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The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw


by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw Theme of Literature and Writing

Yes, The Turn of the Screw is simply a great story for the sake of being a story – but it's also a great comment upon the art of writing or telling a tale. James sets up his piece within an interesting framework that raises our awareness of its story-ness from the very first page; instead of just jumping right in with the main body of text, he starts out with a brief, seemingly unimportant prologue. The latter does some practical things, like giving us some background info on our main character, but mostly, it just functions to create a ton of tension without a single thing happening. In this brief section, James demonstrates for us what a good horror story does – leave us breathless and excited, waiting for whatever will happen next.

Questions About Literature and Writing

  1. How do you respond to the narrative frame (the first section) – why doesn't James just jump right into the governess's tale?
  2. We essentially have three narrators – the actual narrator present in the untitled introductory section, Douglas (who reads the story aloud), and the Governess. What function does this triple-layered narration perform, if any?
  3. Do you think James intends for this story to be a horror story in the conventional sense? What other intentions might he have had for it?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The extensive build-up before the story even begins takes readers through a skillful writerly game; James playfully works his readers into a fury of curiosity to demonstrate the power of the writer in consciously creating suspense.

While "The Turn of the Screw" is certainly a horror story of the highest caliber, it is also a kind of manual for writers of horror fiction – the title's reference to building a story suggests that it is not the plot that matters, but the conscious crafting of the tale

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