The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw: One of the Most Debated Novels

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Turn of the Screw: A Marxist Perspective: A Criticism

The Turn of the Screw has been one of the most debated novels of all time because it leaves blank spaces in the text that Henry James intentionally left. Those blank spaces are being filled in with the readers’ own background of history and literature. Marxist perspective is one of those backgrounds one needs to know of. This paper is written to critique Robbins’ work considering the Turn of the Screw.

Robbins starts off by explaining Marxist theory: telling about historical context while having an effect on it, and accepting history as an infinite and unfinished thing (376-377). I agree to this at a point – that is, Marxist theory has to have the historical background to talk about the following things, events and problems. He says “The ghost-story genre has its own (literary) history. And then there is the social history of the literary marketplace, where ghost stories “sell” better than more “serious” fiction” (376). Considering love themed novels as “serious” fiction, I agree with this idea because considering the era the Turn of the Screw was written, people were seemingly religious; they were likely to be affected by “ghosts,” rather than a fundamentally-blank love story. We know that the era consists of class differences in society, that is – upper class looked down upon working class. Since the book is set in a castle, there are, of course, servants, which we call the working class. Robbins says “When the social station of the person you are addressing is at stake, there are severe limits on what can be said” (380). I think it is not only because of their social station but Mrs. Grose also seems like she is hiding some information from the governess. I think the way Mrs. Grose says “she” (James 58) is like she is comparing Miss Jessel and the governess; even having a name, Miss Jessel is shown to be superior to the governess. So, I personally disagree with Robbins here, because language has no limits, it keeps changing constantly. Therefore, one can say anything excluding their social status if the language is well-used. Moreover, he says “They [power and hierarchy] even determine what can be seen” (380), I do not agree with this, either. Ghosts are ghosts for each character if the narration is in the third person, if we have the ability to know what everyone thinks and experiences, but since the Turn of the Screw is written in the first person narrator, it may depend on the character’s background and psychology, if we are to say that they all have different consciousness. Mrs. Grose’s failure to see the ghost has nothing to do with social status, I think. If we compare Mrs. Grose to the governess, I do not see a difference between the two apart from their experiences, but it is rather unknown whether Mrs. Grose sees the ghosts or not.

Moving forward, Robbins says “The former governess, like the present governess, has allowed her erotic desires to stray across class lines; the only difference is that the object of Miss Jessel’s feelings is someone below her on the social scale rather than someone above her” (381). I think we can interpret this in this way: if Miss Jessel is in love with someone who is socially below her, the governess may fall in love with, unfortunately, either Miles or, the Uncle. In either way, she addresses a male figure that is superior to her considering class differences, that is why she seeks a way to escape her reality of being a governess. At this point, I also would like to mention that the name “Miles” may also refer to distance that he is the one she is never having a relationship with. No matter how hard she tries, he will always be distant to her. This is both applicable to Miles and the uncle, one is “mentally” distant, and one is “physically.”

Additionally, Robbins says “In a society which routinely referred to class difference in terms of “upstairs” […] and “downstairs” […], these staircase scenes are heavily charged with the symbol of hierarchy” (381). I agree on this point with Robbins. Miss Jessel was seen “upstairs,” whereas Peter Quint was “downstairs” in terms of the steps of the staircase. So it can be concluded from this quotation that the staircase may refer to social ranks and Robbins makes a good use of it.

Finally, the reader is being told that the governess “finds herself again in “the presence” of Miss Jessel’s ghost. […] Some force – perhaps her unconscious, perhaps only James’s text – is evidently pushing her to ask what points of similarity there might be between her and the ghost” (382-383). I think we can relate this to Miles; he is only a child but she can choose neither Miles, nor the uncle. She seems to have a passion for both male characters – that is, thinking that Miles is possessed by Quint, she finds a piece of Miss Jessel in herself, as they had been lovers.

To sum up, Robbins makes good use of some claims that he talked about, but there are some other points that I disagree. Having said that, the Turn of the Screw is once again one of those novels that the readers should be aware of its time and surroundings and happenings also. Unlike other critics, Robbins, I think, grasps the Marxist perspective in a better way than those of gender studies or psychology.

