Suspense in the Turn of the Screw

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How does Henry James create suspense in the prologue and the first five chapters? The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, although defying multiple gothic conventions, remains one of the most suspenseful and sinister tales of the Victorian era. The novella’s ambiguous nature effectively creates a suspenseful atmosphere. Immediately established within the prologue and the first five chapters of the novella is James’ varied use of structural and literary techniques that create and sustain suspense. Henry James is able to initially generate suspense within his novella from the title. The Turn of the Screw is a metaphoric expression that signifies an unpleasant turn of events as it is an idiom which derives from the torture chamber. Not only does this title immediately produce fear amongst the reader, it also compels the reader to question and attempt to anticipate the unpleasant events to come, thus creating suspense. The concept of “The Turn of the Screw” is further elaborated on within the prologue of the novella. Through the quote “If the child gives the effect of another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children” the audience is enticed by the repetition of the ominous title of the book which effectively foreshadows the events to come and creates suspense. Following the title of the tale, the author is able to sustain a high level of suspense within the prologue. In the prologue a framing device is effectively used to allow the audience to expect a ghost story. Through this the audience learns that “The story is written. It’s in a locked drawer” this reveals a secretive and unknown aspect to the tale that is about to be told. This quote allows the audience to question the reason as to why this tale has been kept hidden, creating suspense. The framing device in the prologue further develops suspense through the quote “He had broken a thickness of ice,
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