The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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‘She had never told anyone.’ – Another ‘turn of the screw’. Henry James is writing a novella about a narrator who hears a story from his friend Douglas who was entrusted with a secret narrative sent to him on a woman’s deathbed who had shared the story with him, and him alone, on one of his breaks from college. The plot thickens with perhaps deliberate absurdity.

‘ “YOU will.” ¶ I fixed him too. “I see. She was in love.”’ – This indicates a shared understanding between Douglas and the narrator. Presumably the narrator has a reputation for being good at recognising the signs of someone being in love.
‘He quitted the fire and dropped back into his chair.’ – His initial performance – both a prologue, and, latterly, a mise en scène – is now concluded, and Douglas exits the ‘stage’.

‘ “Probably not till the second post.”’ – another, almost nonchalant, ‘turn’. Douglas has his audience exactly where he wants them – as does James, of course.

‘It was almost the tone of hope.’ – signalling a degree of regret in having agreed to tell his story, though this is probably still artifice.

“I will” – and “I will!” cried the ladies whose departure had been fixed.’ – Douglas has succeeded in altering the plans of at least two members of the opposite sex. This is something of a triumph for him, though the stakes are now high. ‘Mrs Griffin’ however requires a little more information to be completely hooked. The story now has a romantic dimension, which clearly appeals to her.

‘ “The story WON’T tell,” said Douglas; “not in any literal, vulgar way.”’ – There are mysteries in the tale that will require some teasing out, clearly, though Douglas does indicate that he will reveal the romantic aspects of the story when he speaks of it again ‘tomorrow’.

‘And quickly catching up a candlestick, he left us slightly bewildered.’ – Douglas makes his dramatic exit – apparently to ensure that nothing more of the story is revealed that evening.

‘the great brown hall’ – gothic, perhaps, but also a somewhat dismissive expression.

‘ “Well, if I don’t know who she was in love with, I know who HE was.”’ – Mrs Griffin’s insight is convincing. After all, it gives the young Douglas a motive for showing an unusual interest in his sister’s governess: and such an interest would conceivably have invited her to confide in him.

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Henry James
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul