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MonkeyNotes-The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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Chapter Summaries and Notes

Prologue

Summary

The novel opens with a scene that shows men sitting around a fire and narrating stories. It is Christmas Eve. One of the men named Griffin has just finished relating the experience of a child possessed by a ghost. Another member of the group, named Douglas, volunteers to narrate a more exciting story about two children haunted by ghosts. However, he asks for a few days time, as he has to wait for the manuscript of the tale to arrive from home. In the mean time, he introduces the narrator of the story as a lady who had served as a governess to his sister. In the past, the lady had accepted the offer as a governess to two orphaned children, as she was charmed by the personality of her employer, who was the uncle of the two children. She had also agreed to his condition, that is, she would not trouble him with the affairs at Bly and handle her responsibility on her own.

The script of the story arrives a few days later but Douglas postpones telling the story. However, when the guests pester him to narrate the tale, he agrees to read the manuscript.


Notes

Henry James has set this story in the 'frame' of another narrative. An anonymous man starts narrating an incident that culminates in the relating of the real story of the novel. The narrator meets another man named Douglas who volunteers to tell a thrilling story about two children and their encounter with ghosts. Douglas reads out the manuscript written by a lady, who is the protagonist and the narrator of the real story of the novel. Thus the author has used a parenthetical device or ‘frame’ in this work.

Many things are left unexplained in the prologue. There is no clear identity of the main narrator who opens the novel. Neither is the role of Douglas unfurled properly. Readers are made to guess as to what kind of relationship exists between Douglas and the writer of the manuscript. It is hinted that he had admired the lady and hence, could have been in love with her. The employer of the governess is also a mysterious character as neither his name nor his profession is mentioned. Also, his desire to stay away from Bly and not interfere in its affairs seems strange.

Henry James could have been influenced by his predecessors, in writing the prologue of the novel. The frame technique might have been copied from novels written in the past. One of the novels where a similar frame is designed, is Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee. In Twain’s novel, the protagonist of the story hands over the manuscript of the novel to the narrator who recounts the incidents in the story to the readers. Henry James could have been inspired by Twain’s novel. However, James does not follow Twain’s formula of ending the novel with the words of the narrator. In The Turn of the Screw, neither the anonymous narrator nor Douglas close the novel. The novel ends with the end of the governess’ story.

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