The stately homes of England, how beautiful they stand, To prove the upper classes have still the upper hand. – Noël Coward, “The Stately Homes of England”, 1938
From the grand halls of the aristocracy to the homely manors of the gentry, the country house has been an enduring feature of the English landscape for centuries. Its inhabitants have likewise long been conspicuous on the English social scene and this is reflected in fiction. Despite urbanisation and the major social changes that have taken place in Britain since the Second World War a fascination with this class of people, their way of life and their houses has remained. One only has to think of the most popular British period dramas for confirmation.
Scholars, academics, learned people of all kinds, often crop up in fiction. Horror is no exception and ghost stories from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in particular, featured academics in lead roles. Sometimes this is as the result of ‘write what you know’ more than any other reason; M. R. James, coming up later (because of course he is) being a case in point. But, much more significantly, academics represent rational, empirical, and “modern” thought, in contrast to the superstitions of an older, darker age. The academic represents progress; sometimes as a means of rebutting the supernatural, but sometimes the supernatural could show that perhaps our progress had gone too far. Thank you to Sarah Burton on Twitter for prompting the idea for this reading list and thank you to those who offered suggestions (@cath_fletcher, @marccold, & @ssmithwc1n).