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Description of Mrs. Grose in Turn of the Screw

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

The Character of Mrs. Grose

In Henry James’s novella, The Turn of the Screw, the governess observes and describes the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, as “a stout simple plain clean wholesome woman” (13) within half an hour of meeting her. The governess’s description of Mrs. Grose turns out to be true. Mrs. Grose’s trusting character makes her simple, plain, and clean, while her dedication to the children makes her stout and wholesome.

Mrs. Grose is clean, being pure and innocent as she is trustful of others. She is trustful of the children, believing that they are incapable of being corrupted or bad. She responded with disbelief saying, “Master Miles!–him an injury?… It’s too dreadful… to say such cruel things! Why he’s scarce ten years old” (18) when the governess accuses Miles of being an “injury” to others as a result of the letter informing of his expulsion from school. Her trusting character also makes her plain and simple, as she is presenting no difficulty or challenges to the governess’s beliefs and is easily persuaded and influenced by her. She believes the governess’s claim that “[Peter Quint] was looking for little Miles” (39) to corrupt him and that Flora was hiding that she was able to see Miss Jessel. Mrs. Grose was influenced by the governess to also believe the ghosts were corrupting the children and had personally asked Flora, “where, my pet, is Miss Jessel” (107) when both she and the governess had avoided confronting the children with the subject. Mrs. Grose’s view of the children changes as a result of the governess’s influence. Mrs. Grose started out believing that the children were inherently innocent even when presented with the letter of Miles’s expulsion from school, and just because of the governess’s claims of the ghosts corrupting the children, she at the end of the story, blatantly accuses the children of being bad when she says accusatively that “Miles stole letters” (118).

Mrs. Grose is stout and wholesome because of her dedication to the children. She is stout because she is determined to care for the children. Mrs. Grose had been at Bly through the deaths of two employees, Miss Jessel and Peter Quint. Though two deaths would be strange and haunting, she remained at Bly and “was acting for the time as superintendent” (9) to Flora, whom she was “extremely fond” (9) of, between the time of the death of Miss Jessel and the arrival of the new governess. Mrs. Grose also stayed at Bly when it became more haunting with the governess claiming that the ghosts of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint were seeking to corrupt the children. She assists the governess in protecting the children from corruption when she leaves with Flora to comply with the governess’s request to “get [Flora] away, far from this… far from them” (117). She is wholesome because of this, as she believes that she is promoting the moral innocence of the children by helping the governess save the children from corruption by taking them away from the influence of the ghosts.

In Henry James’s novella, The Turn of the Screw, the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, is described by the governess as “a stout simple plain clean wholesome woman” (3). The governess’s description of her is true because she is shown to be clean, plain, and simple due to how she is overly trusting and gullible with her belief that the children are inherently innocent and how she was easily persuaded by the governess’s claims that the children are corrupted. She is shown to be stout and wholesome as she is dedicated to the children and is determinant in protecting them from the corrupting influence of the ghosts.

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Depiction of Victorian Era in Turn of the Screw

April 13, 2021 by Essay Writer

Inequalities in the Victorian Era

To understand the uncles and the governess’s motivations in Henry James’ Novella, The Turn of the Screw, the reader must recognize the social, class, and gender inequalities between men and women during the Victorian era.

During the time the Victorian era, women and men were not equal, but women began to gain more rights than they had before. A new class of women called the “working woman” was born during this time. James uses the main protagonist, the governess, to portray the working woman. Even though the position of a governess was a more common job for women, she still strove to make money for herself. This was one of the most important qualities of the “working woman” as the drive to work often accompanied the drive to earn more rights. In the novella, the governess accepted the job because of its pay, which demonstrates her dedication to make a name for herself as a working woman. The governess chose to support herself as an independent woman, instead of choosing the more common Victorian roll of a woman and settling down with a husband. This dedication is shown in the governess’s interview. While towards the beginning of the interview the governess had doubts about accepting the position, when she realized that “the salary offered much exceeded her modest measure” (James 1) she took the job. This choice shows the governess’s drive as a “working woman” due to the fact that it was the salary that made her decision. After obtaining the position, the governess and worked hard to perform the job to the best of their abilities.

