"The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless"

This framing device, whereby the narrative is presented as a story within a story, is a common feature of gothic literature. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) — the inspiration for which came from a ghost-story competition hosted by Lord Byron in a setting similar to that which James depicts here — is presented through a series of fictional letters; Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797) purports to be a translation of a mysterious manuscript handed to one of its characters; The Necromancer (1794) by Ludwig Flammenberg (Carl Friedrich Kahlert) is introduced as an exchange between two reunited friends. These devices encourage readers to suspend their disbelief by authenticating the improbable, but also point to the highly reflexive nature of gothic fiction, which often concerns the act and art of weaving a story as much as the contents of the tale itself.  

Frankenstein on Book Drum

 

Communal story-telling was a popular recreation
Public DomainCommunal story-telling was a popular recreation - Credit: Per Eskilson