The Turn of the Screw

Sexism in The Turn of the Screw

August 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

Central to The Turn of the Screw is the question of the governess’ reliability. Analyses of the text from both ‘apparitionist’ and ‘non-apparitionist’ perspectives hinge upon a verdict passed by the critic on the trustworthiness, or conversely the ‘hysterical, compulsive, sadomasochistic’ nature as John Lydenberg put it, of the novella’s twice-removed narrator. Although James was keen to defend the governess’ sanity in his retrospective 1908 New York Preface, describing the story as ‘her particular credible statement of such strange matters’, he generates ambiguity about the protagonist’s credibility consistently throughout the text. Intrinsic to a feminist reading of the novella is the question, as Peter Biedler puts it: ‘would a male narrator of the story have been so easily moulded to fit so many different critical interpretations, and would he have been considered ‘hysterical’ in so many of them?’ There is certainly structural and textual evidence to support the assertion that the governess’ actions and her report of her actions are undermined by her gender, making her victim of what Biedler termed ‘a subtle anti-feminism’. On the other hand, one can dispute this claim by suggesting that it is in fact a different determinant that causes the prevalent mistrust of the reader towards the ambiguous ‘heroine’: from a Marxist interpretation, this would be class. Both a feminist and a Marxist approach involve questioning whether Henry James himself was discriminating along the lines of gender and social status, or whether perhaps he was actually exposing the pervasive prejudices of his society, via the medium of his readers. Is The Turn of the Screw in itself misogynistic, or a divisive attack on the proletariat by an undoubtedly bourgeois writer, or does it offer a critique of those mindsets by exploring the contemporary stigma surrounding women and the ‘lower orders’ though the unchallengeable form of James’ ‘fairytale pure and simple’? Of course, as James tirelessly maintains, there is always the option to read The Turn of the Screw simply as a ‘pot-boiler’, a ‘jeu d’esprit’, designed, as he implied to H.G. Wells, to attract funds and popularity at a time of career crisis (after the flop Guy Domville). This viewpoint suggests the governess is a reliable accessory to the cause of rousing ‘that dear old sacred terror’, not sidelined for any political purpose but rather, as the 1908 preface proposes, ‘intelligently neglected’, leaving space for James’ ‘effectual dealing’ with the ‘mystery… of Peter Quint, Miss Jessel and the hapless children.’ Throughout the novella, there is evidence to suggest the governess is absurdly romantic and self-obsessed, succumbing to fits of fancy inspired in part by her repressed sexuality. Before the reader is permitted to hear the governess’ account, the i-narrator describes her meeting with the master in Harley Street: ‘such a figure as had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel, before a fluttered, anxious girl out of a Hampshire vicarage.’ Already James implies that governess ‘dreams’ of attractive, single men, from which one can infer she possesses an active but internally contained sexual drive. Her gender is used to further destabilize her in the phrase ‘fluttered, anxious girl.’ For a woman of twenty, the appellate ‘girl’ intimates the governess still bears the immature and feminine characteristics of her youth, forcing the reader to question her abilities. Undoubtedly, had the central character been a man of twenty, he would not have been described as a ‘fluttered, anxious boy.’ James makes persistent use of a lexicon suggestive of Romantic notions and romantically unfounded assumptions when narrating as the governess. Her discourse is marked by phrases such as ‘in which I had the fancy…’, ‘I absolutely believed…’, ‘I began to fancy…’ and ‘I felt sure…’. The implied unreliability of the governess arising from her tendency to ‘fancy’ is reinforced by James’ use of Gothic tropes and devices of metafiction. For instance, the governess says of Bly: ‘I had the view of a castle of romance, such a place as would somehow take all the colour out of storybooks and fairytales’, which suggests that she is painting, and quite possibly embellishing, her role as a Gothic heroine. Bly’s isolated setting with its ‘machicolated square tower’ is a Gothic trope. She also mentions in chapter IX that ‘the book I had in my hand was Fielding’s Amelia’; the intertextuality reveals her preoccupation with fictional young women, like Amelia, who are rewarded for their virtuosity with a fairytale husband. This indicates that due to her gender, the governess’ telling of the story is clouded by delusions of glamour and grandeur. Critic Patricia N. Klingenberg proposes that the novella ‘expels the female’ since the governess’ narrative is framed and reframed by two male narrators, the i-narrator and Douglas’ prologue. One can certainly argue that the triple-frame narrative leads the reader to question the protagonist’s reliability and independence, if her story has to be, in effect, chaperoned by male characters. The critic Edwin Fussell asks ‘If a women writes a novel as good as a man – the same novel as a man – why indeed should she be a governess?’ This question exposes a contradiction within The Turn of the Screw: although James, as he says in his preface, allows his heroine to have ‘“authority”, which is a good deal to have given her’, he does not permit the reader to fully trust or respect her, partly because we are made to see her as a humble child minder, dead without notable achievements outside this field. Furthermore, the governess’ narrative is not valuable in itself other than as a ‘jeu d’esprit’ to be related by Douglas, and in reality, James. Once again, it seems suspicious for James to include the governess’ thought: ‘it would be as charming as a charming story suddenly to meet someone’ just before her first sighting of Quint – since this musing does not bolster the tension of the ghost story, from a feminist angle one must conclude it proves that James seeks to undermine his protagonist’s credibility by implying that, as a woman, her observations are made erroneous by her desperation for male attention. On the other hand, one could argue that James’ portrayal of his heroine does not convey ‘a subtle anti-feminism that refuses to trust women’ but rather draws sharp attention towards the ‘artificial’ and ‘anomalous’ position of the governess in 19th century Britain. The way in which James’ fictional governess is destabilized as a character and as a narrator by her gender perhaps mirrors the way in which the governess in reality ‘blurred what was thought to be a stable distinction between domestic duty and labour for money’, as Armstrong put it. And thus, because the public and domestic spheres were gendered, the governess destabilized a distinction ‘on which the very notion of gender appeared to depend’. Where the Wilson-Goddard critics, from a feminist perspective, approach the text with misogyny by, as Paula Cohen says, treating the female narrator as ‘a collection of symptoms – and hence excluding her point of view’, it is possible to read the text alternatively as an assertive dramatization of the governess’ anxieties about her status as a woman. The governess, on her second sighting of Quint, says she feels as if she ‘had been looking at him for years and had known him always’, from which one can infer that the ‘erect’ Quint is an externalization of the governess’ distressing sexual desires, which have been consistently repressed by a misogynistic society: originally within the cultural confinement of her religious upbringing, and now in order to meet the ideal of the ‘sexless governess’ whom critic Poovey notes is ‘expected not to display wilfulness or desires herself. The governess is fixated on the sexually suspect transgressions of her ‘vile predecessor’ Miss Jessel, even when they are not founded on concrete evidence – she relentlessly presses Mrs. Grose to reveal Miss Jessel’s misdemeanors: ‘But I shall get it out of you yet! There was something in the boy that suggested to you that he covered and concealed their relation.’ In her compulsion to find her predecessor as sexually deviant, the governess, as Sheila Teahan puts it, ‘displaces onto Jessel her anxiety about the precarious discursive slippage between the working woman and the prostitute.’ This is underlined at the end of chapter XV, after another sighting of Miss Jessel, when the governess says: ‘Dishonoured and tragic, she was all before me.’ Even from an apparitionist standpoint, believing the ghosts to be genuine, one can certainly read this line as the governess sublimating her crippling fear of become a ‘fallen woman’ onto the spirit of Miss Jessel. It is clear from the protagonist’s almost obsessive reinforcement of her own ‘discretion and general high propriety’ that she has become trapped in a female dichotomy of vice versus virtue. ‘Dishonoured and tragic’ is an apt description of the life stretching ‘all before’ the governess if she released her sexual yearning from the fetters of patriarchy. By highlighting the literally haunting fate of any self-determining, unmarried woman who dared to express her sexuality in the repressive time at which the novella was written, James perhaps exposes rather than supports the more than ‘subtle anti-feminism’ of his day. Two aspects of the prologue operate ingeniously as looking glasses, perfectly reflecting the reader’s prejudices. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, almost all critics assume the i-narrator to be male. One example is critic Anthony Mazella who states the pederastic relationship between Quint and Miles is ‘attributable to the [homosexual] relationship between Douglas and the narrator.’ In fact, James meticulously makes no reference to the gender of the i-narrator, demonstrating the unfounded and anti-feminist assumption made by his readers that if unstated, a reliable-sounding speaker must be male. The second aspect follows on from the first. Although the much of the endless commentary on The Turn of the Screw centers on ‘the notorious question of the governess’ reliability’ as Teahan calls it, and critics are anxious to examine every word she utters for indications of subjectivity and delusion, the preamble to the story from the i-narrator who was neither at Bly nor ever met the governess, is not questioned. The i-narrator recounts, not verbatim, Douglas’ ‘touches,’ which are essential for framing the story. He says ‘the first of these touches conveyed that the written statement took up the tale at a point after it had, in a manner, begun’ and goes on to describe the governess’ trip to Harley Street, on which much of our opinion on her is based. Whilst it is common for critics to suggest the governess’ subjectivity makes the events of the novella subject to interpretation, readers are, for the most part, willing to unquestioningly accept the anonymous i-narrator’s undoubtedly subjective account of the heroine’s character (it is by definition subjective since it has been re-phrased and thus re-interpreted) from which many Wilson-esque suspicions of ‘neurotic’ and ‘sexually repressed’ motivations arise. For example, it is from this passage that the protagonist’s passion for the master is inferred: ‘he struck her, inevitably, as gallant and splendid.’ Does the reader regard the governess’ sanity as fair game, but the i-narrator as unimpeachable because of the assumption that the former is female, the latter male? If so, James successfully exposes his reader’s innate misogyny. Alternately, perhaps one places trust in the i-narrator because, in a story mainly made up of second and third-hand accounts, this speaker seems most congruent with James himself, and thus one feels uncomfortable doubting the reliability of the omniscient writer. Either way, the use of the triple-frame structure offers up questions concerning gender-based assumptions, which James proves are still relevant in the liberal era of the 21st century. The female characters in The Turn of the Screw are all in some way prejudiced according to their gender: the Governess can be seen, like Wilson saw her, as ‘a neurotic case of sex-repression; Miss Jessel was called by James’ friend Frederic Myers ‘a partially-materialized ghost of a harlot-governess’; Mrs. Grose is shown to be slow, having to ‘suppress an intellectual creak’; and Flora is likened by the governess to ‘a vulgarly pert little girl in the street’. However, a Marxist reading of the novella sees the tensions and anxieties of class drive the strange events at Bly. One can argue that James associates the lower orders with immorality; for instance, coupled with the way Quint is likened physiognomically to the devil, with archetypal ‘whiskers that are as red as his hair’, is his wearing ‘no hat’. This is symbolic of the fact that, as the governess maintains, he is ‘never – no, never! – a gentleman’ – and thus James calls on class prejudices to heighten the evil of his ‘abnormal agent.’ Whilst the governess does in her preconceptions perpetuate the entrenched class system, describing Miles and Quint’s relationship as horrific since Quint is a ‘base menial’, it is possible some of factors, which caused her to be ‘viewed harshly’ by the reader, are due to her fear of class relegation. Critics Armstrong and Poovey suggest the governess of the 19th century is a disruptive figure who challenges some of the major tenets of class ideology, and was ‘commonly represented as a threat to the household’ because she performed the mother’s duties for money, blurring private and public spheres. James governess is an avid reader, and may well have read Mrs. Whatley’s 1855 The Roving Bee in which it is warned that governesses should not be ‘too pretty’, otherwise they may, like Miss Jessel, become ‘fallen women’. One could argue that when the governess notes that Jessel looked at her ‘long enough to appear to say that her right to sit at my table was as good as mine to sit at hers’, she is hallucinating a vision of her future social degradation, which will occur if her desire for the master loses her the ‘only means by which a woman not born in the servile classes can earn the means of subsistence’, as Jameson puts it. On this theme, it is possible that the plight of the governess – plagued by terrible ghosts who no one sees; isolated and unable to write to the irresponsible master who is without ‘the right grain of patience’ – represents what Edwin Fussell describes as her ‘pattern of economic and social exploitation. She is a worker, she is poor, her security of employment is dubious, upward mobility is almost always denied her…’

