The Aspern Papers and Turn of the Screw – Henry James
Penguin – 1984
I first read Turn of the Screw five years ago. I remember it taking a far longer time to get through than I had expected. While it’s only a novella, the text is remarkably dense, and I frequently needed to reread paragraphs to understand what they meant. I have worked as a teacher/tutor for many years, and rereading Turn of the Screw felt like an exercise in professional development for me; it allowed me to feel the confusion that a student goes through when they are confronted with text that is above their reading level. By the time I got around to rereading the book, I had mostly forgotten what happens in the story, so it was just as difficult the second time around.
Many, if not most, reviews of Turn of the Screw remark on the frustrating complexity of James’ sentence structures, and I have read several reviews that claim that the complicated text adds to the story’s atmosphere of claustrophobia and confusion. It’s an interesting technique, but I didn’t enjoy it. The story here is grand, but the writing ruins it.
Also included in this book is The Aspern Papers, another novella by James. This one is about a man trying to get at some papers that are in an old lady’s closet. It has no supernatural element to it, but I enjoyed it more than Turn of the Screw.
Ghost Stories of Henry James
Wordsworth – Supposedly published in 2001
Last time I was home, I went to one of my favourite book shops and bought a bunch of books from the Wordsworth Tales of Mystery and the Supernatural series. I had picked 5 out, but if you bought them in groups of 3, they were cheaper. This collection by James was the only one that I didn’t already have and I had forgotten how unpleasant reading him was, so I threw it in.
These stories are generally fairly crappy. The Ghostly Rental was probably the only one I actually enjoyed. The Romance of Certain Old Clothes was readable, but much like the exceedingly boring Owen Wingrave, the ghost bit only happens on the very last page. The Private Life and the Jolly Corner are based on interesting ideas, but they’re not spooky stories. The Third Person is one of the most boring, shitty, pooey-bum-bum stories I have ever read. This collection also contains Turn of the Screw.
These aren’t ghost stories for people who like ghost stories. They are stories that feature ghosts for people who like imagining that they’re clever and smelling their own farts. I really, really hope that I never have to read anything by Henry James ever again.
M.R. James > Henry James x 1000.
2 thoughts on “Henry James was a Dry Shite”
I had to read The Bostonians for A level. I recall my first and lasting impression of HJ – ‘When a single paragraph is two and a half pages long, the author is doing something wrong.’
The Lost Moment is a nicely spooky & melodramatic adaptation of The Aspern Papers from 1947, worth seeing.
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I entirely agree with you about his sentence structure. Boring, frustrating and obtuse. I read somewhere that Graham Greene acknowledge a debt to James in terms of style, which is hard to understand, unless he used him as a model of what to avoid …