The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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‘ “That will come out. I don’t anticipate.”’ – The death of the previous governess is obviously significant. Douglas is still keen to ‘turn the screw’.

‘ “Excuse me – I thought that was just what you ARE doing.”’ – This rather nettled comment indicates the extent to which Douglas has wound up his audience. He had indeed promised to explain the background to his story, and the previous governess’s death is clearly a vital piece of that background. In the next speech, the initial narrator himself digs for information in a less direct manner, and learns that the new governess did ask questions about the previous governess’s death and was, apparently, satisfied, though Douglas gives no further details. The audience, therefore, is, yet again, left hanging.

‘a vision of serious duties and little company, or really great loneliness.’ –reminiscent of Jane Eyre’s concerns regarding her appointment at Thornfield.

‘the seduction exercised by the splendid young man’ – The implication is that this gentleman has, effectively, charmed and bribed the governess to take a position that would otherwise have been difficult to fill. This explains his earlier affable manner.

‘gave a stir to a log with his foot’ – symbolic, as before, of ‘turning the screw’.

‘ “Yes, but that’s just the beauty of her passion.”’ – James’s novella takes an interesting turn in these pages. Up until now, the emphasis has been on the (supposed) factual elements of the story – a document locked in a drawer etc. (however far-fetched such things might appear). Now, increasingly, the tone seems to be more literary: a romantic story (with at least one obvious literary precedent) one of the points of which appears to be ‘the beauty’ of this woman’s ‘passion’, who has fallen in love with a man she sees only twice.

‘They were, somehow, simply afraid.’ – The fear, no doubt, deriving from the circumstances of the previous governess’s mysterious death. Douglas’ ‘somehow’ is ingenuous, as he presumably knows what happened: it is another ‘turn of the screw’.

‘ “That she should never trouble him […]”’ – The gentleman sounds remarkably selfish in this respect.

‘ “[…] she already felt rewarded.”’ – It is hard – though not perhaps completely impossible – to imagine an infatuation so great as to be satisfied only with this. By telling the reader more, James has successfully deepened the mystery even further.

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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