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The Devil Didn’t Make Her Do It: A Critical Analysis of The Turn Of The Screw

August 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

The critical debates swirling around Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw are a product of the intentional ambiguities written into the text. The psychological thriller centers around a Governess who, upon entering into a position for a man with whom she has become enamored, has encounters with what she believes are the apparitions of the homes former servants. Believing them to be in danger, she responds by taking on the role of hero to the children in her charge, but her credibility is quickly put into question when it is apparent that no one else sees her visions and that her actions are, in fact, putting the children in a position of danger. James’ novella has been viewed by some critics as a ghost story that places the Governess in the role of the evil villain; taking into account her many acts of heroism in the story, I believe that to be a misread of the novella. The narrative reflexivity blurs the line of credibility in the story leaving the reader to wonder which narrators voice to trust, but throughout the story the Governess’ motives remain clear. She maintains that she is protecting the children and her heroic disposition discounts the accusation that she is acting out of evil. Her actions put into question her sanity, but throughout the novel, the Governess’ attempts to protect the children refute the theory that she is the villain of the novel. In his critique of James’ ghost story, “Her Ghosts, Her Other Selves, Those Parts of Ourselves”, R.P. Blackmur claims that the Governess is the true and intentional villain of the story. He contends that her ghosts are, in actuality hallucinations, and her desire to turn them into reality stems simply from a “bad conscience” (Blackmur, 184). It is impossible to read Blackmur’s essay without taking note of his choice of diction. He is leading his readers to assume the Governess is possessed when he says, “nothing must stop the energy within her, for that energy is creative” (185), and that she “is now driven by an energy which is suited to this solitary and friendless place and which mustn’t be interfered with” (185). Here, he is giving life to something within her that she is not in control of, as though it is a separate entity that cannot be stopped, and his repeated use of the word “energy” serves to add an element of the supernatural to his argument. He successfully argues that she is ultimately at fault for destroying the children and then refutes the popular Freudian critique of the novella, which is the primary argument used by critiques to show the Governess as being mentally unstable. Blackmur’s perspective on the novella matched with his repeated labeling of the Governess as possessed and as a witch, are used to lead the reader to assume the demonic possession of the Governess. Though I agree with Blackmur’s observation that the ghosts are hallucinations, I refute his antiquated assumption that she is somehow possessed by a evil conscience. Contrarily, the Governess’ acts of heroism toward the children and the misleading narrative frame of the novella prove that she is not a villain with a evil conscious, but a mentally unbalanced woman who experiences hallucinations and carefully crafts her tale to make it appear believable. The narrative reflexivity within the novella serves to add confusion and suspense to the text. The prologue positions the reader in an aristocratic party atmosphere with friends rivaling to produce the best ghost story. It is through Douglas that the Governess’ story is read and his introduction sets the tone for the remainder of the novella. When setting up the story, Douglas tells his guests, “Nobody but me, till now, has ever heard. It’s quite too horrible” (TOS 1). This is the readers introduction to the suspense that is to come, Douglas introduction of the Governess in the prologue is meant to lend verisimilitude to her character, he describes her as “awfully clever” (TOS 2) and says that the only reason she told him her story is because she liked him. These are tactics used by James to make the Governess seem a credible source from the beginning of the story; the reader is meant to believe her and is put in a position to unravel her tale through actions that show her intended heroism and declining sanity. The Governess’ actions speak to her attempted heroism and against Blackmur’s theory of a “bad conscious” throughout the novel. This is evident in the way she speaks of the children after her initial interaction with an apparition, “They had nothing but me, and I – well, I had them. I was a screen- I was to stand before them. The more I saw the less they would” (TOS 27). She shows elation when enacting the role of hero, which is not in accordance with the temperament of a witch in need of “the vicar to exorcise her if not hang her” (Blackmur 185). In referring to herself as a “screen”, she shows that she views herself as someone who provides shelter in a transparent manner, she is wearing a mask and is aware that she is not showing her true self to the children, she is reflecting the mentally instability that exists within her unto them . The Governess’ intent is to protect the children, and though her actions put into question her mental state, James’ continuous descriptions of her naiveté combined with her unfailing desire for heroism put to rest Blackmur’s claim that she is acting out of demonic possession.The Governess’ heroic nature and questionable credibility appear in the passage after her first encounter with Peter Quint. Though she’s just come out of a frightening experience, she applauds herself and seems to revel in the situation in which she imagines herself when she says, “I scarce know how to put my story into words that shall be a credible picture of my state of mind; but I was in these days literally able to find a joy in the extraordinary flight of heroism the occasion demanded of me” (27). Her use of the phrase “extraordinary flight” lends a superhero quality to her heroism making her acts seem unreal and untrustworthy. By acknowledging her need to put her story into words and her questionable state of mind, she shows that she is reflecting back and thinking of the best way to make her story appear real. She is aware of her perceived mental instability and is in need of crafting her tale in a way that will make her seem believable; it is this passage that forces the reader to question her credibility and sanity for the remainder of the novella. As the story progresses, further examples are given that force the reader to question the Governess’ santiy. Upon arriving at Bly, she compares the house to a ship when she says: Wasn’t it just a story-book over which I had fallen a-doze and a-dream? No; it was a big ugly antique but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half-displaced and half-utilized, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was strangely at the helm! (9) This passage marks the initial foreshadowing of doom in the novel; it depicts the children as shipwrecked in their own home, in need of rescue, and the Governess imagines herself in a position to save them. The word “strangely” juxtaposes the idea of the Governess as hero by making her seem unprepared to handle her situation, as though she knows she does not belong there. This is in contrast with her image as hero and presents the Governess in a way that is unbalanced. There are repeated references made of her tendency toward nervousness that add to her instability and she makes reference to her father as being an “eccentric” (TOS ) which had associations with mental instability and functions to show a possible pattern of hereditary insanity in the novella. Her nervousness is seen after an encounter Peter Quint when the Governess says, “The shock I had suffered must have sharpened all my senses; I felt sure, at the end of three days and as the result of mere closer attention, that I had not been practiced upon by the servants nor made the object of any “game” (18). The Governess’ claim that she is both uncertain in what she has seen, and to have sharpened her senses serves to discredit her and makes her appear untrustworthy. The suggestion that the servants may have banded together to make a game of her serves to show the reader her level of paranoia and nervousness furthering the theme of mental instability. Henry James’ The Turn Of The Screw, is a novella that tells the story of a young woman who is mentally unravelling. Through its narrative reflexivity, the reader is put into the mind of a seemingly credible Governess and must read through her attempted heroism to see her mental instability. Though it can be read as the tale of a woman possessed who is forced to kill a child by a demonic energy, the heroic nature of the Governess and her questionable sanity suggest that James’ story is, in actuality, the sad story of a woman slipping into a state of insanity.Works Cited:James, Henry. The Turn Of The Screw. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1999Blackmur, R.P. Studies In Henry James. {“Her Ghosts, Her Other Selves, Those Parts Of Ourselves:}. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1983

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“The Malevolent Governess and the Benevolent Ghosts”: A Subversive Reading of The Turn of the Screw

