Gerard Genette’s Theory on Narratology

Gerard Genette theory focuses on how a story is told, not the story itself. He has explained six different ideas to better clarify narration within a story. One I found in particularly interesting was his discussion of “mimetic” and “diegetic.” To me, he gave the whole show vs. tell a new meaning., explaining it as if it is a science.

In Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, there is a fine example  of both Genette’s mimesis(show vs. dramatization of a scene) and diegesis (telling and summarizing events) (Barry 224). It was stressed that a balance of both is usual and preferable in writing a story. In James’s story, mimesis was shown as Douglas talked, as well, as when the governess spoke to the other people in dialogue. Only then as I reader, I could tell what the character was feeling through her speech and actions (external focalism). Internal focalism, however, it is not certain what the governess is thinking or feeling. As a read, I get a hint of what she was feeling and thinking through the narration, but not action. if I was there, in her shoes, I would have access to these internal elements.

Finally, how is the story told?

This brings me to the “story within a story” concept. Jame’s used the people gathering around a fire on Christmas telling ghost stories as the main story. However, this isn’t the main story that carries the plot and protagonist. It is not until the governess tells her particular ghost story, when the main story begins( the primary story). So, please correct me if I misunderstood the reading, the primary story is told from the larger, less important story( the story of the governess and children). When the story was said and done, the author never returned to the people sitting by the fire sharing ghost stories, because there was no point, it was no longer essential to the story. I’ve seen and read this classic technique in many ghost stories and films.


James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. 2nd ed. Ed. Peter G. Beidler. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.

7 thoughts on “Gerard Genette’s Theory on Narratology

    • Hi Pamela! Thanks so much for reading my blog. I’m studying literary theory, so I thought I’d share it. It is really fascinating learning about the various styles of narrations, how a story can be told.
      Nice meeting you,


  1. I found your blog on bookblog.ning. It looks really fascinating! I’m so glad to find someone who’s interested in classic literature. I followed you on bloglovin and google. Check out my blog, I write about alot of topics, but I have a long running project where I’m reading and blogging about James Joyce.


    • Hi Alexis! I just paid a visit to your site, and must say you have it developed nicely. I wanted to respond to a few blogs, but could not find out how. I’m not very familiar with Blogspot. Nice cat. And I see you do indeed have a thing for James Joyce.


  2. Vincent, I love how you summarized Genette’s theory and provided examples from Turn of the Screw. I have been searching the internet for creditable sources that analyze James’ novella through Genette’s theory but I’m not finding much. At least not similar to the way you have, where the author explains Genette’s theory and then provides examples of how James’ novella applies to that theory. Any suggestions? Its for my Lit. 500 Essay. Thanks in advance.

    P.S. I am a SNHU online student in the Masters in English (with a concentration in fiction) program too! My goals is also to write fiction novels,primarily romance novels.


    • Hi Brandy. Thanks for the kind words. That is awesome you’re earning a Masters in English online at SNHU. I’m three classes away from finishing. You? I don’t know of any particular place that strictly discusses Genette’s theory in regards to “Turn of the Screw.” However, there werea couple of good places that discuss Genette’s narratology theory and analyze James’s work separately. These sites are shmoop and spark notes It might be easy for you to combine the two discussions for your essay. I hope this helps you!


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