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
- How do you respond to the narrative frame (the first section) – why doesn't James just jump right into the governess's tale?
- 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?
- 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
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