Ghosts of the Chit-Chat

“This Society shall be called the ‘Chit-Chat Club’, and consist of Members of the University, and have for its object the promotion of rational conversation.”

“Preface” to Ghosts of the Chit-Chat by Robert Lloyd Parry

This rule, the first in the founding charter of the Chit-Chat, was not always strictly observed during the thirty-seven years of the club’s existence. It’s true that membership was only ever drawn from undergraduates and staff of Cambridge University, but the name was subject to variation, and it was for an evening of supernatural storytelling rather than rational conversation that the Chit-Chat has earned its modest place in the history of English literature.

On the evening of Saturday, 28 October 1893, members past and present ought to have been enjoying a dinner in celebration of the club’s recently held 600th meeting. The secretary, A. B. Ramsay, had failed to make the necessary arrangements, however. So instead, ten current members and one guest gathered in the rooms of the Junior Dean of King’s College and listened—with increasing absorption one suspects—as their host read “Two Ghost Stories”.

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat is not the first book to celebrate this momentous event in the history of supernatural literature, the earliest dated record we have of M. R. James reading his ghost stories out loud. But it is the first to look more widely at the contributions that other club members made to the genre. The authors whose works appear in these pages are not a diverse group: they were the privately educated sons of bankers, lawyers, schoolmasters, and clergymen, who would themselves go on to careers in academia, journalism, the army and the church. But they were also men of imagination, curiosity, and wit, and the variety lies in the different approaches to supernatural fiction: here you’ll find tales of ghostly retribution and black magic; spatterings of gore and glimpses “beyond the veil”. You’ll read stories written to edify schoolboys, and poems composed to tickle undergraduates. You’ll encounter allegory, satire, and mysticism.

Artwork by John Coulthart

And while all the writers invoke ghosts in their work, many are also shades themselves; men whose remembrances have faded, whose voices are but faintly heard today. M. R. James and E. F. Benson remain in the mainstream, it’s true. But while names like Maurice Baring, Desmond MacCarthy, and J. K. Stephen may still ring faint bells with the book-loving public, their works are long out of print. Whereas the writings of Robert Carr Bosanquet and Will Stone are found only in the pages of unread memorial volumes.

Used with permission from the Syndics of Cambridge University Library

Each of the works selected here is preceded by an account of the author’s life and his relationship to M. R. James and—except in one case—formal membership of the Chit-Chat Club is a prerequisite for inclusion in this volume. Celebrated Cambridge supernaturalists like Arthur Gray, E. G. Swain, R. H. Malden, and others find no place here for the simple reason that they never made the commitment to attend a meeting every Saturday evening at 10 p.m. during term, take a pinch of snuff, and listen to one of their friend’s read a paper. Or perhaps they were never asked.

The designations of the Chit-Chat as a “club” and a “society” were interchangeable from the beginning—both appear in the first set of rules. The minute books, and the letters and memoirs of past members, variously render the name as “Chit-Chat”, “Chit Chat”, or “Chitchat”. Except when quoting other sources, I shall follow rule one from the first set of rules, quoted above, and use Chit-Chat Club.

Read more about John Coulthart’s Cover.

Buy Ghosts of the Chit-Chat.

Ghosts of the Chit-Chat

Dublin Ghost Story Festival 2016

dublin logo final copySo this is pretty exciting news.

For quite some time I’ve been pondering the idea. Is it even possible? The question kept me up nights, brain scheming. I remember a while back now – a year and a half ago, maybe? – talking to John Connolly on Dame Street after a chance meeting. I asked him if he thought it could be done, if it should be done. “Yes. Definitely,” he said. No hesitation. And who am I to argue? So this week we made the final arrangements.

Ladies and gentlemen: Do you like ghosts? Do you like books? Do you like Guinness? If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, then I’d like to formally invite you to the first Dublin Ghost Story Festival.

While we’re still putting together some of the details, I wanted to make the announcement straight away so people could mark their calendars and think about making arrangements. Here are the facts so far:

Guest of Honour: Adam Nevill

Master of Ceremonies: John Connolly

and Robert Lloyd Parry performing the ghost stories of M.R. James

When: Friday, 19th August -Sunday, 21st August 2016

Where: The Grand Lodge of Ireland, Molesworth Street, Dublin, Ireland

swanriverpress.ie/dublin2016.html

So there you go. Hopefully that will tide you over until I can put together the website and a way for people to book membership. I’m very excited about the venue – the rooms at the Freemason Lodge will make the perfect backdrop for our event, in particular to Robert Lloyd Parry’s one-man show that will kick-off the weekend.

Saturday will feature panel discussions, readings, and plenty of time have pints with attendees. There will be a dealer’s room too, of course. Sunday is still being planned, but will include a guided tour. That’s all I can say about that for now.

If you have any questions, or want to leave any comments (we’d like to hear from you), we have a Facebook page here. In the meantime, please help us get the word out.

Over the next month there will be announcements. Other guests, panels, attendees… Needless to say we’re eager to host this event and share a pint with you. So please consider joining us in the city of Bram Stoker, J.S. Le Fanu, Lafcadio Hearn, and Lord Dunsany!

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Dublin Ghost Story Festival 2016