparations were taken to avoid invoking such similar supernatural phenomena during the construction of RBG’s award winning rose garden.

Attached picture is of Curator’s own edition of the Penguin Short Stories edition of More Ghost Stories first published in 1959.

Botanicult Fiction is an affectionate review of plants in pop culture viewed through the lens of plant nerds and curated for your reading or viewing pleasure during this challenging time of self isolation