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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Tracing the thread : a textual analysis of The Turn of the Screw Emond, Elizabeth Suzanne


One of the finest examples of artistic ambiguity is Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, which was first published in 1898 in Collier's magazine, then revised slightly for book publication in The Two Magics later that year. Approximately three hundred more substantive revisions to the text were made before James published it in the New York Edition in 1908. These revisions, as my thesis shows, neither increase nor decrease the existing ambiguity of the story, but polarize it between a casual reading and a close one, such that the former renders the tale as a ghost story, and the latter as a story about a seriously disturbed governess. My contention is that James revised the tale not because his own interpretation of it changed, but because his conception of the best way to tell the story changed. James wished to tell a tale of evil, and his revisions enable him to tell two equally evil tales in the same breath. Over eighty percent of James' revisions for the New York Edition fall into one or the other of two categories of equal size: those that increase the governess' credibility, and those that increase her psychosis. Each category occupies a chapter, within which the revisions are grouped and tabulated according to the specific functions which they serve—with appropriate explanatory commentary, of course. Chapter I examines the intensification of the governess' disturbed state of mind; Chapter II addresses itself to the methods James used to give his narrator a tone of authority. None of James' revisions to The Turn of the Screw could be called extensive; most involve only the change, or the addition, or the transposition, of a single word. Yet, in aggregate they show, more clearly than anything could, what James' own interpretation of the tale was. Moreover, they point readers to a standard of close reading for a James text. And finally, they show us the powerful effect on a story of a few hundred tiny but subtle substantive revisions.

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