The Turn of the Screw
By Henry James
First published in 1898
The Turn of the Screw is a novella that was published in serial form in Collier’s Weekly. The story is divided into a prologue and twenty four chapters. The story begins on a Christmas eve with people sitting around a fire telling ghost stories. After a lackluster ghost story the narrator introduces the story of a governess who is watching over two children who are haunted by apparitions! The novella is a quick read and will keep you reading long into the night!
We are studying this story in a Critical Approaches to Literature class that I am taking. The definition of critical is not passing judgement but as a way to interpret and analyze literature. We are applying different theoretical frameworks to interpret literature. The more well known theories are psychoanalysis and new criticism. Even if you don't know the theories you may have heard of the terminology associated with them like close reading, and symbolism. I tend to interpret literature in the classical way, that is incorporating the authors history and historical context of the text. That also influences the way I normally present these blog post. I tend to give a brief bio of the author or things I think are significant to the text. Also, some of the text discussed here are a hundred or even a few hundred years old and I tend to interpret them from the context they were written in. See my King Lear post and Tom Sawyer post. That said, I am trying a little something different with this one.
The Turn of the Screw - Free
The Turn of the Screw: A Case Study in Contemporary Criticism (Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism) - $13.64 This is the version we are using in class. Has many great essays on the book using different approaches. unfortunately it is not available in eBook format.
The Turn of the Screw is a framed story. The story is being narrated on a cold winter night while people are taking turns telling ghost stories. The person telling the story is recalling the story from the written account he got from the Governess who experienced and wrote it down. How does the framing of the story affect the story? The story could have been the written account from the governess herself. Why does Henry James chose to tell the story in this way?
Because the story is being told from memory, the question of the reliability of the narrator is raised. Is the written account reliable? It is written from the first person account and telling of supernatural events; is the governess telling what she saw or is she delusional? Is the ghost story teller relaying all the facts or is he elaborating on the story for effect?
These are some of the questions that come up while doing a narratological reading of the story. Narratology is looking at how the structure of the narrative affects the interpretation of the story. This is a great story to do this type of interpretation. The novella is written by the author who is telling a story. He frames it as a ghost story in the story he wrote. Also, the author is writing in a genre, and the conventions of the genre affect the way the story is told and what has to be included.
The critical approach to literature can help in understanding the story in a more profound way. The author wrote the story for the entertainment of the reader, and the reader can get a deeper understanding by critically thinking about what they are reading. Spending time thinking about the story can help the reader remember the story better. From personal experience, the stories I tend to forget are ones I did not spend time thinking about. Asking simple questions like “why the author chose to start the story in a certain way” can lead to a more in depth reading experience. I read for pleasure but I also like to learn from what I read. Our culture is becoming increasing more reliant on sound bytes and information overload. Spending time reading and thinking about reading is important. I don't just want to read to get through a novel, I want to enjoy the experience and I can do that by thinking about what I am reading as well as while I am reading. Thinking about the choices that authors make in starting novels or in organizing the chapters, helps the readers to become an active reader.
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