Romance, realism, and the novella (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
It is not simply the gothic trappings and decorations that constitute the gothic novel, but rather the placing of characters into traditional romance tales and the resulting transformation of those characters into archetypes of the mythic story. The transformation of “real” people into parabolic figures by the latent thrust of the traditional romance story is characteristic of the novella form and can be seen in an explicit way in The Castle of Otranto, in which, even as characters act out their desires on the surface of the plot, desire becomes objectified and totally embodied in the latent and underlying plot.
In The Turn of the Screw, this basic combination is focused in a particularly explicit way, becoming the crux and central theme of the story. The issue of whether the ghosts in the story are real or are projections of the governess’s imagination is reflective of the basic problem of the novella form—that is, whether a given story features characters who are presented as if they are real or as embodiments of psychological archetypes. This ambiguity is so thorough in James’s novella that every detail can be read as evidence for both interpretations of reality at once.
Just as Walpole returned to the medieval romance for a model for his gothic tale, Flaubert returned to the medieval saint’s legend or folktale for the exemplar for “The Legend of St. Julian, Hospitaler.” Furthermore, just as Walpole’s...
(The entire section is 1666 words.)
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