Turn of the ScrewPosted: 2007/10/22
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. New York: Dutton, 1963.
Even though October is more than half over I decided to read something scary for the rest of the month…in honor of Halloween and all that. Turn of the Screw seemed like the most obvious choice. A novella only 160 pages long, I knew it wouldn’t take too long to get through.
Written in 1898 and republished numerous times Turn of the Screw has also been adapted for the stage, television and the big screen. Someone told me it was even mentioned in an episode of “Lost” (I wouldn’t know). James’s technique is to tell the story within a frame – one story within another. We are first introduced to a man at a Christmas party telling a tale of a governess. From there we are in the story, told from the point of view of the governess. She has been hired to look after two small children after their parents are killed and they are sent to live on an uncle’s estate. Soon after the governess’s arrival she starts to notice strange occurrences, shadowy figures stalking the grounds. She learns they are former lovers and hired hands, back to supposedly recreate their relationship through the children.
While James uses words like “hideous”, “sinister”, “detestable”, and “dangerous”, there is great debate as to exactly what he is describing as so terrible. He refers to evil again and again, but his ghosts are not the usual specters. They only hint at danger rather than taking action and “attacking”. The other great debate is whether the governess is insane (or goes insane while at Bly). Because no one else really backs up her ghost sightings you have to wonder.
BookLust Twist: Mentioned several times in Book Lust. Once in the chapter called “Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror” (p 113) and “Ghost Stories” (p 99). I would agree that The Turn of the Screw deserves ghost story status, but horror? Maybe I’m stuck in slasher movie mode where everything horrible has to end up in blood and gore.