August 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

This paper postulates a subversive reading of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The novella ostensibly relates the tale of a governess who struggles to shield her charges from supernatural malevolence. Yet I suggest that it is actually the story of a governess who abuses her charges in an attempt to take control of Bly. The ghosts, conversely, are benevolent companions to the children. My thesis is loosely based on Sami Ludwig’s article, “Metaphors, Cognition and Behavior: The Reality of Sexual Puns in The Turn of the Screw,” in which Ludwig argues that Miles and the governess are having an affair. Ludwig claims that when Miles tells the governess, on their way to church – “You know, my dear, for a fellow to be with a lady always-” (53) – he is subtly suggesting that their relationship become sexual, thereby instigating their affair. Ludwig points to the feelings of helplessness and fear that Miles’ suggestion arouses in the governess, claiming that her precarious position, as a woman who is neither a family member, nor a servant, renders her helpless to flatly refuse. She therefore reacts with confusion, dodging the boy’s innuendos and hurrying towards the church. Ludwig subsequently turns to the second bedroom scene, in which Miles asks the governess to come to his room and admits that he has been lying awake thinking of her. The governess reacts by changing the subject and inquiring about his old school, from which he has been expelled. Their conversation gradually becomes physically intimate, culminating in fierce hugs and kisses between the two. Ludwig interprets this scene as a further step in Miles’ sexual advances towards the governess. He points to the boy’s request for “a new field” (62), arguing that by this request Miles is demanding sexual education. Ludwig also construes words such as “posses,” “little,” and “die” as erotic Shakespearean allusions. In analyzing the novella’s denouement, Ludwig claims that the chaotic sentences following Peter Quint’s final appearance are a guised description of the sexual act. Ludwig notes that the physical positions of the governess and Miles are not specified in this scene, yet their emotions and movements, and the sounds they emit, are detailed. He interprets this discrepancy between omission and specification as a subtle delineation of sexual intercourse between Miles and the governess. Ludwig consequently construes Miles’ “death” as a Shakespearian death: an orgasm. He concludes that The Turn of the Screw is a Bildungsroman depicting a young boy’s sexual initiation by his governess.Ludwig’s analysis, while innovative and insightful, suffers from two fundamental drawbacks. First, the critic’s contention that Miles manipulates the governess into an affair is founded on shaky ground, and I intend to counterclaim that it is rather the governess who seduces Miles. Secondly, Ludwig does not explain the function of the ghosts in the novella. I will address this issue further on in the paper. Ludwig’s assertion that Miles is the instigator of the affair can be refuted by three points. First, the governess refrains from any action that would enable Miles to resume his studies at school. When she learns of the boy’s expulsion, she reacts by doing “‘Nothing at all.'” (13). Even after Miles repeatedly requests to return to school, she remains impassive. This consistent, unprofessional refusal suggests that she has an ulterior motive for keeping Miles at Bly. Secondly, the governess’ behavior towards Miles is overtly sexual even prior to the church scene, in which, according to Ludwig, Miles allegedly initiates the affair. On the night that Miles wanders off to the lawn, the governess leads him back to his room, and caresses him in the following manner: “I placed on his small shoulders hands of such tenderness with which… I held him there well under fire.” (45). Furthermore, as the boy leans forward to kiss her goodnight, the governess returns his kiss, clasps him to her breast, and suggests that he remove his clothes: “I met his kiss and… I folded him for a minute in my arms… I could say – ‘Then you didn’t undress at all?'” (45-6); Hardly appropriate behavior for a governess who is merely evincing motherly affection towards her charge. Third, the governess refers to Miles as “the little gentleman” (10), shortly after she describes the uncle as “a gentleman” (7). This similarity in title suggests that the governess sees Miles in a similar light to that in which she sees the uncle, as a man of higher standing and therefore a potential husband. Although certain critics, such as Beth Newman, claim that the governess is infatuated with the uncle, I argue that she harbors no intense feelings for him. Rather, she wishes to marry him in order to better her financial situation and social status. Douglass explicitly tells us that “what took her [the governess] most of all [about the uncle]… was that he put the whole thing to her as a favour.” (my emphasis, 4). The governess believes that the uncle is requesting her cooperation as a personal “favour,” and that he will consequently be indebted to her if she assents. We may surmise that she hopes he will repay her by marriage, the most important act an upper class gentleman could bestow upon a middle-class woman. Thus, the governess assumes a calculated attitude toward the uncle, not an infatuated one. Furthermore, in the scene between the governess and Mrs. Grose, when the latter extinguishes the governess’ hopes for marriage with the uncle, by telling her, “‘Well, Miss, you’re not the first – and you won’t be the last.'” (8), the governess responds, “‘Oh, I’ve no pretensions… to being the only one.'” (8). Her collected answer supports my argument that the governess perceives the uncle as nothing more than a social ladder to wealth and high status. In light of the governess’ practical approach to marriage with the uncle, we should pay special attention to the question she poses to Mrs. Grose, immediately after learning that he is not interested in her: “My other pupil, at any rate… comes back tomorrow?” (9). The juxtaposition of the governess’ revelation that the uncle is unattainable, and her question concerning Miles, suggests a connection between the two. In order to understand this connection, we must take into account two facts. First, Miles will become the master of Bly when he enters adulthood, and second, Douglas tells us that the governess has “supreme authority” (5) over Miles. Hence, we may conjecture that the juxtaposition signifies the governess’ decision to substitute the inaccessible uncle for Miles, over whom she has an advantageous position. The governess, I suggest, believes she can exploit her power over Miles to manipulate him into marrying her when he comes of age. Their marriage will bestow upon her the title of mistress of Bly, thereby granting her social and financial advantages, similar to those which aroused her interest in the uncle. The governess’ interest in Miles can be further understood through her frequent use of the term “possession.” She applies the word to a variety of actions, including physical grasping: “she always ended… by getting possession of my hand” (65), knowledge accumulation: “they were in possession of everything that had ever happened to me” (49), and even self control: “my show of self-possession” (33). The governess’ reiteration of the word in so many different contexts suggests that she perceives everything around her in terms of possession. In her eyes, people are constantly struggling to control property, each other, and themselves. Accordingly, the governess endeavors to possess Miles, and thus to vicariously posses Bly. At the outset of the narrative she notes that “he [the uncle] had put them [Miles and Flora] in possession of Bly” (my emphasis, 5), and later on describes her behavior towards Miles as an attempt to posses the boy: “I… seize[d] once more the chance of possessing him [Miles]” (62). This description is especially telling when we observe that, among other denotations, “to possess” also means “to have sexual intercourse with” (OED). Based on the arguments heretofore presented, I suggest a reading of the scenes discussed by Ludwig that is diametrically opposed to his analysis. Rather than flirting with the governess on their way to church, Miles is attempting to break free from her. She has been overly intimate with him – “for a fellow to be with a lady always” (53) – and he is frightened by her behavior. He asks her to let him go: “when in the world, please, am I going back to school?” (53), and when she dodges the question, he resorts to pleading: “‘you can’t say I’ve not been awfully good, can you?'” (53). Finally, he threatens to contact his uncle. This is not the behavior of a boy who is teasing his love interest. In the bedroom, when the governess urges Miles – “‘I thought you wanted to go on as you are.'” (61) – the boy rejects her: “‘I don’t – I don’t. I want to get away'” (61). Yet she reacts by forcing herself upon him, twice in the same scene: “I threw myself upon him and… embraced him” (62), “it made me… drop on my knees and seize… him” (62). Miles first asks her to cease – “‘let me alone'” (62) – and when she grabs him a second time, he voices “a loud high shriek” (63). I give little weight to the governess’ claim that he screamed out of fright of “a gust of frozen air” (63). Having established the governess’ malevolence, I would now like to make a case for the ghosts’ benevolence. It seems appropriate at this juncture to reevaluate the governess’ declarations of the ghosts’ “quite unmistakable horror and evil” (30). Ellis Hanson has already observed that the ghosts do not “beckon, invite or solicit the children or… coax them into physical danger” (377). He also remarks that “the children found nothing terrifying about a living Quint and a living Miss Jessel” (377). Dawn Keetley reinforces Hanson’s remark, suggesting that Quint and Miss Jessel “might in fact have been beneficent influences” (149). By integrating these comments with our previous observations on the governess, we may well conclude that the governess’ portrayal of the ghosts is unreliable, and attempt to draw our own conclusions concerning Miss Jessel and Peter Quint. Miss Jessel’s ghost is portrayed throughout the novella as either a weeping victim or a companion to Flora. The fact that Flora enjoys and even seeks the ghost’s company is exemplified by the girl’s assembly of a toy boat, as she plays at the lake’s shore opposite from the shore where Miss Jessel is standing. By assembling this toy boat, Flora expresses her desire to create a vehicle that may carry her over the lake to the ghost. Furthermore, towards the novella’s denouement, Flora sails on a real boat to that very area, thus closing the circle that began with her toy boat. The governess, on her part, exploits her knowledge of the secret meetings between the ghost and the girl to further her plans. She needs to get rid of Mrs. Grose and Flora in order to coerce Miles into full sexual intercourse. She therefore exerts emotional pressure on the girl to reveal her secret, thus driving her to a breaking point: “she [Flora] launched an almost furious wail. ‘Take me away, take me away – oh take me away from her!'” (70). The governess then uses Flora’s breakdown as a pretense to send Flora and Mrs. Grose away: “‘You must take Flora… Away from here. Away from them.'” (73). Note that it is the governess, “her” (70), not the ghosts, “them” (73), from whom Flora wishes to escape. Quint’s ghost rivals the governess in her efforts to possess Miles. Their struggle over the boy begins after the governess sees Quint for a second time, realizing his interest in Miles: “‘He [Quint] was looking for little Miles… That’s whom he was looking for'” (25). Further on in the same scene, Mrs. Grose remarks: “‘Quint was much too free'” (25), to which the governess responds: “‘Too free with my boy?'” (25), thereby claiming Miles as her possession, and expressing anger at Quint’s impingement on her claim. Henceforth the governess regards Quint as a threat – “he was absolutely… a living detestable dangerous presence” (39) – and compares their struggle over Miles to “fighting with a demon for a human soul” (82). It is worth noting that many critics prescribe to her view, construing Mrs. Grose’s remark about Quint’s excessive freedom as a euphemism for his sexual abuse of Miles. Robert W. Hill Jr., for example, claims that “Quint seems to have been capable of… engaging a prepubescent boy in whatever took the man’s perverted fancy.” (58). Textual evidence, however, does not support Quint’s vilification. Quite the contrary, Miles seems to have loved Quint: “for a period of several months Quint and the boy had been perpetually together… as if Quint were his tutor – and a very grand one” (34-35). Hence, I suggest a different interpretation of Mrs. Grose’s remark that “‘Quint was much too free'” (25). Mrs. Grose also states that Quint “‘did what he wished'” (32). This statement can be regarded as a posterior elucidation of her initial remark. If we accept it as such, then Quint’s freedom is his ability to act as he pleases, without subjugation to the will or mores of others. His freedom thus defies the governess’ view of people as either possessors or possessed. Moreover, the governess herself admits that Miles desires freedom: “he [Miles] should probably be able to… gain, for his own purpose, more freedom.” (55), and in a moment of despair she claims that Miles has won “his freedom now” (71). We may therefore surmise that Quint and the governess have antipodal approaches to Miles. While the governess attempts to possess him, Quint tries to accord the boy the freedom he craves. The case for Quint’s benevolence is further strengthened by a biblical allusion embedded in the ghost’s first appearance. Quint’s emergence “at the very top of the tower” (15) alludes to the prophet Habakkuk: “I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me” (my emphasis, King James Version, Hab. 1.1). Habakkuk stands atop a tower to speak to God and condemn the sinners, especially the prideful: “he is a proud man… who enlargeth his desire as hell, and is as death” (Hab. 1.5). This biblical allusion appears immediately after the governess entertains prideful thoughts about becoming the mistress of Bly – “I fancied myself… a remarkable young woman and took comfort in the faith that this would more publicly appear.” (15) – thereby presenting Quint as a prophet who rises from the dead to chastise the governess for her sins. The struggle between the governess, who attempts to posses Miles, and Quint, who endeavors to free him, culminates in the novella’s denouement. As Ludwig convincingly argues, in this scene the governess and Miles have sexual intercourse, beginning the moment Quint appears in the window. The governess seems to have triumphed, since she has finally coerced the boy into the sexual “act” (81). Moreover, after their sexual intercourse, Quint disappears from Miles’ sight: “he [Miles] had already jerked around, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day” (85). Any doubt concerning the governess’ malevolence or Quint’s benevolence dissipates as Miles mourns the loss of Quint, while the governess gloats: “With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he [Miles] uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss” (85). Yet despite Quint’s disappearance, it may be argued that Miles wins his freedom. Contrary to Ludwig’s reading, I construe Miles’ death as an actual passing away. He dies either from the governess’ strangling grasp, as suggested by Steven Swann Jones, or from emotional trauma, as Robert W. Hill Jr. claims in his paper, or, I may add, from sexual trauma. Whatever the cause, the end result is the same. Miles escapes the governess, “his little heart dispossessed” (85) of her grasp.This paper has proposed an alternative reading of The Turn of the Screw. I have argued that the ostensible devotion of the governess and maliciousness of the ghosts are merely a narrative ploy. Beneath the surface of the text one may unveil the tale of a malevolent governess and two benevolent ghosts. Thus, The Turn of the Screw shows us how easily we are deceived by evil’s facade of righteousness. The novella reminds us to be cautious of what we are told, especially if the words are spoken with unquestioning conviction. Works CitedHanson, Ellis. “Screwing with Children in Henry James.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 9.3 (2003): 367-391.Hill, Robert W. Jr. “A Counterclockwise Turn in James’s The Turn of the Screw.” Twentieth Century Literature: A Scholarly and Critical Journal 27.1 (1981): 53-71. James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw: Norton 2nd Critical Edition. Eds. Deborah Ensch and Jonathan Warren. New York: Norton & Company, 1999.Jones, Steven Swann. “Folklore in James’s Fiction: Turning the Screw.” Western Folklore 60.1 (2001): 1-24.Keetley, Dawn. “Mothers and Others: Anxieties Over Substitute Mother in The Turn of the Screw.” Approaches to Teaching Henry James’s Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw. Eds. Kimberly C. Reed, and Peter G. Beidler. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 2005. 143-50. Ludwig, Sami. “Metaphors, Cognition and Behavior: The Reality of Sexual Puns in The Turn of the Screw.” Mosaic: a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 27.1 (1994): 33-53.Newman, Beth. “Getting Fixed: Feminine Identity and Scopic Crisis in The Turn of the Screw.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 26.1 (1992): 43-63.“Possession.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989.The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments, Authorized King James Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966.

