Return of the Screw
In this course we will explore the ambiguous and incomplete in fiction, and where these qualities take readers. We will start out by reading Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, the most mind-blowing, sinister, and perplexing ghost story in literature. (Or maybe it's not a ghost story.) By looking at the ways in which several generations of readers and critics have grappled with the story's essential ambiguity, we will ask questions about the complicated issue of authorial intent in fiction, the relevance of biography, and the limits of interpretation. Besides criticism and biographical excerpts we will read other fictions that have reimagined the novella, such as A.N. Wilson's A Jealous Ghost. We will then look at other literary pairings (such as Bronte's Jane Eyre and Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea) and self-contradictory texts by one author (such as Salinger's Seymour and A Perfect Day for Bananafish) to consider other ways in which texts have responded to each other. We will end by considering some contemporary works (online and off) that break down the boundaries between author and reader. In the course of the readings we will be investigating such concepts as originality and plagiarism, intertextuality, and authenticity.