Masters Thesis

Style, rhetoric, and ambiguity in Henry James's The Turn of the screw

Originally published in 1898 in serial form, The Turn of the Screw has undergone many incarnations. The short story was published again, complete with a preface, in Henry James’s New York Edition, 1907-1909. The version I have chosen to use, edited by Robert Kimbrough, is based directly on this edition: “The first section of the present volume contains the only critical edition of The Turn of the Screw ever published and is the first modern text to follow the New York Edition, the one which had James’s final authority” (Kimbrough, ix). Kimbrough includes the notes that accompanied the serial version, as well as several of James’s personal letters about the story as well. Rather than choose sides and argue for or against the Governess’s sanity, I am studying James’s stylistic choices not to solve the debate over the ghosts’ existence, but to determine how, lingusitically and rhetorically, James created this unanswerable dilemma. Richard A. Lanham’s Analyzing Prose will serve as a starting point for my stylistic analysis, and I supplement with Aristotle’s theories of rhetoric. James wrote in his New York edition preface that this story is “a piece of ingenuity pure and simple, of cold artistic calculation, an amusette to catch those not easily caught (the “fun” of the capture of the witless being ever but small), the jaded, the disillusioned, the fastidious” (120). My interest lies not in what ambiguity he created, but rather in how.

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