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The Role of Quint and Jessel in Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”

July 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

Peter Quint and Miss Jessel symbolize the indistinguishable nature of both the governess and Miles’s sexuality in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. Whether or not these ghosts actually exist in the literal sense, Quint’s presence evokes what could be construed as sexual desires in the governess while also reminding her of her social status. Similarly, Quint forces the reader to question Miles’s sexuality because of the implication that their past relationship was of a sexual nature. Miss Jessel, on the other hand, serves as the governess’s only reminder of the wickedness of her desire for a sexual self and ultimately, prevents her from acting upon those desires. These developments emphasize the mysteriousness of the connection between Miles and the governess and lead to a deeper sense of dismay about the true nature of their bond. Although The Turn of the Screw begins in a rather somber mood with Douglas’s tale, it quickly shifts tones during the telling of the governess’s first meeting with the wealthy uncle. This scene makes it clear that the governess places the uncle on a pedestal and that she desperately wants to be in such a privileged position herself. Her attraction for him quickly moves beyond that of an employee to one that nears sexual desire. She even describes the “moment [when] he held her hand, thanking her for the sacrifice, she already felt rewarded” (James 29). While this is only the introduction to the piece, her attraction to the uncle plays an enormous role in the subsequent encounters with Quint, a former house worker who was known to parade around in the master’s clothes. In fact, at the moment when she first sees Quint’s alleged ghost, she is fantasizing about meeting the uncle and is nearly fooled by the sight of Quint in the master’s clothes. She proclaims “he did stand there,” as though the man whom she spotted was truly the uncle. However, upon discovery of the man’s true identity, she states that “my second [reaction] was a violent perception of the mistake of my first: the man who met my eyes was not the person I had precipitately supposed” (James 39). She is initially disappointed that she meets Quint rather than the uncle, but soon develops a growing desire to encounter the ghost. This misplaced longing to meet Quint is, however, nothing more than a projection of the governess’s desire for the wealthy uncle rather than true attraction to Quint. While she claims that she “confidently [hurries] to meet” Quint, her enthusiasm is only the result of her misplaced attraction (James 72). She does not really want to meet Quint, but the sight of him allows her to believe that she will one day be in view of the wealthy uncle who is ultimately, the key to the privileged life she has always wanted.This desire for a life of privilege and her apparent desire for the uncle is directly supported by the text within the nature of Quint’s first appearance. Rather than a traditional entrance, he simply appears to the governess “at the very top of a tower” which hangs over a lawn (James 39). This apparent phallic symbol could be seen as a direct insinuation of the Governess’ attraction to Quint. However, the text identifies her attraction to Quint in relation to her desire for the uncle a few lines later. She claims “they were distinguished…though I could see little difference, as the new and the old (James 39). In terms of the two men, the governess suggests here that Quint resembles the uncle and thus, she is drawn to him. This sort of fuzzy logic is a moment which allows the reader to see the credibility of the governess deteriorating and ultimately may influence her opinion of the children’s psyche. Ultimately, the only true distinguishing factor that the governess can come up with is the simple fact that Quint does not wear a hat (James 48). This fact alone is one which is brought up in her description of Quint and ultimately changes her opinion of him. When the governess first sees Quint in the garden she believes him to be a noble man. It is not until she discusses the man’s attire with Mrs. Grose that she fully understands Quint’s social position and formulates a more solid opinion of him.The governess’s opinion of Quint, which develops after noticing that he wears the master’s clothes, brings her to question other aspects of Quint’s time at Bly. Most notably, his relationship with Miles is often under scrutiny. From the start, the reader is lead to believe that there is more to their relationship than meets the eye. Mrs. Grose enhances this suspicion in her initial description of Quint’s relationship with Miles; she claims that “it was Quint’s own fancy. To play with him…to spoil him” (James 51). She even goes so far as to say that “Quint was much too free” (James 51). The reader’s reaction to this statement is directed by the governess’s response; she reacts to the news with “a sudden sickness of disgust” and proclaims her shock at the revelation (James 51). Still, many scholars debate that the implication that Miles’s engaged in a sexual relationship with Quint because they claim it is based purely on speculation. However, Mrs. Grose again implies an odd nature to their relationship when she tells the governess that “for a period of several months Quint and the boy had been perpetually together” (James 61). The significance of this statement is not fully understood until later in the book when Miles tells the governess that it appears strange “for a fellow to be with a lady always” (James 83). He implies here that spending a great deal of time with one particular person, as he is rumored to have done with Quint, suggests there is a more to the relationship than what is visible on the surface. The fact that Miles immediately jumps to such a conclusion makes his relationship with Quint even more suspect of sexual transgressions. These questions that lie between the lines of Quint’s relationship with Miles are frequently a topic for discussion. However, there is another unusual relationship between Miles and the governess which is even less overt and is often viewed differently by various readers. This relationship lies within brief moments throughout the book when their connection seems to be deeper than their actions initially suggests. Much of Miles’s speech is involved in the odd feelings that the reader develops for his relationship with the governess because it seems abnormally mature for his age. His constant use of the phrase, “my dear,” when addressing the governess is one strange aspect of their relationship because it sounds like the language of one lover to another. This is most apparent during their discussion in the church yard when even the governess notices the peculiarity of his speech. She states, “his ‘my dear’ was constantly on his lips for me, and nothing could have expressed more the exact shade of sentiment with which I desired to inspire in my pupils than its fond familiarity” (James 83). Although her reaction to Miles’s odd tone seems fairly docile, her fondness of his mature speech suggests to the reader, once again, that is more below the surface of their relationship than simple “fond familiarity” (James 83). From the first time the governess meets Miles, she describes him adoringly, analyzing his every feature, “his wonderful smile, the whites of his beautiful eyes and the uncovering of his clear teeth” (James 74). While at times this seems harmless, her descriptions of him sometimes appear peculiar and overly- flattering, forcing the reader to address the possibility that her desires, which were previously directed mainly at the wealthy uncle, are not attractions for a particular person. Rather, the governess may simply desire a man, no matter what the circumstances or what it could cost her.The governess’s desire for a man plays into the underlying story of Miss Jessel’s relationship with Quint. Jessel’s character demonstrates the true price for what is considered sexual promiscuity through her reason for leaving Bly. As the footnote depicts, “the implication is that Miss Jessel left because she was pregnant,” but, she is also subtly cursed by Mrs. Grose for acting upon her sexual desires with Quint (James 59). This reasoning greatly influences the actions of the governess because the knowledge that Jessel’s forbidden relationship cost her everything would force the governess to reconsider acting upon her own desires. Whether these feelings are toward the wealthy uncle, Quint, or Miles, they evoke the same fear in the governess. This fear is perhaps the exact reason that she began to see the ghosts in the first place. As Quint’s first appearance immediately follows her dreaming about the wealthy uncle, it would suffice to say that Quint appears as a reminder of her social position. His appearance in the master’s clothes is a definite implication that Quint’s ghost serves the purpose of reminding the governess of her place in the social order (James 48). Similarly, Miss Jessel reminds the governess that her attraction to Miles is inappropriate and the ghost acts as a window of what is to come if she allows her desires to control her. Henry James, The Turn of the Screw engages in a struggle with sexual identity. Both the governess and Miles find themselves lost in a gray area of their own sexuality. Although for Miles it relates to his relationship with Quint and how that translates into his own sexuality, the governess creates her own hardship through her desire for a sexual identity. While she is eventually attracted to every male that she meets, she still does not accomplish her various goals, from privilege to love. The wealthy uncle indeed presents an opportunity to achieve a higher status, but even in this case, she translates her dream into sexual desire. It is this desire which manifests itself in the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. These two individuals manage to represent everything about the governess that she fears. Quint presses her desire for the wealthy uncle while Jessel questions her adoration for Miles.Works CitedJames, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. 2nd ed. Ed. Peter G. Beidler. Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s, 2004.

