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Examine how James creates the atmosphere and tension of a ghost story in the opening chapters of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw

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Examine how James creates the atmosphere and tension of a ghost story in the opening chapters of 'The Turn of the Screw' The Turn of the Screw is a Victorian ghost story. It is written in the gothic style and is structured as a story within a story. It is about a man telling a ghost story to a group of house guests in front of the fire on a dark Christmas Eve. The man, Douglas, tells the guests a story about a newly appointed governess who has been taken on by a mysterious bachelor to look after his two young wards. However, that is only the beginning. Although it fits some of the obvious clich�s found in Victorian ghost stories, it is different to most typical Victorian ghost stories because it involves two young children causing harm. That was unheard of at that time. This essay will look at how the author, Henry James, creates the atmosphere and tension in the story by the way he structures the story, the language he uses and the descriptions of the characters and scenes. When people think of ghost stories today, we often expect the usual stereotypical styles. For example, we imagine a dark stormy night in a big old country house, where everyone is remarkably posh. In Victorian times these were key elements to a ghost story. ...read more.


The narrator says "Because the thing had been such a scare?" and Douglas replies "You'll easily judge, you will." Again, the audience is left on a cliff-hanger wanting to know more. The story of the governess builds the suspense even more. She is young and poor and seems vulnerable so the reader feels empathy for her. The bachelor appears rich, handsome and nice and has taken on his dead brothers' children but then leaves them alone in a large country house with only servants to look after them. This makes the situation seem mysterious, why is the man not married? Why does he not live with the children? There had been a previous governess who had died and this make the listeners wonder if there is something strange about her death. Douglas tells them that they will find out. The governesses instinct makes her have doubts about taking the job making the reader feel uneasy for her. She takes it anyway because she likes the man and the pay is good, even though the man has said that she must never contact or trouble him. This is another mystery and hints that something is not right about the situation. When the governess arrives from London her first impressions are good, "the summer sweetness seemed to offer me a friendly welcome" though she had been dreading starting the job because of the strange way that she had been taken on. ...read more.


The reader realises that Mrs Grose knows more than she has admitted to and begins to feel scared at the situation the governess has got into. The governess cannot understand why the children have never mentioned Quint even though they spent much time with him. Suddenly, they realise that Quint is after Miles. The governess describes emotionally and hysterically how she will protect the children, "They had nothing but me, and I - well, I had them." The reader feels her emotions and fear. Finally, the governess is outside with Flora when she feels a presence. She daren't look, but when she does there is a ghostly woman watching them. The shocking thing is that Flora has seen too but seems unconcerned. This eeriness adds to the unease the reader feels about the supposedly angelic children leading to a feeling that something bad is about to happen. This essay sums up how James creates tension in the opening chapters of The Turn of the Screw. Atmosphere and tension are created by the use of mysterious figures appearing to the young, vulnerable governess. The scenes are set in an old house and things happen when it is nearly dark. The information is revealed bit by bit, creating cliff-hangers. The innocence of children is doubted and although it is a difficult book for the modern reader to understand, it is modern in the way the atmosphere is created. ...read more.

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