Alexander Crompton

📚 22 - December

Was traveling most of the month and didn't get much time to read.


James, Henry (~1898). The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories.

An anthology of ghost stories that span James's career. "The Turn of the Screw" is a masterpiece. The others... might be of interest to completionists. (When I was talking to friends about the book, they said, "If you hated it so much, why did you finish it??")

The framing devices in some of the stories were interesting formally. The "real" story is a story-within-a-story, framed with something like "We were all vacationing together, and I told everyone I had someone else's diary that they might be interested in hearing me read out loud... so I did!" (Delicious! Just like me and my friends!) I've heard that these devices were used to distance the published story (as an artifact that could cause real-life repercussions) from its nasty/immoral content. I could also believe that they were used to fluff word count. Either way, there's something electric about stories-within-stories in fiction, just like there's something electric about mirrors in film. Let's bring back framing devices!

James seems to love gushing over characters. You'll never (outside fanfic) meet young men as uncomplicatedly, breathtakingly handsome, brave, courteous, upright, generous, honorable, strong, finely-dressed, broad-chested, well-proportioned, clear-skinned, and nice-smelling as you would in story after story after story. I found myself put off by it all, but I wonder if that's a function of my contemporary perspective and/or temperamental pettiness (or my impatience with the viewpoint of closeted men?). This, combined with the chintzy settings and falling-over-itself preciosity of the prose, left me with the resounding impression of corniness. This is all unfair to James I think, because these minor works would probably, mercifully, have been forgotten if not for their thematic resemblance to "The Turn of the Screw."

And part of what's so delicious about "The Turn of the Screw" is that it turns all this preciosity on its head. The governess's cloying fawning over the beautiful perfect children curdles into her hysterics over their unspeakable evil. It's like, thank God!

I've never read any other James, so I'll make a point to read at least one of his actual masterpiece novels.

###