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A Comparison of the Treatment of Reading and Writing in The Turn of the Screw and The Art of Fiction

June 28, 2019 by Essay Writer

Henry James’s novella The Turn of the Screw and his literary essay The Art of Fiction are entirely unalike in form, but contain thoroughly alike themes. Overall, a fascination with the acts of reading and writing is presented; these things are treated as “most beautiful” and are given the greatest of respect by James.[1] However, in this elevation of art and exploration of literature, James sometimes falls back on classist stereotyping and ideology, and suggests that the joy of reading and writing is for a select, privileged few. James presents a high regard for writing in both his essay and his novella.

Throughout The Art of Fiction, James makes lexical choices which significantly elevate the practice. He discusses the novelist Anthony Trollope’s suggestion that fiction is merely “make-believe”; James describes this as a “betrayal”, the legal connotations of which are reinforced by his following assertion that it is “a terrible crime”[2]. The tone of outrage is furthered by the plosive sounds within the metaphor; this indicates a great respect for writing, as James is clearly dismayed at Trollope’s simplification of the art. Additionally, James depicts fiction as “a sacred office”.[3] The religious connotations of the adjective display his ardent reverence and attribute immense power to the art of writing. As French critic Maurice Blanchot notes, James uses similar language to refer to the writing process in his private writings, referring to the “blessed hours” of creation and the “divine light” of plot.[4] These strong feelings were predominantly expressed in the middle and later years of his career, as reflected in The Art of Fiction and The Turn of the Screw – first published in 1884 and 1898, respectively.

The opening of The Turn of the Screw parallels and extends the essay’s veneration of writing, as well as reading. The novella’s opening foregrounds a sense of power in narrative, as the narrator describes how it “held us”, a verb denoting captivation and connoting awe.[5] These states of being are typically assigned to devout Christian worshippers whose attention is wholly focused on the pastor and his sermon. Thus, the first line of the text links to James’s earlier expressed belief that the art of narrative is ‘sacred’. It is also noted in the text that the audience are “sufficiently breathless” – an onomatopoeic phrase, due to the sibilant sounds and soft fricatives – and this suggests they are overcome.[6] The religious imagery related to literature is here extended, as the holding of breath implies an atmosphere of wonder and transcendence. Whilst in both texts James values reading and writing highly, he also acknowledges that the written word is not necessarily moral. In The Art of Fiction, he insists that “the only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel […] is that it be interesting”, and insinuates that it is “arbitrary” to evaluate a text on the basis of its morality.[7] The Turn of the Screw’s prologue illustrates this point. The character of Douglas is very clear in his warnings that the tale is “quite too horrible”, the intensifier signifying that it should not be told.[8] He stresses the “ugliness and horror and pain” of the story, and the multiple co-ordinating conjunctions create the sense that the awfulness is infinite.[9] Furthermore, he appears to stutter, displaying his distress over the subject, when speaking of the “dreadful – dreadfulness!”[10] However, rather than convincing the audience that they do not wish to hear about it, this heightens their enthusiasm. They agree that it is the horror of the tale that “give[s] the thing the utmost price”[11], a sentiment which reflects James’s idea – there is nothing that people “ought to like or to dislike” from a moral perspective, there are only preferences and interests.[12] One of the women listening to Douglas’s preamble imagines that the gory details will be “delicious”[13], not because she lacks concern for the horrors which promise to unfold but because she is one kind of ‘reader’ – one who likes a tale to be “full of incident and movement”, and takes pleasure in mystery.[14] This pre-empts criticism of the novella, as many contemporary reviews of The Turn of the Screw insist that it contains “the very breath of hell”[15] and is “distinctly repulsive”[16], whilst failing to recognise the merits of the work.

James’s implicit assertions within the novella, and explicit explanations throughout The Art of Fiction, that fiction has the potential to be both wonderful and horrible defends his work from such criticism, which appears basic and incomplete. His insistence that there is “no limit” to literary possibilities – that it is more complex and sophisticated than the simplistic ideas which his critics present – is a subtle but strong demonstration of James’s personal passion for reading and writing.[17] However, the high status James gives to reading and writing – and his disregard for a sense of morality in fiction – is often problematic. In The Turn of the Screw, the elevation renders literature inaccessible to the working-class. Mrs Grose, the only named and living – thus, the representative – working-class character in the novella, is illiterate. She tells the governess that “Such things are not for me, Miss”, a sombre statement which does not merely indicate that she is unable to read, but implies that she is deprived of the privilege of reading.[18] Her body language reinforces this, as she “put[s] her hands behind her” and “shook her head”, both of which are physical symbols of denial.[19] This is undeniably linked to her class, as in Victorian England a lack of financial privilege meant a lack of access to education. Furthermore, the governess is evidently shocked by the revelation that Mrs Grose cannot read, as indicated by the exclamatory nature of her thought “my counsellor couldn’t read!” – which highlights the gulf between their experiences, a result of their different class backgrounds.[20] Although in The Art of Fiction, the exclusion of the working-class is not as explicit as in the novella, James’s grand ideas about literature make it ultimately inaccessible to the working-class. He declares that art “lives upon discussion, upon experiment, upon curiosity, upon variety of attempt, upon the exchange of views and the comparison of standpoints.”[21] The syntactic patterning of this sentence demonstrates that a reader must have multiple talents, as to engage with a text require many attributes. The abstract nouns ‘discussion’, ‘experiment’, and ‘curiosity’ are particularly striking, forming a semantic field of scholarliness which suggests that this is a pursuit for those who have been well-educated, and who have the time to enjoy such activities. Therefore, the image of a reader, as created by James, omits the working-class.

The common thread running through James’s work is the unadulterated admiration for fiction, in both the processes of reading and writing. He is aware – as a writer himself – of the complexities of creating a piece of literature, and so is able to appreciate the art immensely. Unfortunately, his expression of appreciation frequently relies on the exclusion of the working-class, as he assumes a reader must possess certain skills – such skills that require access to an education unaffordable to many. Although the financial barriers to education which Mrs Grose in The Turn of the Screw faced are no longer quite as acute, the inherently classist system remains an issue over 100 years later – the exclusivity of knowledge which James demonstrates is not as removed from the modern situation as many readers might believe.

[1] Henry James, The Turn of the Screw (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), p. 2 [2] Henry James, ‘The Art of Fiction’ in The Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism, ed. by Vincent B. Leitch (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010), pp. 744 – 759 (p. 746) [3] James, p. 746 [4] Maurice Blanchot, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ in The Turn of the Screw, ed. by Deborah Esch (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), pp. 186 – 191 (p. 189) [5] James, p. 1 [6] James, p. 1 [7] James, p. 748 [8] James, p. 1 [9] James, p. 2 [10] James, p. 2 [11] James, p. 1 [12] James, p. 754 [13] James, p. 12 [14] James, p. 747 [15] The New York Times, ‘Magic of Evil and Love’ in The Turn of the Screw, ed. by Deborah Esch (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), p. 149 [16] The Outlook, ‘The Story Is Distinctly Repulsive’ in The Turn of the Screw, ed. by Deborah Esch (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999), p. 151 [17] James, p. 748 [18] James, p. 10 [19] James, p. 10 [20] James, p. 10 [21] James, p. 745

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Silences in The Turn of the Screw

June 25, 2019 by Essay Writer

‘Silence’ in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw is integral to the text not only in a literal sense, but also figuratively; the gaps that are purposefully left in the plot and the reader’s knowledge also act, powerfully, as “silences”. Whilst literal, aural silences provide an atmospheric tone in James’ novel, it is the metaphorical, textual silences that take precedence, sitting at the centre of the book.

