The Turn of the Screw: Introduction

Welcome to our readalong of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James! You can follow my discussions here or join our chatter on Twitter using the hashtag #turnofthescread . You can check out the reading schedule here. 

This post will include some spoilers for the “prologue” of the book, but no farther.

As you may already know, I am a big fan of this book and of Henry James’ work in general. The Turn of the Screw combines a few of my favorite things: it’s a short book; it’s a ghost story; it has several ambiguous elements and moments; it’s by Henry James.

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Look at this goof! Source

Henry James was an American author who was born in 1843, but he died a British citizen in 1916. Over the course of his life he grew more and more critical of American culture and politics, and spent more and more time and energy in Europe.

James is one of the biggest influences on the formation of “realism” in literature, and could be called a sort of  prototype author of the “stream-of-consciousness” method of fiction. As his fictional career progressed, he moved from more straightforward storytelling in his novels like Daisy Miller and The Europeans, to very introspective fiction that mostly takes place in the characters’ inner lives, such as in his novels The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove. The Turn of the Screw was written in what is called his “middle period” so there’s elements of both. He really, really likes getting into a character’s head and showing as much of their complexity as possible, while still holding off on proclaiming them to be a certain “type” or judging them as perfectly good or bad.

So! Are you ready for the ghosties??? While you’re reading The Turn of the Screw (or TOTS) here are a few things to look out for:

  • For those of you who participated in Eyrealong, or if you’ve, you know, read or watched Jane Eyre, pay attention to parallels between JE and TOTS. It’s debateable how much of TOTS is a response to Jane Eyre, but certainly some of it is, and certainly James was aware that his readers may have read JE.
  • The prologue frames the story that the governess is telling. How does this frame story promote suspense? How does it undercut it? In other words, WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE FRIGGING PROLOGUE?
  • The Governess: Is she a reliable narrator? What hints or information do we get in support of her reliability or unreliability? Keep a sharp eye!
  • Bly House: How does the setting influence the action, or the characters’ behavior, if at all? PS why would you name a house “Bly”? WHY, BLY?
  • What expectations does the prologue give you for the story, for the young governess-narrator, or for the master of Bly House?

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“But it’s not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have been concerned with a child. If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children-?”

-from the prologue to The Turn of the Screw

Author: bahnree

just a simple girl trying to read my way through the universe

2 thoughts on “The Turn of the Screw: Introduction”

  1. What is the point of the prologue?

    1. It introduces the governess through the eyes of a seemingly reliable source. Douglas knew her, spoke with her often, and she trusted him well enough to tell him her story. He also was in love with her. His esteem of her gives weight to her reliability as a narrator. His infatuation with her, at the same time, calls into question his judgment of her reliability.

    2. It introduces the employer and his sole condition: that he never be troubled by any issue concerning his niece and nephew.

    Regarding the latter, one could put it down to the attitude of the typical gay (old-fashioned usage) young buck of the ’90s, like Galahad Threepwood (for any PG Wodehouse fans out there). On the other hand, I wonder if it hints at something more sinister? How exactly did their parents die? How much time did the Employer spend with Miles & Flora before removing himself entirely from their vicinity? He makes it clear to the Governess that, outside of providing for them materially, he has washed his hands of them.

    1. Good points!

      I’m not sure if we really get enough information about the employer to come to any real conclusions. But the fun part of this book for me is the speculation.

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