Men during this time period didn’t have the same problems as women. Men had better schooling, better jobs, better pay and all rights. The Victorian era was the age of chivalrous men, especially upper-classmen were expected to act with honor and not scoundrels. That being said, in his novella, James, portrays his male characters in a bad light. For example The Uncle, ignored his responsibilities to the children, even though they were his own niece and nephew. Instead of trying to raise the children, the Uncle put all charges onto the governess, playing little to no role in the children’s upbringing. James shows that the uncle opposed what men were supposed to be like in the Victorian Era. James used the children’s uncle to portray a mistake of men in the Victorian era the same way he used the governess to portray a proper “working woman.” “Working-class women, many of whom were not connected to prostitution, were labeled as “decadent” whore figures while men seeking prostitutes were given a pass. Men were not held responsible for their sexual dalliances until the end of the century, when stories spread about virginal brides being infected with sexually transmitted diseases from their husbands.” (Tomyn 3)

All in all, men and women were not equal during the Victorian era. They had different rights, jobs, pay, and schooling. Even though, women still strived to be a working woman and make their own wage. Henry James, the Turn of the Screw, portrays these inequalities between men and women through the uncle’s unchivalrous attitude and the governess’s striving to become the working woman of that era. Today, the working woman is not new to this era. There are many women who have led the country into what it is today.

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The Turn of The Screw By Henry James

November 3, 2020 by Essay Writer

The Turn of The Screw is a horror novella by the American author Henry James, It was published in the year 1898, the view on this novel has been different throughout the course of history especially looking at it through the lens of a feminist, during the time this novella was written in 1898 this was the time of first wave feminism. The first wave of feminism focused on mainly on things like the right for women to vote and legal matters however during this wave women had very little say especially as this novella was written about nine years before the suffragette movement. We do see the strong stereotypes throughout this story one being right at the beginning when the men are speaking of their stories in front of the fire and the women are sat around listening and laughing along, this at the time may have seemed like such an innocent aspect of the novel however looking at it from a modern feminist perspective we can see that this is a subtle example of how female voices were very hidden during the times this novel was written. Women were seen as inferior to men with no power in any situations whether it was working life or social life the men during the 19th century really did hold the shots. Men were privileged in ways for example they were allowed to have an education and working life, this is why the character of the governess challenged these stereotypes in a way as she seemingly had a good education and she did support herself with a job looking after Flora and Miles. Another reason this was very strange was not only because she was a woman but also because she was very young.

In result of the timing this novella was written there was definitely an uprise in feminism as saying earlier the Suffragette movement did actually come alive greatly a few years later but I believe that Henry James subtly catches the uprise in feminism in different ways throughout the text for example when the governess first arrives at the house and is given her responsibilities James uses the metaphor “great drifting ship.” James. 1965. page 17) This is very significant for a feminist reader for a few reasons the first being that ships are often by males referred to in a feminine pronoun for example “she” or “her”. The idea of pursuing feminist uproar and views through literature also caught on through time for example authors like Mary Shelley and Emily Bronte having powerful female protagonists to show a change throughout literature. The governess throughout the novel explains certain situations which indicate the lifestyle of women through literature for example when she talks about her younger life with her family and compares it to the life that she is living now in Bly she says “small smothered life.” (James 1965,page 25) this is a huge indication to the lack of freedom she experienced when she was younger and as a reader we can assume maybe this was in result of society’s views on women for example that they should stay in the house especially younger females and children should be taught on life being a good wife. In comparison to this throughout the novel I believe we see the governess really break out of her shell and this feels even to the reader as a relief as there is a contrast in a way between her old small smothered life and now her wide open country life. There is a few juxtapositions however throughout the novel were James does actually still follow the same patriarchal society for example even though the character of the governess is quite ambiguous he still sets her dreams of marrying a rich man and in some way falling head over heels for him which is a complete juxtaposition to the fact that she has graduated from a college and is highly intelligent with her own job, this sets her back from the ambiguous character in which Henry James tries to portray many times. This was a common dream and ultimate goal for many women of the victorian era as they were very limited in what they could actually achieve overall in life.