James purposefully implements such gaps, and stubbornly refuses to fill them. It is, consequently the reader’s task to take these silences on, guided by markers in the text. In “The Turn of the Screw”, the gaps left unfilled by James have been under constant critical debate since the novel’s first publication, culminating in a vast array of diverse interpretations of the tale; testament to the effectiveness of these silences. It is the reader’s straying imagination that fills the gaps, naturally led by the horrifying implications James provides for them.

One of the major ‘silences’ central to the novel as a whole is a product of James’ layered narrative, where, as Anthony Mazella comments, “the governess’ manuscript is mediated through Douglas’s transcription and editing,” with an additional narrator at the opening of the novel recounting Douglas’s telling of the tale. Naturally, such a narrative leaves gaps in the novel. The reader, for instance, never discovers Douglas’s relationship towards the governess, the identity of the initial narrator, or indeed very much information about the governess herself, her being nameless throughout. Additionally, the framing of the governess’s narrative within another, told some time after the events of hers had taken place, “it has not been out for years,” creates a gap or ‘silence’ in those years which the reader never learns about, creating a marked distance from the primary tale. What this achieves is in a dissimulation of “an origin, and thus a fixed point of reference for the story,” as Shoshana Felman argues, implementing a structural silence which causes the reader to question the plausibility of the governess’s narrative entirely.

Additionally, there occurs a literal ‘silence’ at the close of the novel, in the sense that the framing narrative does not return after the death of Miles. This runs contrary to the reader’s expectations of a framing narrative. As in novels with a similar Chinese-box structure such as Wuthering Heights, the structure is circular and returns to Lockwood’s narration at the end. Because of this silence at the end of the novel, a jarring effect occurs, where, as Richard Rust comments, “the horror is accentuated by the undermining of the frame structure itself, something we counted on to provide control.”

However, there here arises the question in this instance of whether this effective ‘silence’ ‘refuses’ to be filled, as Claire Seymour has suggested. It is the reader’s own ‘horror’ at the end of the novel which one could imagine would undoubtedly be shared with that of the group being told the same story, were they to appear once more. Thus, while the absence of the framing narrative at the end of the novel is a silence, it is one that is in theory, ‘filled’ by the reader’s own horror.

The governess in the novel may also be thought of as a generator of silences throughout the text. These lie both in her refusals and hesitancy to communicate as well as her withholding of information; the latter being a very literal kind of silence. For instance, the governess frequently hesitates to ask either Flora or Miles outright whether or not they have seen the apparitions of Quint or Miss Jessel, instead making assured assumptions that they have, telling Mrs. Grose for instance that although Flora did not say “a word” at the lake about seeing Miss Jessel, the governess is certain that “she saw,” though the truth of this is left ambiguous to the reader.

Another of the major instances in which the governess upholds her silence is in her lack of correspondence with the master, or the children’s uncle. Even upon receiving an expulsion letter from Miles’s school, she claims to have “made up her mind” to say “nothing” to the master. It is possible, as claimed by Douglas at the opening of the novel, that the governess is infatuated or even in love with the master, and the ghosts that these willful ‘silences’ are a bravado attempt to avoid disappointing the master. However, critic Thomas J. Bontley suggests that the governess sees the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel as “a personal challenge to her chosen role as defender of innocence,” an idea which suggests that her refusal to break or ‘fill’ the silence on Miss Jessel or Quint with the children is her own desperate attempt to shield them from the apparitions: “I was a screen- I was to stand before them. The more I saw the less they would.”

The literal, aural silences in “The Turn of the Screw” often occur in the presence of the ghosts or in the moments leading up to their appearance to the governess. In one instance, the governess actually comments that “It was the dead silence of our long gaze at such close quarters that gave the whole horror, huge as it was, its only note of the unnatural.” Indeed, this comment on it being solely the silence lending a tone of the ‘unnatural’ seems representative of the book in its entirety; it is the silences or gaps that James refuses to fill that instill the most horror. It is also possible however, that the governess’s encounters with the ghosts being entirely silent is indicative of her own madness or hallucination. One critic, Thomas J. Bontley suggests that the “[the governess’] horror must be seen as a result of her own intense vision of sexual evil.” In other words, because the governess is aware of Miss Jessel and Quint’s illicit sexual affair whilst living, she sees them as symbols of sexuality and thus a corrupting force which it is her utmost role to protect the children from.

This idea brings us neatly onto another ‘silence’ central to the novel which lies in implication and unspoken tension, in the form of sex and sexuality. Silenced both by the real Victorian world lying outside the book’s bounds and reinforced within the governess desperately attempts to prevent the children from being “corrupted,” encompassing in her character traditional Victorian values about sex and sexuality. The silence surrounding sex in the novel manifests itself symbolically through particular images and subtle nudges towards the subject. Quint, for instance, first appears to the governess atop the ‘old tower,’ an imposing phallic image which again combines the inherently evil supernatural with sex, and as Bontly phrases it, “evil is given actuality in actual ghosts, and is explicitly associated with human sexuality.” Thus, whilst sex within the novel is a ‘silence’ in the sense that it is not written about explicitly, yet again the reader is invited to ‘fill’ the gap with the implications James peppers throughout the novel.

Victorian ghost stories such as James’ The Turn of the Screw often used silences both literal and metaphorical for the intended goal of horrifying or scaring the reader, a tradition which has retained its power over time, found in modern ghost stories as well as horror films; it is often commented that the most ‘scary’ horror films are the ones where the ‘evil’ is not, or barely ever present, and thus a ‘gap’ or ‘silence’ in the story. “The Turn of the Screw” is no exception to this rule. The novel’s power rests upon the aural, implied, and textual silences at the heart of the novel which lie deafeningly open to the reader’s imagination. It is the reader’s own fears, those that they bring to the book themselves, that fill these open holes. As James himself so aptly put it of his readers: “his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy […] and horror […] will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.”

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Search for Love

June 4, 2019 by Essay Writer

In “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, the central character, the governess, feels so isolated that she will do anything necessary to quench the feeling. She decides that the way to do so is to be in love. Unfortunately, because she is located in Bly, such a desire is not possible to actualize. When the governess realizes this she begins to manifest her unrequited feelings in the shape of ghostly apparitions. Her point of view also plays an important role in how the reader observes the ghosts. Subconsciously, the governess has chosen to be an unreliable narrator, seeing fantastical phantoms which participate in an enamored relationship allows her to feel as though she herself was a part of it. When the governess becomes tired with these ghosts, however, she turns to other characters to fulfill her aspiration.The governess sees ghosts in order to satisfy her yearning desire to be in love. The young governess is instantly attracted to the “handsome, bold and pleasant” (p. 7) bachelor uncle of the orphaned children by whom she is hired. This overwhelming feeling was the original motivation for her accepting the job as governess. The reader’s introduction to the governess’ most basic feelings shows the reader that this is one of her primary concerns at the point in her life that the novella begins. The governess’ craving to be cherished by a man is induced by the uncle’s “charming ways with women” (p. 7). His graciousness gives her a taste of how she would like to be treated in life. When the governess leaves to accept the position she is at an undeveloped age, with a background consisting of country poverty and only one position related to children (as a schoolteacher) prior to the event at hand. This results in a lack of knowledge as to what she wants from life. The gentlemanly uncle gives her an ‘ideal’ to aspire towards.The governess is an unreliable narrator; her dreams to be in love become so realistic to her that she actually begins to see apparitions. Her first sighting occurs only a moment after she is dreaming about how it would be “as charming as a charming story suddenly to meet someone” (p. 19). The word ‘story’ implies an innocent, child-like, fairytale view of the emotion she experiences, this diction choice demonstrates her inability to deal with the emotion maturely. When Peter Quint appears on the tower at that point her imagination is taking over and giving her the ‘love’ that she has been dreaming about since she arrived at Bly. The governess’ mind shows her Quint as a ghost because subconsciously she knows it’s unreal and therefore unattainable, that he is a ghost is her rationalization of the situation — mental self-preservation. The governess’ initial sighting of the second ghost, Miss Jessel, is of the same nature as her original sighting of Quint; our narrator wishes for, or in the second case, “becomes aware that (the governess) has an interested spectator” (p. 35), before seeing it, leading the reader to conclude that the ghosts are manifestations of her thoughts. She sees the ghost in her mind’s eye and because of her imagination is then able to transfer the image to visual. For her to be able to have a relationship with ‘Peter’, the above describes the next logical step in her dream: to again allow her mind to take over and invent a ‘Miss Jessel’. Miss Jessel and Peter Quint had “everything between them” (p. 39) according to Mrs. Grose, this supports the romantic relationship the governess conceives Quint to be involved in. Miss Jessel represents what the governess wants to be, a woman who is in love with someone (Quint) who feels mutually towards her. The reader is forced to question the governess’ narrative reliability, and because it is written in first person it difficult for the reader to accurately assess the feelings and opinions of other characters. The governess’ arrival to the setting in Bly is a logical place for her unrequited feelings of love to emerge. Her arrival in Bly at the start of the narrative is accomplished only after “long hours in a bumpy, swinging coach” (p. 9). This carriage ride is the physical process that brings her away from civilization and to a place (Bly) that allows her imagination to run wild. On a psychological level the journey can be interpreted as a journey of her mind; it takes her away from her ‘ego’ and ‘super ego’ and into the deeper realms of ‘id’ (which covers such primal, instinctual feelings as the need to have sex, coming only as a result of having a male character with whom to interact). Her first impressions describe Bly as having “open windows, fresh curtains, bright flowers, a golden sky, and impressive rooms with great beds, full draperies and long glasses” (p. 10). The place is in such a state of perfection that the reader gets the feeling it is covering up abominable secrets of the past including taboo deaths (the parents) and Miles’ ambiguous expulsion. During her first night in Bly the governess considers with “uneasy suspicion” (p. 10) the “guarded” (p. 10) way that Mrs. Grose treats her. Such negative underlying emotions could result in an even stronger need on her part to escape to such a positive emotion as love.The narrator looks for love in Bly, as her necessity becomes more and more frantic she looks to different, and all, male characters to satisfy it. It begins with a reasonable attraction towards the uncle, then her displaced emotion moves to the fictitious Peter Quint for the most part of the novella. In the last chapter she even looks to the boy, Miles, for a reciprocating feeling, this is shown in his adult diction and actions in her narrative of him, in her struggle to attain love she actually smothers Miles to the point of death. Finally, it is implied in the preface that after our account of the story ends, she turns the demand on Douglas.

