Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Turn of the Screw - Possible Spoilers!

Last night I finished reading _The Turn of the Screw_, by Henry James.

The language in the book was overly ornate, but I eagerly anticipated reading a little bit of it each night. So, it was suspenseful!

The tale is related to us by a man at a small dinner party somewhere in England. Everyone at the party thought it would be interesting to hear a true tale about two children haunted by spectres. The narrator of the story goes on to tell everyone about the governess that goes to stay with the children. She begins to see ghosts, and believes that the children can see them, too, but accuses the children of hiding their sightings from her. The governess confides in a maid named Mrs. Grose.

The question that the reader asks himself/herself throughout the story, is, "Is this governess really seeing ghosts or is she insane?"

The young boy, Miles, had earlier been expelled from school, but no one knew why and the boy never mentioned a word about what happened, so the governess and the maid often discussed how the boy could have been kicked out of school. In the end, the boy said he was expelled because he "said things". Upon further questioning, the boy said that he "said things" to "those he liked". I don't know if it's just me or not, but I wondered to myself if this alluded to his being a homosexual boy? Also, sometimes I felt uncomfortable with how close the governess tried to get to the boy. I don't think James intended for the boy to be homosexual or for the governess to be a pedophile, but the language of the time made the relationship seem flowery.

Aside from the ambiguity of these instances, I really enjoyed the novella.

I am now reading Henry James's _Daisy Miller_. The language is easier to comprehend and therefore the story is less of a struggle to read than _The Turn of the Screw_.

If you've read TTOTS, please let me know about your thoughts! Was the governess mad? Was the boy homosexual? Was the relationship between the governess and the boy Oedipal? Or are these modern times clouding my perspective of this novel which was written in 1898?

The book is available for free HERE.


Vincent said...

I say yes to your final question, Sophia. Today's ideas of "homosexual", "pedophile" and "oedipal" are clichés not current in those times. It is always a temptation to start slapping labels on our ancestors - "racist" is another.

Sophia said...


You have a good point there. However, even though the terms might not have been clichéd in those times, these things still happened.

However, I definitely think the story was innocent of what it seems possible to accuse it of.

It's just like the word "gay" changing meaning from back then to today.

rob said...

I know what you mean about the writing. I found it hard work.

By coincidence I have been looking at the score to Britten's opera of TTOTS this week.

Henry James claimed that the whole point of this tale was to leave the reader in doubt. One is left wondering whether the evil is in the ghosts, the governess or the children.

It is a puzzle. As you admit to liking puzzles perhaps that is why you were drawn to it.