Henry James and his Ghosts: Narrative Ambiguity in “The Real Right Thing” and “The Jolly Corner”

2012-06-01
When Henry James is considered in relation to the supernatural. The Turn of the Screw (1898) is usually the first and foremost work that comes to mind. This, however, is somewhat unfair to James, who produced, especially in the later stages of his literary career, a significant amount of short fiction marked by an interest in the supernatural. An important quality these "ghostly" works often share is the ambiguity they create in relation to the reality status of the narrated events. Considered from a Todorovian perspective, moGt of these works may be said to evoke the state of the fantastic, whereby the characters and/or the readers remain, even at the very end, unable to decide whether the preternatural events can be explained through "natural" means or whether they really partake of the "supernatural" vyithin the world of the storj'. This article focuses on two such examples of the short fiction of Henry James, namely "The Real Right Thing" (1899) and "The Jolly Comer" (1908), and explores the clever strategies James uses to create narrative ambiguity. The study focuses particularly on the way these stories evoke a sense of hesitation and uncertainty in the reader without resorting to first-person or frame narration. Both works are marked by a strong aura of mystery, which remains unresolved even at the very end. On the one hand, the reader is led to believe the supei'natural quality of the protagonists' experience. On the other hand, however, both stories include important clues as to the protagonists' potential unreliability. An effective technique James u.ses to create this atmosphere of uncertainty is to shift continually between literal and figurative meanings, upsetting usual habits and expectations in reading. Following this discussion of James's strategies to create narrative ambiguity, the article probes the possible meanings of James's interest in the supernatural and of his preference for keeping his ghost stories unresolved. It aims to demonstrate how the persistently sustained fantastic mode in these stories points to James's preoccupation, especially in his late career, with significant themes concerning not only reality and consciousness but also boundaries, oppositions and liminality. Exploring James's ghost stories from this perspective sheds light on how his work anticipates modem and even postmodern concems and enables a better understanding of the Jamesian canon as a whole.
Citation Formats
N. Korkut Naykı, “Henry James and his Ghosts: Narrative Ambiguity in “The Real Right Thing” and “The Jolly Corner”,” pp. 171–182, 2012, Accessed: 00, 2021. [Online]. Available: http://www.edebiyatdergisi.hacettepe.edu.tr/index.php/EFD/article/view/711/495.