Writings in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw

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Writings in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw Leon Edel, in his biography of Henry James, tells of an instance after Alice James’ death when Henry James discovered a collection of letters he had written to her. James, aware that researchers would be all too interested in the details revealed in the correspondences to his sister, destroyed them. Writers who gain notoriety within their own lifetime become aware that every written word will be inspected. James knew that documents relating to an author can be important to prove intention in the author’s work, as well as to look at personal relationships, friendships, or simply to acquire the details of a specific event. He was fully informed that letters can reveal as much or as little as he chose to let them. This knowledge explains why he used papers, diaries, notes, documents, plans, letters, manuscripts, wills, messages, decrees, telegrams, and other written communications as tools to advance his stories. For ease of reading, I will call these, collectively, "writings." The frequency with which James utilizes these writings is surprising. A few examples of these in his texts are: the telegrams from In the Cage, the messages and papers in The Aspern Papers, the letters (obviously) from A Bundle of Letters, and the diary from The Visits. Evaluation of these writings, within James’s literature has, until now, been ignored. Within The Turn of the Screw, especially, writings tell a story about their own lives and deaths, about their readers, intended and unintended, and give clues to James’s own intentions and the intentions of the authors of the writings. Many valid questions about these letters have been left unanswered by previous scholarship on this work. For example, what do these writings in The Turn of the Screw reveal about the traumas at Bly? What can they tell us about the past, about the ghosts, and about their unnatural deaths? How does James use the story as a letter to his readers with other letters inside it, to characters in the text? What can they reveal about their authors, and ours? What do they say about their readers? How do these letters hide each other, and the secret of their own importance? Turn’s similitude to The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe is explicit. Poe and James use the same device: they hide secrets, in a letter, by placing that letter in an obvious place.
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