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The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Fiction (Bantam Classics)
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on March 16, 2003
On the surface this is a story about an either haunted or hysterical governess who juggles words with true virtuosity, stringing them into psychologically insightful sentences. But that is all just camouflage, as is the many-layered structure of this tale. When the chips are finally down, the truth emerges, even though it is never explicitly stated --- how could it possibly have been stated explicitly in 1898? --- this is a story about pedophilia and its effects on a ten year old boy. At the core of this tale lies the relationship between the boy Miles and his uncle's servant Quint at Bly, the uncle's country estate. The housekeeper Mrs. Crose informs the new governess that the too-good-to-be-true Miles had been "bad" in the past, he would disappear for hours in the company of Quint who was not only "much too free" but also engaged in "depravity." Sent off to a boarding school, Miles gets expelled for what he tells his classmates presumably about this depravity. When at the very end of the tale the governess confronts Miles about these matters, he appears to expire in the last four words of the tale's last sentence. Yet at the start of the unresolved flashback which this tale represents, Miles may yet be alive as a middle-aged family man named Douglas, who reads to his friends the whole tale as written down by the governess herself.
Is Douglas the grownup Miles? James doesn't tell, but this remains a fascinating possibility perfectly consistent with the rest of this tale. Further conflations of characters are equally well compatible with the "facts." The uncle who lived at Bly and then left his estate at the very time of Quint's accidental death doesn't want to ever again hear of his nephew or to return to Bly. Could it be that it was not Quint who engaged in pedophilia, but that it was the uncle himself who abused his orphaned nephew? In their numerous dialogues the Governess and Mrs. Crose complete each other's sentences to such a degree that one gets the distinct impression that one is dealing with the ruminations of a single character and like Quint, so Mrs. Crose too can easily be removed from the scene. In fact James does just that shortly before tale's end, while getting rid of Miles' little sister Flora at the same time. He sends them to London to visit the uncle. There is one more character, the earlier governess Jessel, whose only role is to impose a certain degree of symmetry to the tale, and to appear in one climactic scene.
Why all these dispensable main characters, why the fireside chat of all kinds of minor characters at the time when the flashback is entered never to be left again, and finally why even use a flashback? I think these are all diversionary tactics on James' part. The central story he tells is so very unorthodox, unnerving and incendiary that he prefers to hide it with great care and great success among all this clutter. As I said, in 1898 he would have been pilloried for openly writing about pedophilia. The challenge of doing so all the same, has resulted in a masterpiece of ambiguity, which still clearly conveys its point. This interpretation of the story is supported by the fact that Benjamin Britten, one of the twentieth century's greatest opera composers, has set "The Turn of the Screw". Britten was himself apparently interested in pubescent boys and pedophilia drives the stories of three of his masterpieces. Based on what has been written about Henry James, he may not have been a stranger to this subject either.
The style of this tale is fascinating. On the one hand it is formal, quite pedantic, quite precious and removed, as if carving itself a much-needed ditch separating the narrative from the reader. It does not grant easy access. On the other hand all those long sentences with big words tend to have a mesmerizing effect that absorbs the reader into the story better than even the most honest and well-meaning informality ever could. There is a certain rhythm and poetic drive to some crucial passages. For instance, as one enters the flashback, the first few pages have the drive of a prose poem or of a symhony. With it James welcomes the reader to his realm. No wonder "The Turn of the Screw" ultimately landed on the opera stage.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2001
This is a good collection of Henry James' best. Each short story is a pager-turner rich with insights into American and British life at the end of the 1800's. He doesn't make his characters Romantic heroes but real, flawed, interesting and complex. James definately ranks among the best of the Realism and Naturalism authors like Twain, Dresler, Crane and Howells.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2003
Henry James wrote in a clear, precise even-handed American style that has not grown stale despite the passage of over 100 years. The two stories that stand out here to me are the two that are usually singled out by reviewers, "Daisy Miller" and "The Turn Of The Screw", the former because of its sensual European atmospherics and the fact that even back in 1900 an American female could be considered overly outgoing or prurient by community standards, even if she was probably just an extroverted American; the latter because James effectively creates the controlled terror of a ghost story involving children at a British greathouse, perhaps a bit like Poe. But the other 3 stories all have something going for them: "The Jolly Corner", is also a ghost story,set in New York; "The Beast Of the Jungle" creates a sense of mysterious suspense within the context of a couple's love relationship, and "Washington Square" is the story of a love relationship forbidden by the girl's
sophisticated doctor father.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 14, 2006
Although this story churns slowly and with a writing style that many of us are not used to, it makes up for it with a great, chilling story that sticks with you after the last pages are over. This is one of those books you have to read in the quiet to concentrate on each word, but it is all the quiet that can make this book scare you. James' obviously did a masterful job on the story, with his cliffhanger ending, because to this day, people are still giving their interpretation of it and what it means. And this story was published over 100 years ago, in 1898. Any author would LOVE to have people still talking about a book like that, for better or worse. I love the characters throughout this story, and you begin to wonder what exactly is going on - is she seeing ghosts? Are the kids seeing ghosts? Has she lost her mind? All good questions and at the end, you still might be scratching your head, but it is still a satsifying conclusion that lets your creative mind decipher it all. In conclusion, this book is a pretty slow read considering it's only like 100 pages, but once you get half way, you're not going to want to put it down!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 5, 2010
This contains:

