The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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‘We had it from him again before the fire in the hall’ – Douglas ‘takes the stage’ once more.
‘this narrative, from an exact transcript of my own made much later, is what I shall presently give.’ – More documentary shenanigans from James. The reader now learns that the narrator is about to quote from a document he wrote ‘much later’ – though he also says it is ‘an exact transcript’ of Douglas’ words, which can hardly be the case if it was composed ‘much later’. The manuscript of the governess was entrusted to Douglas just prior to her death, and then, subsequently, entrusted to the narrator just prior to Douglas’ death. The reader is in danger of becoming confused by all these ‘authentic manuscripts’ by individuals who felt what had occurred was so important that every detail must be committed to writing, and then passed on to another prior to their deaths. Rather than watching Douglas gleefully ‘turning the screw’, the reader can now watch the narrator doing this directly. What began as a simple ‘story’ is now invested with the kind of solemnity associated with a last will and testament.

‘on the same spot’ – the ‘stage’ again, where Douglas stands silhouetted by the firelight.
‘our hushed little circle’ – Spiritualism had a huge vogue in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and an allusion to a séance here (in which real ghosts might be expected to make themselves known) is not to be ruled out.

‘The departing ladies who had said they would stay didn’t, of course, thank heaven, stay:’ – their enthusiasm for the story being, presumably, insufficient to change ‘arrangements made’. The narrator’s ‘thank heaven’ is a ‘turn of the screw’ in that it implies the tale is too horrible for female ears.

‘produced by the touches with which he had already worked us up.’ – Douglas’s self-conscious artistry – ‘the touches’ he has already employed – provides a kind of meta-commentary on the way in which James himself is indirectly manipulating our sensibilities.

‘But that only made his little final auditory more compact and select, kept it, round the hearth, subject to a common thrill.’ – The resemblance to a séance – where numbers are often limited to a few individuals – is again notable. The use of the archaic term ‘auditory’ for ‘audience’ is interesting, implying that those present are waiting to hear something extraordinary – supernatural perhaps. The word usually occurs as a synonym for the ‘nave’ of a church, adding to the solemnity implied.

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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