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The Haunting of Mrs. Grose in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw

May 20, 2019 by Essay Writer

Henry James’ popular novel The Turn of the Screw is often subjected to re-examination because the writing is saturated with ambiguity preventing the reader from deriving a definitive resolution. This ghost story provides both faith in and distrust of the belief of ghosts who appear to be at fault for the major events in the story. In the 1840s in England, a young inexperienced woman becomes a governess for two young orphaned children, Flora and Miles, at a country house she refers to as Bly. The reader is absorbed following her account of what happens in this house. Because of the social hierarchy within the house she finds herself lonely, and because of her ghost sightings she finds herself a hostess for the uncanny. She recruits Mrs. Grose as her ally to defeat both her loneliness and the ghosts that are haunting her and the children. Mrs. Grose, a serious down-stairs servant who took care of Flora and Mile’s grandmother before she passed on and has stayed with the family ever since collecting trust and secrets, nonverbally accepts the request. The stress the governess is under and the way she acts is thought to come directly from her unworldly encounters, however, it appears that the natural take even more of a toll on her psyche than the supernatural. Mrs. Grose’s relationship to the governess is brimming with passive plans, including gathering information and suggesting ideas for the governess to become fixated on, and is full of executing sabotage, including encouraging the governess’ unfavourable ways and eradicating her sanity.

In a development central to the narrative, Mrs. Grose perpetuates the governess’ belief that they are friends in order to observe her and to collect information, eventually to use against her. Mrs. Grose does not indicate any sign of eagerness to meet with the governess, so Mrs. Grose often acts as if their encounters are meaningless unless the governess says something strange or acts alarming. Through the governess’ almost desperate agreement to a job the household struggled to fill, as it was rejected numerous times by others, and by the fixation of the uncle and his niece and nephew Mrs. Grose believes there must be a strong sense of persuadably in the governess due to her shallow motives. Like the reader it appears as if Mrs. Grose decides that the governess is a woman who is quick to make outrageous conclusions using little information and much of her imagination by finishing Mrs. Grose’s sentences with odd fillers such as agreeing to a nonexistent request to kiss: “Would you mind, miss, if I used the freedom-” (James 13) Mrs. Grose starts only to be soon greeted with an uncomfortable embrace; she pushes her luck and breaks the social hierarchy to meet with and watch the governess many times, yet Mrs. Grose is not chastised by the governess whose job it is to run and maintain the house as well as set a good example for her two pupils. To Mrs. Grose, who is obedient to the hierarchy, these actions signify the governess is of little experience and lacks common sense (Killoran 17). By the information Mrs. Grose obtains from the governess’ actions and conversations Mrs. Grose appears to believe that the governess would be easily operated.

Moreover, Mrs. Grose uses the character traits the governess reveals about herself to suggest ideas for the governess to dwell on and eventually change. When the opportunity presents itself, Mrs. Grose is quick to provide missing information for the governess when she is in a state of confusion. Succumbed by a new environment, responsibility, and people the governess allows Mrs. Grose to do her thinking for her; providing minimal and cursory details of a man she thought she saw she authorizes Mrs. Grose to tell her what and who it was. Clearly absorbed by her own fright the governess fails to see that Mrs. Grose seems to improvise the existence of Peter Quint, not noticeable through her words but through her response as she pauses and falters in her explanations. “Gaping still, but meeting me, she pieced it all together. “He never wore his hat, but did wear- well, there were waistcoats missed! The were both here- last year”” (James 23). When the governess asks how Miss Jessel died Mrs. Grose does not tell details, only conveys emotions and must know that the governess would fabricate the most absurd self-made story for Mrs. Grose’s benefit. While the pondering on these suggestions the governess seems to transform as her instability heightens and an obsessed for these tales begins. Mrs. Grose is often seen putting forth easily misinterpreted ideas for the governess to extend and distort.

Mrs. Grose encourages the governess to continue and develop odd behaviours which make her appear like a lunatic to the children, the rest of the house, and eventually her boss. When the governess appeals to her for support and advice after seeing Miss Jessel for the first time, Mrs. Grose has nothing to contribute to the conversation but nevertheless enables and funds it to continue with her many leading questions. The governess feels eager to answer the questions and allows her memory to subside as her expectations take over. The governess fears for the children’s safety so Mrs. Grose echoes that fear intensifying the governess’ fright and urgency, and it appears that purpose, to Mrs. Grose, of most of their conversations are to taunt and play with the governess (Killoran 19). Mrs. Grose, aware of the governess’ need to prevail, suggests that the governess get in contact with the uncle for the sake of the children causing the governess to become agitated with the acknowledgment of her impending failure. With her hurt pride and feelings of betrayal the governess offers a threat of leaving: “I would leave on the spot, both him and you” (James 48). This response not only ensures Mrs. Grose that her menacing has been successful, but also offers that the full extent of the governess’ rash behaviour would be soon met. Through the boosting of the governess’ irrational thoughts Mrs. Grose gives herself the ability eradicate the governess’ rational thoughts.

With the governess fully submerged in the ghosts, betrayal, and her own head, Mrs. Grose detaches herself from her falsified companion role and actively tries to obliterate the governess’ sanity. Mrs. Grose decides after some debate to go with the governess to retrieve Flora from the opposite side of the lake, when there, Mrs. Grose runs to Flora and offers her support but more importantly an alternative to the governess. Flora chooses to side with Mrs. Grose, probably because she was frightened of the governess and Mrs. Grose presented herself as a safety figure. This destroys the governess’ ego and casts her into a frenzy that lasts several hours, so Mrs. Grose takes over the caretaking position of the children for the night. In addition to the loss of her heroic self-views the governess is blamed for the illness that befalls Flora leaving her with remedied guilt. Having to take Flora to the uncle Mrs. Grose leaves the unstable governess with Miles who already has endured strange encounters with the governess. With Mrs. Grose absent she allows the governess to be alone without anyone to prevent her thoughts from manifesting into action. It appears Mrs. Grose expects the governess to fail as the governess notes how Mrs. Grose seemed surprised at her composure: “She looked as if she found me unexpectedly calm” (James 70). With nothing to fall back on when having an episode or seeing the ghost, Mrs. Grose leaves the governess to face and become defeated by her own mental state.

Although the reason is difficult to identify, Mrs. Grose guides the governess to losing her reputation and lucidity. Mrs. Grose was sly about how she took on her mission, by innocently listening, then suggesting, then encouraging feeble-minded activity; after successfully completing the previous tasks, she abandons her role as friend to the governess and allows her to feel the full force of her insanity unsupported. Mrs. Grose’s motives, although still unclear, are perhaps connected with the other many dead guardians of Flora and Miles, for perhaps she wants to care for the children independently, or attract the uncle to the house, or possibly she has a sadistic sense of pleasure. This beautifully crafted work, however, makes one’s finding inconclusive as Henry James’ novel creates such interesting illusions that the reader may find themselves trying to uncover whether the governess or the ghosts were the terrors to Bly, all the while innocently passing over the most perplexing of them all, the welcoming yet undermining Mrs. Grose.

Works Cited

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Ed. Deborah Esch and Jonathon Warren. Second Ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. Print.

Killoran, Helen. “The Governess, Mrs. Grose and “The Poison of an Influence” in “The Turn of the Screw”.” Modern Language Studies 23.2 (1993): 13-24. Web.

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Seeing the Governess with a Discerning Eye: Psychology and Delusion in The Turn of the Screw

April 29, 2019 by Essay Writer

Henry James digs deep into the nuances of insanity and prompts the reader to see his protagonist’s madness with a “discerning Eye” in his novella The Turn of the Screw. Insanity, though shunned and often feared by the world, must be attempted to be understood so that the mentally ill can best be helped. Throughout the novella, the reader is confronted with intimations of the governess’s already, but still deteriorating mind. In light of the governess’s madness, the reader can understand why she acted the way she did.

Given that the governess is insane, the reader must recognize that she truly thought she was seeing the ghosts. Delusion can be defined as “an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument, typically a symptom of mental disorder,” ( but the Webster’s New World Dictionary simply defines it as “a false belief, specifically one that persists psychotically” (“delusion”). The first definition describes delusion as having the possibility of being true. Thus, it is only called a delusion because it strays from what is normally accepted. The second definition, though, bluntly defines delusion as being absolutely false. Even dictionaries have different explanations of what sanity or insanity might encompass, but in order for the reader to judge the governess’s strange actions reasonable, the reader must see delusion as a relative concept. Therefore, he must recognize that the governess was mentally ill. Furthermore, it is important to note that upon arriving at Bly, the governess was already delusional, but her physical isolation and intense desire to be the savior and heroine in her fantasy led her to grow even madder.