The Turn of the Screw

Washington Square

Daisy Miller

The Beast in the Jungle

The Jolly Corner

and a good introduction by R. W. B. Lewis, who wrote a Pulitzer prizewinning biography of Edith Wharton.

I think those last three pieces are his best-known nouvelles, and the top two are his best-known short novels. Wow. They're a nice place to start with James, too.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2008
The Turn of the Screw and Washington Square are novellas. Daisy Miller is intermediate in length while The Beast in the Jungle and The Jolly Corner are short stories. All five are among the best short fiction of Henry James.

In the introduction Professor R. W. B. Lewis only marginally discusses the literary merit and artistry of these five stories; he is more concerned with developing biographical insights about Henry James himself. This fascinating introduction adds considerable value to this collection.

The Turn of the Screw (1898): A reader new to this classic work should read no reviews, no essays, no forwards, and no prefaces. I made that mistake. Without going into details, my first reading of The Turn of the Screw was unduly influenced by my knowing too much too soon. There will be plenty of time after your first reading to immerse yourself in literary criticism and reader reviews.

Washington Square (1881): When the young, handsome, articulate Morris Townsend shows interest in Catherine, Dr. Sloper immediately concludes that his true interest is her wealth, and moves to break them apart. Matters are complicated by Catherine's silly, meddlesome, and manipulative aunt, Mrs. Penniman, who functions as an uninvited go-between for the two young lovers.

My fascination with Washington Square centered not on whether Townsend was genuinely in love with Catherine, but with the way in which Catherine revealed her inner strength in managing her increasingly strained relationship with her insensitive father. Washington Square may not have achieved the full psychological subtlety and complexity desired by Henry James, but it is far from a simple, superficial tale of bitter sweet romance.

Daisy Miller (1878): Henry James is largely remembered and respected for his vivid portrayals of Americans abroad and their encounters with the cultural differences that divided the brash, young, immature American continent from the sophisticated, class conscious Old World.

Daisy Miller appears to be the epitome of incautious innocence. She disregards European customs, seemingly quite assured in her own judgment that she is doing no wrong, only flirting with young gentlemen as would any American girl. As the story progresses, she becomes aware of the building criticism from the expatriate community, but apparently chooses to ignore advice from well-meaning, socially prominent women.

Perhaps what makes this story fascinating is that we readers see Daisy not from the perspective of an omniscient author that is privy to Daisy's innermost thoughts, but through the eyes of a third person, a Mr. Winterbourne, an American bachelor living in Geneva. Winterbourne is obviously fascinated with Daisy Miller and the astute reader (or one who has read this tale several times) may question whether the narrator is perhaps unduly biased.

The Beast in the Jungle (1903): John Marcher had from his earliest time, deep within him, "the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen" and he had in his bones the foreboding and conviction that it might overwhelm him. Despite its suspense and deep sense of despair, this classic tale has been described as sluggish and overly ornate. Be that as it may, this foreboding tale is memorable.

The Jolly Corner (1908): Returning after decades in Europe to his vacant, empty home in New York, Spencer Brydon would in the gathering dusk "wander and wait, linger and listen, feel his fine attention, never in his life so fine, on the pulse of the great vague place: he preferred the lampless hour and only wished he might have prolonged each day the deep crepuscular spell".
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on October 12, 2014
For the most part, I really enjoyed the short-stories in this book. I love writing short-stories myself and these are totally inspiring. I had to read Daisy Miller: A Study for class, but I ended up reading the rest of them, too. Mr. James is sometimes hard to understand, but he's so witty and humorous, even if it's dry, that I could not stop reading until I read them all. He's interesting and totally worth reading more about.
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on May 6, 2014
The Turn of the Screw is one of the best ghost stories ever written. There's barely a sentence that can't be interpreted two or three different ways by the reader. There's hardly a better example of the Unreliable Narrator literary device than this short story. And it deals with very dark, very heady topics two - involving children, no less - which makes it that much more enticing, in it's own dark way.
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on July 16, 2015
if you like a scary story, this may be it. not sensationalistic, it is a classic telling of ghosts and eerie feelings.
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on August 25, 2014
Great collection of short stories.
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