Henry James

Looking Ahead: Will 2020 be the Year of Henry James?

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The year is quickly coming to a close, and looking ahead to 2020, one can’t help noticing an abundance of Henry James adaptations in the mix. While most of these are based around James’s incredible The Turn of the Screw, there is potential for more.

But who was Henry James?

Depending on how inclusive your high school literature courses were, you might not know James, though horror fans have a leg up in this field primarily because of The Turn of the Screw.

Henry James was born in New York in 1843. His father, Henry James, Sr., was a lecturer, philosopher, and theologian who was considered a highly intelligent, congenial and even-tempered man. His mother, Mary, came from a wealthy family, but little more is known about her.

They traveled the world in his youth, and it gave James a love of learning and languages. By age 26, he had settled in England, himself, and it was here that his most well-known works were inspired and written.

Many of his stories and novels were domestic stories involving Americans living outside the United States. Thankfully, he also possessed a talent for telling ghost stories, some of which shared the same themes, and he would pen many of them throughout his life including The Romance of Certain Old Clothes, The Jolly Corner, and of course, The Turn of the Screw.

Much like Shirley Jackson, forever and rightfully lauded for her The Haunting of Hill House, James’s story is one of the most talked about ghost stories in the genre. To date, it has been adapted over 150 times for radio plays, stage plays, a ballet, a chamber opera, numerous films, and television series, and in 2020, we will see three more.

The Turn of the Screw is a terrifying novella about a governess who takes a job in the country watching over the niece and nephew of a man who became their custodian after their parents died. Shortly after her arrival, she begins to notice strange occurrences around the estate and even stranger behavior from her charges.

James’s novella was beautifully written with an ambiguity that left his reader wondering if there were actual supernatural forces at work or if the governess was simply losing her mind. It is because of this ambiguity that The Turn of the Screw has been one of the most debated and discussed novellas of its kind.

Subsequent adaptations have divided into two camps with one attempting to answer that question with others meticulously attempting to preserve James’s ambiguity, and there’s an argument in adaptation for both. I, personally, rather enjoy the more ambiguous interpretations.

Regardless, the novella has spawned some beautiful and haunting films in the last 100 years like 1961’s The Innocents starring Deborah Kerr and for that, every horror fan who loves a good ghost story should be grateful.

This, of course, brings us to 2020. Henry James has been gone for over a century, but his work is on everyone’s mind in the coming year.

On January, 24, 2020, The Turning is set to hit theaters starring Mackenzie Davis (Blade Runner 2049) in the role of the governess with Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) and Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) as her charges Miles and Flora.

The film has garnered early praise and you can watch the terrifying trailer below.

Then there’s Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game) who is working on a second season of his series titled The Haunting for Netflix.

After successfully and inventively adapting Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House last year, Flanagan has turned his eye on James’s novella but has also told reporters in various interviews that he’ll include other ghost stories by the author in the series.

And finally Quibi is developing yet another adaptation of The Turn of the Screw according to Deadline. Much like The Turning, this series adaptation will update the story setting it on a small island in the Pacific Northwest where a Mexican-American nanny is sent to take care of two children.

The series was initially planned for Freeform, but was brought to Quibi after the network passed.

It seems that as 2019 comes to an end, now might be the perfect time to acquaint yourself with the work of this masterful storyteller. You can pick up a copy of his collected ghost stories or The Turn of the Screw by itself on Amazon, and see why so many have turned to his work for inspiration.


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Waylon Jordan is a lifelong fan of genre fiction and film especially those with a supernatural element. He firmly believes that horror reflects collective fears of society and can be used as a tool for social change.