The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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‘he opened the faded red cover of a thin old-fashioned gilt-edged album.’ – a moment that promises revelations at last.

‘ “Oh, I have!” I said.’ – Indicating that the narrator is fully aware of what Douglas is up to – indeed he has been complicit in it, feeding him several questions and suggestions in the last few pages. His title, naturally, is ‘The Turn of the Screw’.

‘a fine clearness that was like a rendering to the ear of the beauty of his author’s hand.’ – A neat transition from the dialogue of the prologue to the text of the story itself, which the reader experiences as a transcript of the original, not as a narrative related by Douglas to his friends.


Note: brief chapter descriptions have been added between square brackets

I [Introduction to the narrator, to Bly, Mrs Grose and Flora]

‘I remember the whole beginning as a succession of flights and drops, a little seesaw of the right throbs and the wrong.’ – The governess’s emotional ‘seesaw’ during the period in which she was deciding whether or not to take her position mirrors the reader’s desire for the secrets of James’s tale to be revealed, which is alternately gratified and then denied. The phrase ‘right throbs and the wrong’, referring to the governess’s heartbeat, perhaps indicates that she tends to make decisions on an emotional rather than a rational basis.

‘the long hours of bumping, swinging coach’ – symbolic of the ‘flights and drops’ she is feeling.
‘I was to be met by a vehicle from the house.’ – A standard procedure, but also the way in which Jane Eyre arrives at Thornfield. Although a direct parallel to Brontë’s novel has been ruled out by the information that the governess never sees the master of Bly again (and therefore cannot be betrothed to him) there is, nonetheless, an underlying sense of supernatural unease in Jane’s time at Thornfield that reflects upon The Turn of the Screw.

‘I remember as a most pleasant impression the broad, clear front, its open windows and fresh curtains and the pair of maids looking out’ – Both the governess and the reader have been expecting something more gothic, gloomy, and, as the narrator herself says, ‘melancholy’, though Bly, it is later revealed, does have a gothic tower with crenulations.

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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