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What makes 'The Turn of the Screw' such a successful short story?

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What makes 'The Turn of the Screw' such a successful short story? "The Turn of the Screw" was written by the renowned American author Henry James during the 1890's. James had recently been through an extremely unsuccessful patch, finding it difficult to sell his lengthy, wordy novels and enduring the shame of having one of his plays booed off stage, therefore, his motivation for writing the novella was mainly mercenary. When James decided to take action, he immediately turned to his notebook for inspiration 'in search of something that might tickle the public's jaded taste'. It was here that he found a source for the tale: Archbishop Benson's anecdote about a pair of sinful servants, a man and a woman, who had corrupted two children in their care, and then returned from the dead to claim their souls. 'The Turn of the Screw' draws many other parallels with the anecdote including the setting (a country house) and how the phantoms appear: beckoning to the children from the battlements and across water. 'The, Turn of the Screw' was published at a time when 'spiritual issues' concerning death and the afterlife were becoming increasingly popular and when Gothic, supernatural stories were in demand. Considering this, it is not surprising that James decided to cover these genres. The novella-length tale was first published as a series of 12 instalments in the magazine Collier's Weekly, between the months of January and April in 1898. Its modern day equivalent would most likely be a serialised drama on television. When we consider James' difficulty in writing briefly, we can see that these weekly instalments were an ideal solution to his problem; James could maintain his complex writing style without compromising the reader's attention, therefore making Turn of the Screw far more digestible. ...read more.


Those who choose to believe 'The Turn of the Screw' is simply a ghost story will perceive the Governess as courageous and heroic, however, if we analyse her character from a Freudian standpoint our opinion of her becomes entirely different. Douglas' "confident admiration" of the governess predisposes us to consider her a reliable source, but when we observe that each supernatural visitation follows a stressful incident or vivid fantasy, we begin to question her credibility. Though the author of the account seems reasonable and level headed throughout the tale, we must remember that the words we are reading are not those of the naive 20 year old. The account it is written many years after the actual events, by a considerably more experienced and mature Governess, who admits that if placed in those same situations in her seasoned state, would almost certainly have reacted differently. She acknowledges that her perception of a Bly, for instance, would probably be much different to her first impression: "I daresay that to my older and more informed eyes it would now appear sufficiently contracted". Unfortunately, her own memories are the only evidence on which the older Governess can base her conclusions about what really happened. Despite describing herself as "anxious", "fluttered" and "easily carried away", it clearly does not occur to her that she may have become susceptible to stress induced hallucinations... She writes as though her perceptions were the reality. In addition, we must consider Douglas' own feelings towards the Governess; he admits to have been in love with the woman, therefore his infatuation may have altered his perception of her, just as the Governess' infatuation altered her perception of the Uncle. ...read more.


This indicates that her intention was not to accost the Governess, but merely that she taken the opportunity to return to the sanctuary of her old classroom while she assumed everyone would be at worship. This expectation that everyone would attend Sunday service makes it clear that the attitude to religion was much different to our modern day attitudes. It is important to keep in mind that a 19th century reader would probably find 'The Turn of Screw' far more shocking and powerful than a modern day reader. Though James' style may appear laboured and difficult, his intended audience would have been the intellectual and superiorly educated upper class; consequently, the complex writing style he favours is entirely appropriate. Though some may find the intricate sentences a little hard to follow, they allow James to provide extraordinary level of detail regarding the characters, setting and atmosphere. This mass of information, which may occasionally make the reader feel a little claustrophobic, means that tale is ideal for screen adaptation, as proved by the several films and stage productions based on it. 'The Turn of the Screw' is also richly infused with symbolism, and James employs several motifs, which run throughout the Governess' account. The use of sound is particularly relevant, as it is used to symbolise life and all that is natural and normal. Conversely, silence often heralds any unnatural incidents, such as the Governess' disturbing visions. The use of light also features heavily; Candle light seems to imply safety and protection whereas twilight suggests danger. One examples of this is when the Governess encounters Quint on the stairs and her candle, "under a bold flourish", is blown out. She describes the "cold, faint twilight" in which the figure of Quint is framed. The use of religious imagery is also extremely prevalent. ...read more.

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