Floods, erosion, tourists and ghosts: M. R. James' and E. F. Benson's defence of the East Anglian coast in 'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You My Lad', ‘A Warning to the Curious’ and E. F. Benson’s ‘A Tale of an Empty House’.
This article situates Edwardian and inter-war ghost stories by M. R. James and E. F. Benson as oblique responses to early twentieth century debates about rural environments, the impact of tourism and coastal erosion. It adopts a historically and spatially specific approach to the East Anglian locations in these stories by reading them alongside preservationist polemics, tourist guides, reports on coastal geography and speculative geological theories. Reflecting the coastal settings of the stories, flooding and erosion are depicted as environmental processes and transformed into metaphors to articulate the impact of tourism and the instability of national borders. The article argues that ghosts function as a form of coastal defence against threats posed by human visitors and the environment. By using ghosts to explore these environmental anxieties the stories suggest that what might seem a tranquil rural coastline is haunted by environmental and cultural conflicts.