The governess’s peculiar, often even obsessive, treatment of the children can be explained by her inflated sense of heroism. At just twenty years old, she left her poor, yet good family to go to the city to earn a living and to pursue the excitement of an independent life. She found employment from a man calling for a governess for his country home to care for his niece and nephew. He struck her as a gentlemen, and he was “as gallant and splendid” as he was handsome, wealthy, and pleasant (James 4). It can be inferred that the governess read much fiction because upon seeing him, in her admiration, she described him as “inevitably” being only like a character “in a dream or an old novel” (4). She accepted the job because she simply wanted to feel appreciated and needed, and she was willing to go to extreme measures to achieve this feeling. She was agreeing to live in almost complete solitude, to never contact the uncle regardless the issue, and to leave everything she knew. This decision alone shed light on her preexisting mental illness because as Douglas recounts, other women had rejected the position. They felt the conditions were too prohibitive, and “they were somehow, simply, afraid” (6). The governess felt that the uncle was giving her the job “as a kind of favor, an obligation that he should gratefully incur” (6).

The governess took great care of the children and was willing to go any length to love and serve them. Naturally, to fulfill the gracious duty bestowed upon her, she would want to protect them from harm. She wanted to prove herself to the uncle, and when she began to suspect that ghosts were plaguing the children, her delusion of heroism heightened. When she first explicitly stated her desire to save the children, she sobbed in despair to Mrs. Grose, “‘I don’t do it!’ …’I don’t save or shield them! It’s far worse than I dreamed—they’re lost!'” (32). As she, perhaps subconsciously, felt her mental state decline as a result of her isolation and inability to express her concerns candidly, her style of caretaking intensified. This was visible in the way she first covered Flora with kisses after being away from her for ten minutes, to which Flora responded with “a sob of atonement,” or in the way that, after Miles told her he wanted a “new field,” she was so overwhelmed, she “threw [herself] upon him, and in the tenderness of [her] pity … embraced him. ‘…Dear little Miles–!'” (11, 63). Then, she kissed him. The reader knows that the governess was terrified for the safety of her charges, so although her constant kissing and embracing of them sounds bizarre to the reader, her mind was feeling the full effect of the ghosts that she created. Thus she feared that the ghosts would harm the children in the same manner. The governess was even willing to give herself up to the ghosts in order to save the children, swearing to herself that she would “serve as an expiatory victim and guard the tranquility of my companions” (25).

James’s use of diction and syntax creates confusion for his audience, allowing them to identify with the governess’s feelings of helplessness against the turmoil in her mind. The complicated rhetorical style of long sentences and the psychological manipulation employed adds to the reader’s understanding of the governess’s confusion and insanity, so when the governess said that her sensibility had “not declined, but deepened,” the reader is caught between trusting that she was getting healthier, and acknowledging that her mental health was worsening (51). Within a page, the governess contradicted herself by describing her terrified reaction to the ghosts who were supposedly harassing her and because of the children who were lying to her. She recounted her repeated instances of chattering to herself until a “hush” occurred, during which she knew that “the others, the outsiders, were there” (52). She did not specify who “the others” were, thus adding that instance to numerous other occasions in which she left the reader with no clear understanding of what she was thinking, saying, or doing. James employs this tactic of ambiguity in order to contribute further to the reader’s sense that the governess was mad. The reader is left confused and not knowing the meaning of what he just read, similar to the governess, who with each passing moment, dug herself deeper into a well of self-manipulation and deception.

The complexity and ambiguity in James’s writing style can create an incredibly complicated story, but the reader of the novella does not need to comprehend exactly what is happening. He must only be willing to see it from every angle, with a “discerning Eye”. The governess’s actions are not deemed natural from the perspective of sanity, but if one looks from her point of view of delusion, each of her actions is justified. Her obsessive treatment of the children was caused by her inflated sense of heroism, and her feelings of helplessness and confusion can both be understood as results of her thinking she saw the ghosts.

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House Parties: The Role of Setting in White is for Witching and The Turn of the Screw

April 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

Both White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James are Gothic tales that share some traits in common with supernatural superstitions that remain popular today—ghosts, legends, and, of course, haunted houses. Rather than heavily featuring the genre’s most frequent instruments of evil, like men with knives and anonymous poisoners, Oyeyemi and James both use the houses in which their books are set to control the story. In this way, each author orchestrates a particular interpretation of horror.

Henry James’ story, featuring the psychological creepiness of a governess and her two young charges, takes place at the expansive English country manor of Bly. The estate seems nice enough at first, remembered as a “broad, clear front, its open windows and fresh curtains and a pair of maids looking out…the lawn and the bright flowers and the crunch of my wheels on the gravel and the clustered treetops over which the rooks circled and cawed in the golden sky” (James 7). However, Bly is further from blissful than it seems. The old mansion, in its medieval resplendence, looms over its small residents both with its imposing walls and its heavy air. The narrator describes,

This tower was one of a pair—square, incongruous, crenelated structures—that were distinguished, for some reason, though I could see little difference, as the new and the old. They flanked opposite ends of the house and were probably architectural absurdities, redeemed in a measure indeed by not being wholly disengaged nor of a height too pretentious, dating, in their gingerbread antiquity, from a romantic revival that was already a respectable past. I admired them, had fancies about them, for we could all profit in a degree, especially when they loomed through the dusk, by the grandeur of their actual battlements…. (James 15).

In fact, Bly is nothing short of an exemplar of Gothic architecture. Constructed so long ago that the newer of its two towers appears just as ancient as the older, Bly is a monument to the distance that time creates and the balefulness of idle stone. At first, its “gingerbread antiquity” distracts the observer from its subtle iniquity. And certainly Sigmund Freud would remark on a particular aspect of this evil—that aspect which inspires the governess, a newly hired young woman to reflect at such great length on the erection and long-lasting nature of these massive towers.

Younger than Bly, although no less ominous, is the house at 29 Barton Road in White is for Witching. The status of Barton Road as a character in this book is much more open than that of Bly; in fact, it narrates part of the neo-Gothic epic. One character describes Barton Road in geometric and anthropomorphic terms:

Our new house had two big brown grids of windows with a row of brick in between each grid. No windows for the attic. From the outside the windows didn’t look as if they could be opened, they didn’t look as if they were there to let air or light in, they were funny square eyes, friendly, tired. (Oyeyemi 17).

Just as the governess’s first impression of Bly is favorable, this initial presentation of the house at 29 Barton Road belies the building’s tragic legacy and malefic capacity. Although his description personifies the windows of his home, this character does not reveal the actual personality and true demeanor of the whole house.

Such an introduction, however, is left to the building itself: “I am here, reading with you. I am reading this over your shoulder. I make your home home, I’m the Braille on your wallpaper that only your fingers can read—I tell you where you are. Don’t turn to look at me. I am only tangible when you don’t look” (Oyeyemi 86). 29 Barton Road is omnipresent and omniscient, and it is terrifyingly intelligent. It sees and controls everything within its walls, taking the place of more literal ghosts. Its mischief is observed in the lines, “…chairs are moved in the house. You leave a room and when you return the chair is scraped back from the table. Doors you leave closed are opened behind your back” (Oyeyemi 282). The house is not simply having fun tormenting its occupants. In fact, it does not repress its frequently ill temper, which is heightened whenever its doors are opened to foreigners. When a Nigerian housekeeper is hired, the English house anonymously assails her in both of their languages: “Everything you have I will turn against you. I’ll turn sugar bitter for you. I’ll take your very shield and crack it on your head. White is for witching, so ti gbo?” (Oyeyemi 201). 29 Barton Road is far too intelligent to dislike foreigners like the housekeeper due to a failure to understand them—after all, it speaks Yoruba—but it certainly does hate them. After all, black is not for witching.

While the ascendancy of Barton Road is avoided for some time while the two protagonists are away at university and in travels, the dominance of Bly is exercised in a very literal manner: its occupants cannot leave. In one scene, it overcomes the narrator, preventing her from going to church and chipping away at her sanity. She recounts:

Tormented, in the hall, with difficulties and obstacles, I remember sinking down at the foot of the staircase—suddenly collapsing there on the lowest step and then, with a revulsion, recalling that it was exactly where more than a month before, in the darkness of night and just so bowed with evil things, I had seen the specter…. (James 57).

The tortured governess is a plaything of the dark forces at large in Bly. Her attempt to escape to a holy building is punished with psychological anguish, physical collapse, and a haunting recollection. Bly is doubtless a malicious entity, so perfect a Gothic setting that no villain is even necessary to complete its horror. Even an angelic young boy, heir to the residence and elder of the orphaned children that live at Bly, is corrupted by his experience at the house. His sympathetic teacher observes him, noting, “The frames and squares of the great window were a kind of image, for him, of a kind of failure. I felt that I saw him, at any rate, shut in or shut out….Wasn’t he looking, through the haunted pane, for something he couldn’t see?” (James 81). In this passage, it is clear that it is not other characters pressing a great weight on the little boy’s soul, but that the true demonic presence is in the estate. The cherubic outlook that would better befit a boy of his character is tarnished by the very glass through which he is condemned to view the outside world—and as if the above lines did not clarify this enough, a look through the “haunted pane” is the child’s last glance before succumbing to death.

It is difficult to decide which of the two houses would make a more unpleasant vacation. Bly is an immoral killer and infested with ghosts, while 29 Barton Road is sentient, cruel, and rather racist. A young woman writes, “I was conscious of a mortal coldness and felt as if I should never again be warm,” after a few minutes alone at the country manor (James 72). But inside the walls of the Dover household, one can never be alone at all. In both The Turn of the Screw and White is for Witching, the authors employ the setting to carry out several villains’ worth of wickedness, and each is a masterwork of Gothic fiction in its own right.

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