The Ash-Tree by MR James – 1904
It’s very difficult to read stories of this vintage – even those written by a deity of the supernatural genre such as MR James – after spending any length of time with modern authors. It takes a while to acclimatise to the differences in language and the way that the story itself has been put together, but stick with it – it’s a worthwhile excursion.
In some regards it is an unfair comparison, because it’s apples and oranges. MR James was writing at a time when readers did not have the attention span of a gnat. The Ash-Tree – about an inherited English estate with a cursed history – is only 5400 words, but James, one of the most atmospheric writers of his generation, manages to pack more in to that word count than many twenty-first century authors could do with four times the length.
The Ash-Tree was published in 1904 in James’ first collection of shorts, Ghost Stories if an Antiquary, and the full text is available to read for free online here, if you want to give it a look.