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From the Preface to Henry James’s 1908 Edition of The Turn of the Screw

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Part of the Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism book series (CSICC)


This perfectly independent and irresponsible little fiction rejoices, beyond any rival on a like ground, in a conscious provision of prompt retort to the sharpest question that may be addressed to it. For it has the small strength — if I should n’t say rather the unattackable ease — of a perfect homogeneity, of being, to the very last grain of its virtue, all of a kind; the very kind, as happens, least apt to be baited by earnest criticism, the only sort of criticism of which account need be taken. To have handled again this so full-blown flower of high fancy is to be led back by it to easy and happy recognitions. Let the first of these be that of the starting-point itself — the sense, all charming again, of the circle, one winter afternoon, round the hall-fire of a grave old country-house where (for all the world as if to resolve itself promptly and obligingly into convertible, into “literary” stuff) the talk turned, on I forget what homely pretext, to apparitions and night-fears, to the marked and sad drop in the general supply, and still more in the general quality, of such commodities. The good, the really effective and heart-shaking ghost-stories (roughly so to term them) appeared all to have been told, and neither new crop nor new type in any quarter awaited us. The new type indeed, the mere modern “psychical” case,° washed clean of all queerness as by exposure to a flowing laboratory tap, and equipped with credentials vouching for this — the new type clearly promised little, for the more it was respectably certified the less it seemed of a nature to rouse the dear old sacred terror.

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© 1995 Macmillan Publishers Limited

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James, H., Beidler, P.G. (1995). From the Preface to Henry James’s 1908 Edition of The Turn of the Screw. In: Beidler, P.G. (eds) The Turn of the Screw. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism. Palgrave, London.

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