So we begin The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. I have wanted to do this story for a long time but have hesitated because it’s so long!
Of course, we have read out The Beckoning Fair One, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, and Carmilla that ran on over several episodes, but The Turn of the Screw will be the longest so far.
I reckon it’ll take five weeks or so, though if I crack on well, I might get it squeezed into four. By that I mean, just making the episodes longer rather than cutting bits out of the glorious story.
I read The Turn of the Screw donkeys’ years ago and liked it, but I’d forgotten much of the story, so it was like reading it for the first time again. A failing memory is one of the blessings of age.
Netflix is currently broadcasting their drama series doing The Haunting of Bly Manor based on The Turn of the Screw, so it’s probably timely to do the original.
I am enjoying rereading it. James has the annoying habit for a narrator of breaking up his sentences with parenthetical information, which makes them hard to speak out. Reading them to oneself isn’t such a problem.
The Turn of the Screw was published in 1898, and written in 1897-1898 when he had moved to Rye in Sussex, a quaint and picturesque small English town.
It was published as an illustrated serial in Collier’s Weekly Magazine. Then in 1898, it was published as a whole in an anthology called The Two Magics.
Just listen to how he constructs the story. He withholds lots and lots and hints and foreshadows.
The introduction, set on Christmas Eve at an English country house, is just a long foreshadowing, whetting your appetite. He sets us up so that, like the guests in the house, we are on pins waiting for the story to begin.
James makes us wonder. We wonder about the gentleman owner whom she has taken a fancy to but who does not wish to be disturbed.
Miles is heavily foreshadowed, and as we end this episode, we can’t wait to meet him to see what he’s like: bad or good.
James was born to a well-off New York family. His father was a philosopher, and his grandfather a banker. The grandfather’s many allowed the James family to indulge their intellect, talent and tastes.
Henry James was the brother of the famous and ground-breaking philosopher and psychologist William James. He was born in 1843 in New York but moved to live in London, where he died in 1916. He took up British citizenship in the last year of his life; technically, he became a subject of the British Crown—just like me.
The family moved to Boston in 1864 because his brother William was studying law there. Henry set to studying law, but didn’t like it and instead turned to literature. The American author Nathanial Hawthorne (who we will read out one day on the Podcast) was a significant early influence on James. James was particularly fond of French literature and of the French authors, Balzac.
Because of a back injury he suffered when fighting a fire, he was not fit to fight in the American Civil War.
He first published in 1863 when he was twenty. It has emerged that James was gay, though, during his lifetime, this fact was hidden. Of course, being gay was a crime in both England and the USA when James was alive.
James is an enormously influential figure in American literature. He wrote several very well-reviewed novels, for example, The Portrait of a Lady, but also The Bostonians, The Ambassadors and The Wings of a Dove.
His work can perhaps better be considered Trans-Atlantic literature rather than purely American or British.
He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1911, 1912 and 1916.
He turned his hand to ghost stories, which of course were all the rage at the end of the 19th Century. The Turn of the Screw is considered by some, even many, as the best ghost story ever written.
James has a touch that reveals the psychological concerns of his characters. He doesn’t write pulp horror stories, oh no.
Start Music: “Some Come Back “by the Heartwood Institute, Check our their new release for Halloween, Witch Season.
End Music: “A Drowning” by Dvoynik