The novel gives some sort of impression that women are prone to things such as mental instability and can’t deal with their emotions with many scholars actually believing the governess was in fact just hallucinating when seeing the ghosts and they were a fixture of her imagination or even her sexual desire. I believe James wanted to himself question the insanity of the governess as throughout the novel we are unsure to believe if the ghosts are in fact fixtures of her imagination. Mrs Grose however is a true representation of what women would typically be like during the Victorian era for example she was quite illiterate in comparison to the governess, she is seemingly very admirative of the governed treating her with a high amount of respect. I believe this is because Mrs Grose admired the fact that the governess didn’t actually stick to the gender norms of the victorian era and may women of this time were very strung up in relationships were men controlled their life.

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Entertaining Dread: the Contrived Aesthetic Experience of Fear in Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

The Turn of the Screw has been read by some analysts as a straightforward ghost story and by others as a psychologically accurate – whether pre-or post-Freudian — portrait of mental illness or repression breaking out. However enjoyable it is to consider Henry James’ short story from any of these or similar points of view, it strikes me as particularly interesting to look at it as a kind of metafiction, a story about storytelling that explores the power of language to create mood or to evoke emotional or psychological responses through the power of suggestion.

In some ways this story and its opening frame are reminiscent of the almost archetypal scenario of children sitting in the dark telling spooky stories. Also, it calls to mind a particular scene in the Wonderworks film adaptation of Lucy Maude Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. In that scene, the characters Anne Shirley and Diana Berry are alone together in a gloomy wood, and they start reciting to one another all the chilling ghost tales they can recall and talking about how “deliciously frightened” they are. In the novel, Anne confesses to her aunt that “Diana and I just imagined the wood was haunted. All the places around here are so–so–COMMONPLACE. We just got this up for our own amusement. We began it in April. A haunted wood is so very romantic.… Oh, we have imagined the most harrowing things” (Montgomery 229). Similarly, Henry James demonstrates in his Turn of the Screw a keen understanding of the delight that typically imaginative people derive from being scared and, indeed, in scaring themselves.

James’ story is a masterful sort of meta-chiller that works on the imagination of the reader while allowing events recounted by characters within the story to work on the imaginations of other characters, to effects at times obvious and at other times ambiguous. Part of the ambiguity surrounding the story involves whether the governess who narrates her own tale has effectively scared herself with phantasms and other observations that originate in her own mind. Her indirect reference to certain then-contemporary works of Victorian horror or gothic suspense (The Mystery of Udolpho, Jane Eyre) may be a hint from the author about her or about the story in which she finds herself. “Was there a ‘secret’ at Bly—a mystery of Udolpho or an insane, an unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement?” (James 312). Although the interpretation of the story and the question of its realism are debatable, it seems obvious that James intended, while telling a chilling tale, also to explore the complicity of the imaginative audience member in creating the effect – the pleasurable dread or terror – such tales may convey.

Whether or not these kinds of stories are true is less important than the effectiveness of the storytelling style, whether the narrative elicits the desired response in hearers or readers. Of course, James occasionally uses some fairly heavy-handed means to evoke the edgy mood in The Turn of the Screw, even beginning his story with a discussion about what makes a tale the kind of story that can hold listeners “sufficiently breathless” (James 291), what gives it each successive “turn of the screw” (James 292). Also, the author has his characters offer their own commentaries on the emotional impact of their stories – Douglas refers dramatically to the “dreadfulness” of the account he is leading up to telling, even stating that it is “beyond everything. Nothing that I know touches it,” with respect to its “uncanny ugliness and horror and pain” (ibid).

This is quite a dramatic setup for a story that has yet to be revealed. Such a characterization creates anticipation, primes the reader for a strong response and demands a payoff. It is a bold move on the part of James, since to fail to provide a sufficient emotional payoff could leave the author open to accusations of overstatement or melodramatic superfluity. And speaking of the superfluous, throughout the story there is continual repetition of emotionally evocative pejoratives like dread, horror, queer, insane, corrupt, et cetera, as well as frequent use of exclamation points and italics. The text itself seems emotionally manipulative, bent on an effect, and if the reader is unwilling or unable to go where the text is apparently leading, the effect would certainly be, from an author’s point of view, unfortunate, and the story would likely fail to satisfy.

