Henry James, the Art of Fiction and the Turn on the Screw

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1. Henry James’s theory of the novel, introduced in his critical essay The Art of Fiction, has been considered as “playing an important part in the definition of the new conventions of the modernist novel” (Dobrinescu, 203). The theory’s central point or main concern has to do with, as Hopkins considers, “taking the novel (and, consequently, theoretical discussion of the novel) seriously”. For James, the novel corresponds to the ultimate art form and it should have a position the community as such. The theory presented by Henry James contains a number of principles the author introduced in his own stories. In the following paragraphs we will revise some of the main ideas presented by James in The Art of Fiction, and how these reflect on his novel The Turn of the Screw.

One of the most important points discussed by James in his essay is the idea of the fictionality of fiction. A novel as an art form to exist must contain the essence of reality; James goes even further by saying that a novel should be life itself. In order to achieve this purpose, the writer “must write from experience"[1]. Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is a framed narration; at the beginning we are introduced to a group of people gathered in an old house telling ghosts’ stories, a common practice during the Victorian period. One of them had just finished telling a story about a boy and his mother’s encounter with a spirit when Douglas, the narrator’s friend, introduces a story he will tell later that involves ghosts and two children. The story is later on told in first person by the children’s governess who experiences the events. Personal experience is then one of the elements that oblige us to consider the narrator’s story as factual and truthful, unlike the previous narrations at the old house which lack that condition.

Related to the idea of experience, although less explicit in James’s theory, is the notion that “inner reality is more complex that outer reality” (Dobrinescu,...
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