In 1898, Henry published James The rotation of the screw, a boneless novella about a governess, two apparently holy children and a few evil spirits who may or may not actually be there. James wanted his horrific story to “terrify the world,” and more than a century later, it is still doing just that. The story has inspired countless adaptations in every format, most recently Netflix The haunted Bly Manor– a follow-up to 2018 The Haunted Hill House (based on Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 novel). Let yourself be unsettled again with these facts about the classic novella.
. The Archbishop of Canterbury planted the seed that inspired The rotation of the screw.
One afternoon in January 1895, Henry James and his cohorts gathered around the fire in the country house of Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury. While discussing how the quality and quantity of ghost stories had diminished, the esteemed church leader shared a worthy one that a woman had told him years ago. The story, which James later wrote in his diary, was of “wicked and depraved” servants who, in their care, “corrupt and depraved the children” and come back to pursue them after they have died under mysterious circumstances. James also wrote that the story should be told “by an outside viewer”. The story itself doesn’t just follow the basic plot of The rotation of the screw, but James’ own experience by the fireplace echoes the opening frame of his novella, in which a man tells a ghost story he first heard from a woman.
Benson died a few years before James wrote the story, and Benson’s sons couldn’t remember their father ever telling an anecdote that they repeated. But it seems likely that James turned his own story out of just a sentence or two; In his foreword to the novella, he wrote that her host only remembered a “shadow of a shadow” from the story and compared it to a “precious pinch … pulled from an old silver snuffbox and held between finger and thumb”.
2. Henry James’ main reason for writing The rotation of the screw was because he needed money.
The royalties on James’ early novels began to dry up in the 1890s, prompting him to turn briefly to playwriting. While most of his pieces remained only on paper, Guy Domville opened in London in 1895. It was a disaster. “I am the last, sir, of the Domvilles!” the title character exclaimed at the end, to which an angry theatergoer supposedly replied very audibly, “It’s a damn good thing, y’are!”
James, humiliated and short of cash, left the theater and soon moved to New York. There he did what he despised: writing series for magazines. One of them was The rotation of the screw, Published in Collier’s Weekly between January and April 1898. “I succumbed in this matter, purely on the financial argument… It means £ 40 a month that I just couldn’t afford not to accept, ”James said in a letter to fellow novelist William Dean Howells, admitting that he“ will do it again and again, even for the same small fee: it’s only a matter of chance! “
3. Henry James didn’t think much about it originally The rotation of the screw.
James seemed to have a hard time separating his serialized work from the reluctant financial motivation behind it. He referred to it sardonically as “literature Idiot ”and considered The rotation of the screw in particular, “the most pathetic kettle on all fours, plain and simple, that a proud man has ever committed.” Pot boiler, a derogatory term for art or literature made for money, appears in all of his correspondence. In a letter to the poet FWH Myers dated December 1898, James called The rotation of the screw “a very mechanical matter … an inferior one, a mere one figuratively, Topic and more of a shameless pot kettle. “
“I could easily say worse of[[[[The rotation of the screw]… as the worst anyone else could do, “James wrote to HG Wells earlier this month. “The thing is essentially a pot kettle and a Mind games. ”
4. Henry James eventually came to appreciate it The rotation of the screw.
Despite the author’s private trifles, The rotation of the screw proved popular with readers and reviewers alike. The New York Tribune called it “one of the most exciting stories we’ve ever read” and The American monthly review of ratings described it as “a beautiful pearl: something perfect, round, calm, unforgettable.” Even critics with much less glowing remarks at least recognized its shock value. The independent onecalled it, for example, “the hopelessly evil story we could have read in any literature”.
In 1908, James published the novella in Volume 12 of The Novels and Stories of Henry James, New York Edition– a 24-volume collection of his selected works – and his foreword indicated a change of heart towards the potboiler. He called it “a piece of ingenuity, plain and simple, of cold artistic calculation Amusettes to catch those who are not easy to catch ”and pontificates on the mechanics of writing.
“Indeed, if the artistic merit of such an experiment could be measured by the intellectual echoes that could set it going again long after it was put into operation, the case would speak in favor of that little steadfast fantasy – which I seem to be pulling a pull on Associations, ”he writes. “I should no doubt blush for having confessed them so numerous that I can only select them for reference.”
5. Henry James made around 500 changes to The rotation of the screw after its initial publication.
While the success of The rotation of the screw Perhaps it contributed to James’ newfound fondness, but it’s also likely that he was much happier with the 1908 version of the story. It wasn’t published piecemeal, and it didn’t have the illustrations that Necklaces had printed with the serialized output. James also made more than 500 changes to the text itself. These changes don’t really affect the story, but it’s clear that James carefully tinkered with each sentence to figure out what he thought was the perfect word or phrase. In some places, for example, he changes star references to moon references – “only to the constellations” was “exposed for the moonlight”, and “a great shine of starlight” became “a great silent moon” – and Flora’s “angry” lamentation “goes away” produced “to” launched “.
6. Critics cannot agree on whether the governess imagined the ghosts or not The rotation of the screw.
Although the changes may seem stylistic at first, critics have nonetheless used them to prove certain theories about the story. Perhaps the most controversial is the governess’s reliability. Some scholars believe that she has a psychosis or other mental illness that causes her to hallucinate the ghosts as we only ever hear her personal account of her (and the idea that the children can see her too is based also exclusively on their perception). Others think now The rotation of the screw is a good old-fashioned ghost story with good, old-fashioned ghosts. Proponents of the earlier theory cite James’ exchange of words as an indication that we should distrust the governess – in the 1908 edition, he often changed the wording to make her experiences seem more subjective. “I became safe” was changed to “I felt safe”; “I perceived” became “I felt”; “I found myself” became “I knew”; and so on. Skeptics argue that this shift is inconsistent and that there are still plenty of strong, objective verbs to bring the point up for discussion.
7th The rotation of the screw terrified almost everyone – including its author.
There is uncanny uncertainty and culminates in a terrible cliffhanger. The rotation of the screw is widely regarded as one of the best scary stories in American literature. So scary it scared even James. “I had to correct the evidence of my ghost story last night,” he told the poet Edmund Gosse, “and when I finished it I was so scared that I was afraid to go upstairs to bed!”
However, one person remained completely untouched: James’ stenographer William MacAlpine. James was sick when he wrote the story and decided to dictate it to MacAlpine. He also hoped that MacAlpine’s reaction to the story could help him predict how other readers would receive it.
“Judge my dismay, when this iron Scot from the first to the last page betrayed not the slightest emotional treasure!” Said James. “I dictated sentences to him that I thought would make him jump off his chair. he shook hands with them as if they were geometry, and whenever I paused to see him collapse he would ask in a dry voice, ‘What’s next?’ “
8. Netflix The haunted Bly Manor based on The rotation of the screw.
More than 120 years after it was first published The rotation of the screw continues to inspire customization of all types (and sizes). Floria Sigismondi’s poorly received film The turning, which was released in January, is a contemporary twist on the story, and horror fans have high hopes for another modern twist: Netflix’s The haunted Bly Manor, which premieres on October 9th. It’s the second season of an anthology series called The Haunted Hill House, whose first season is based on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 horror novel of the same name. Jackson’s novel is often compared to, by the way The rotation of the screw.