James leaves the reader with little reason to doubt that the payoff he has set up is coming. However, one of the author’s principle means of manipulation in Turn of the Screw is delayed gratification. There is much hesitation, holding back of details after the insinuation of what is to come, inviting the listeners within the story as well as readers of the story to let their imaginations flow into the gaps. Again, the author is not at all subtle about it; he blatantly points to the technique early on (James 297), in an exchange between Douglas, his secondary–in the ordinal sense–narrator, and one of his listeners.

So far had Douglas presented his picture when someone put a question. “And what did the former governess die of? – of so much respectability?”

Our friend’s answer was prompt. “That will come out. I don’t anticipate.”

“Excuse me – I thought that was just what you are doing.”

Further down the same page, after giving out a few more thin details, Douglas makes an insinuation, a reference to some unforeseen danger in the governess’s story, of which she was unaware at the outset but of which “she did learn. You shall hear tomorrow what she learned.” Again Douglas gives out more sparse information and, as the primary, unnamed narrator states, “with this, [he] made a pause that, for the benefit of the company, moved [him] to throw in” his own titillating guess about what was still to come in the narrative. This prompts Douglas to get up, turn his back on his audience, and stir the fire before going further with his tale – that is, his setup of the governess’s tale.

While I count three main narratives in Turn of the Screw, nested like Babushka dolls, there are technically several more stories within stories in this complex narrative, and even more storytellers mentioned than there are narratives given, rather than summarized or referenced. Notably Douglas begins his allusion to the unnamed governess’s story after at least two other narrators, Griffin and another, have told their own ghost tales to the company, to varying effect. Within Douglas’ story, there is the governess’s tale, in which she speaks of what she learns from Mrs. Grose and, even before that, of being told by her master what he judged to be his own pertinent history: “He told her frankly all his difficulty – that for several applicants the conditions had been prohibitive. They were, somehow, simply afraid. It sounded dull – it sounded strange; and all the more so because of his main condition” (James 297). Meanwhile, Miles, the governess’s male charge, has a number of opportunities in dialogue to tell his story, carefully clipped as it is by his wariness and clouded by the impressions and interpretations of the governess who transcribes it.

All this underscores the likelihood that James is telling a story about storytelling, about the impact of the interplay between text and allusion, reference and repetition, insinuation and inference, hesitation and anticipation, mood and manipulation. With an audience that is willing to be guided — or capable of being mesmerized — and an author who is adept at it, as James is, a story can create impressions, misdirect or focus attention, and evoke particular and highly entertaining effects, dreadful or otherwise. In the case of The Turn of the Screw, the author has given his short story just enough masterfully contrived “turns” to encourage his readers, especially those with the right sort of susceptibility to his techniques, to give an added twist or two to a tale already fraught with delightfully chilling torque.

Works Cited:

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels. Signet Classic, New York: 1962.

Montgomery, Lucy Maude. Anne of Green Gables. Bantam, New York: 1981.

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Interpreting the plot of Henry James novel The turn of the screw

November 2, 2020 by Essay Writer

The Crossroads Between Reason and Insanity

Henry James’s novel, The Turn of the Screw, presents a plot that can be interpreted several different ways depending on how the reader wishes to interpret it. Many readers believe the governess is really seeing the ghosts of Peter Quint and his mistress as well as the former governess, Ms. Jessel. However, another set of readers and critics believe that the governess obsesses over the children and their former governess that she drives herself to mental insanity, leading her to hallucinate. In my own opinion, I think the governess may have seen the ghosts of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel but the circumstances may not have been as extreme as she made them seem. Considering the governess had never met Quint and Jessel when they were alive, it is almost impossible that she could have seen their ghosts without knowing what they looked like. However, I believe that seeing the apparitions slowly drove the new governess to insanity as her mind was consumed by theories that the ghosts were trying to corrupt the children and maybe even herself.

