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MonkeyNotes-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Author Information

Henry James was born to Henry James Sr. and Mary Robertson Walsh in New York City in 1843. Second in a family of five children, Henry was named after his father who was a great intellectual of his time. He had Irish blood in his veins, as his paternal grand father was an Irish immigrant who had settled down in New York City years ago. The old man was a staunch Protestant who became a successful businessman through sheer hard work. His son, Henry James Sr. was not like his father. He was a liberal who taught his children religious tolerance.

Henry James Jr. inherited his fatherís zest for life, intellectualism, religious tolerance and generous heart, but not his democratic spirit. As a child Henry was happy spending time and sharing his ideas with his family. He was as reserved as his mother and shy by nature. His stammer also made him cautious in his speech.

James was not as good a student as his brother William. In fact, he was bad in subjects like Mathematics and Science. Thus school did not interest him and failed to enlighten him. Instead, he educated himself by reading classics, visiting art exhibitions and theatre. He learnt more from observations than from his formal education.


When he was twelve, his family moved over to Europe where they stayed for five years. These years were a learning experience for Henry, as he discovered not only his surroundings but himself as well. He learnt to study human minds and manners and evolved himself as a psychologist.

In 1861, with the outbreak of the American civil war, his family returned home. While his brothers enlisted themselves in the army, Henry pursued his writing career. In 1864, he published his first tales, The Tragedy of Error and The Story of a Year in American journals. From 1869 to 1874, Henry made several visits to Europe. While in Italy, he wrote his first novel Roderick Hudson, a book that dealt with the confrontation between American culture and European corruption. During this time, he also wrote travelogues for American journals.

In order to give his creativity free expression, Henry decided to live in Europe and away from his family. Thus in 1875, he settled down in Paris. Here, he became friendly with many French writers but did not get influenced by their realism. In 1876, he moved over to London and ushered in his literary career with zest. In 1879, he published Daisy Miller and the next year he published The Portrait of a Lady, his much- acclaimed novel. During this time, he also got acquainted with famous literary personalities like Alfred Tennyson, Andrew Lang and Robert Browning.

In 1882, tragedy struck the Henry family. First James lost his mother, then his father and finally his brother, Wilky. He got a little inheritance that he settled on his invalid sister, Alice. Freeing himself from responsibilities and wiping away the tragic happenings, He restarted his literary career with flourish. He published a set of good novels like The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima and The Tragic Muse. However, these novels were not received well by the public. Henry James felt dejected and turned to the theatre. He wrote several plays including Guy Dornville in 1864. Unfortunately, the public also rejected his plays. Although he was dejected, he did not stop writing. He brought out volumes of stories like The Two Magics (1898), The Altar of the Dead (1909), What Maise Knew and The Turn of the Screw, the last two were written like fairy tales for children.

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