As the new governess began her job working with two children, Flora and Miles, she seemed to be in a sound state of mind, eager to begin working at the Bly estate. Nonetheless, within the first few days that the governess had been working with Flora, she experienced occurrences that most people would deem peculiar. She began to see a ghost-like man, who she later discovered was the ghost of Peter Quint, a former valet at Bly. The governess finds out that Flora’s brother, Miles, was permanently dismissed from school for unknown reasons. She tried to make sense of the situation as everyone at the Bly estate believed Miles to be a well-behaved, well-mannered young man. As more time passed, the governess also began to see the ghost of the previous governess, Ms. Jessel. She started to believe that she children were communicating with the ghosts, almost as a type of possession. When Flora suddenly falls ill, she talks to Mrs. Grose, a servant at Bly, she uses language that shocks Mrs. Grose as she has no idea where she could have learned that language. “‘From that child – horrors! There!’ she sighed with tragic relief. ‘On my honour, Miss, she says things-! But at this evocation she dropped down; she dropped with a sudden cry upon my sofa” (109). Considering the amount of time that Ms. Grose has spent with the children, which is far longer than the governess has, she still deems it extremely out of character for Flora to be acting this way. This goes to show that there’s something causing the children to act like this, qualifying the governess’s theory that the children are conspiring with ghosts.

The other interpretation of the plot of the story is that the governess is mentally unsound, which is the belief that I have come to accept. When the governess first arrives at Bly, she doesn’t show any signs of instability as her stability seems to progress into a downward spiral throughout her time there. As she begins to learn more about the previous governess, Ms. Jessel, and her lover, Peter Quint, she begins to obsess over their history. The more she thought about them, the further she developed her theory that the children were conspiring with the two ghosts. “But even while they pretend to be lost in their fairy-tale they’re steeped in their vision of the dead restored to them.”… “they’re talking of them – they’re talking horrors!” (69). The governess explains to Ms. Grose that the children have deceived everyone at Bly, creating the facade of being well-behaved and obedient children. She believes that she observed the true nature and devious ways of the children as they pretend they have not seen what she has. However, these suspicions only escalate as the governess continues to obsess over the ghosts and their control over the children. When she decides that the Bly estate is no longer safe for the children, she sends Ms. Grose, Flora and the rest of the staff away so that she is alone in the house with Miles, who she plans to have confront the ghost of Peter Quint to finally be free from his presence and influence. “I was so determined to have all my proof that I flashed into ice to challenge him. ‘Whom do you mean by ‘he’?’ ‘Peter Quint—you devil!’” (124). At the peak of her insanity, the governess tries to coax a confession out of Miles, to get him to admit that he, too, sees the ghost of Peter Quint and that he has been communicating with him the whole time. When Miles says “you devil”, he could either be referring to the governess or the ghost of Peter Quint. However, I choose to believe that Miles is addressing the governess, and that his sudden death that follows is caused by the madness of the governess. Throughout the story, we see her identity transform as she’s consumed by the idea of needing to save the children from a greater evil, driving her to insanity. Her mental fragility only led her to put Miles in a situation that could only result in him being mentally scarred. By the end of the story, it is clear that the governess feels as though she has completed her mission of saving the children, even though Miles died. She was able to convince herself that she only did what was necessary, seeing his death as a victory over the greater evil that had only existed in her mind.

Overall, the horror story The Turn of the Screw has left readers to interpret whether or not the governess is truly insane or if she had actually experienced paranormal activity. By leaving this up for interpretation, Henry James sparked controversy among literary critics, never commenting on what he believed was the true reason behind what happened at Bly. While the belief that the governess and the children were being haunted by the ghosts of Peter Quint and Ms. Jessel would justify much of what happened in the story, the same events can be justified by the potential mental insanity of the governess. In my own opinion, the governess drove herself to the madness that eventually consumed her, leaving her and others scarred for life. Her paranoia that the children were conspiring against her with ghosts was her way of coping with the fact that the children were not as pure and innocent as everyone had told her. These suspicions only grew as more incidents occured, where her perceptions became her reality.

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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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