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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ghosts or goblins
Henry James's tale is the last of the gothic Victorian novellas, with its richly developed sense of propriety-- a semblance of manners and understatement concealing primitive subliminal impulse. Its dense, symbolic language penetrates deeply into the psyche. There is evil here. But its emanation is ambiguous and amorphous. The characters exist in a pervasive atmosphere...
Published on December 27, 1999 by karl b.

versus
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Demons of the Mind and Manor
Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw' (1898) is the notorious supernatural novella that is almost as famous for the many interpretations of its 'ghosts'---are they actual, or merely the products of the protagonist's sexual repressions?--as for the story itself.

In 1945, American critic Edmund Wilson published a long, creatively successful, and influential essay...
Published 17 months ago by The Wingchair Critic


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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ghosts or goblins, December 27, 1999
By 
karl b. (Fraser Valley, BC, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
Henry James's tale is the last of the gothic Victorian novellas, with its richly developed sense of propriety-- a semblance of manners and understatement concealing primitive subliminal impulse. Its dense, symbolic language penetrates deeply into the psyche. There is evil here. But its emanation is ambiguous and amorphous. The characters exist in a pervasive atmosphere of dread. The exact source of that dread has intrigued readers since it was written before the turn the (20th) century. Central to James's fable is the character of the Governess. Was she deluded, predatory or ennobled? Her motives hold the key to the solution-- if there is a solution.
James reveled in brooding, subversive sexual undercurrents. The suspense is ethereal since nothing is sure in James's painstakingly constructed psychological panorama. What is real here? Whose innocence is being corrupted? It's all a mystery, wrapped in a riddle, cloaked in a-- well, ghost story! But riddles are meant to be solved. James has provided us all the necessary clues. The text fills barely 88 pages, but the critical interpretation, covering a century, shows the enduring capacity of 'the Screw' to engage the imagination. The analyses mirrors our changing attitudes toward children, psychology and the nature of evil. The Norton Critical Edition includes an excellent survey of various commentaries over the decades, which provide fascinating insight into contemporary mores as they were pressed into decoding James's great puzzle.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous - the ambiguity makes it wonderful!, June 21, 2002
By 
"littleoldme" (Fort Collins, CO United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
I've heard a great deal of criticism directed both at this novel and at Henry James himself. "The Turn of the Screw" has been derided as dull and uneventful, while James's writing is scornfully dismissed because of its complexity. I found myself quite surprised at this negative perspective - "The Turn of the Screw" is fascinating and remarkably entertaining.
The story itself is fairly simplistic on the surface. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would have been a simple "things that go bump in the night" ghost story of no consequence. However, the ambiguity of the narration brings the story a great deal of depth. Are we to trust the governess's story, or is the entire plot merely a figment of her imagination or a neurotic response to her sexuality? The brilliance here is in the wide range of interpretation. The entire novel can be taken either way (or both ways at once) equally well, which is fascinating.
Many reviewers have (unfavorably) commented on the writing style of Henry James, noting its complexity and verbosity. While his prose can be difficult to master (I had to read several sentences multiple times to decipher them), the complex language does not merely use extra words for the sake of making the story longer. Instead, every bit of detail in the sentences modifies and elaborates on the text, helping greatly to create the haziness that permeates "The Turn of the Screw." I thoroughly enjoyed the style of writing here, and this is coming from somebody who criticized the language in "Wuthering Heights" and "Tess of the D'Urbervilles." The complexity enhances the novel, rather than weakening it.
All in all, I was astonished by the great quality of "The Turn of the Screw." One last note - I highly recommend the Norton Critical Edition, featuring authorial commentary, reviews, and criticism. An excellent choice.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New to The Turn of the Screw? Then Don't Read Beyond the Second Paragraph, September 9, 2006
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
A reader new to The Turn of Screw 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.

My review pertains to A Casebook on Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, second edition, edited by Gerald Willen. (Another good source of interpretive essays is found in the Norton Critical Edition.) The Turn of the Screw makes up the first 94 pages; the twenty essays in the Casebook total some 300 pages and are arranged chronologically. It is best to read them in sequence as later critics often refer to earlier ones, in some cases directly challenging an earlier position.

The primary interpretation is straight-forward. The Turn of the Screw is just what it seems to be: a well-constructed, frightening, bona fide ghost story. There is much evidence for this argument including various notes and letters written by Henry James himself. Most readers subscribe to this view - at least on their first reading.

A second interpretation challenges the veracity of the story teller, the children's governess, arguing that the ghosts are bizarre imaginings, hallucinations, of a mentally disturbed young woman. While early criticism was founded on newly popular Freudian analysis, later supporters of this interpretation focused largely on inconsistencies in her account. Critics also point to supporting evidence in Henry James's sometimes ambiguous notes and letters.

The inherent contradiction in these two interpretations leads many readers to return again and again to this deeply complex, subtlely nuanced, deliberately ambiguous, simple ghost story. It is no surprise that The Turn of the Screw remains one the most read and most enjoyed works by Henry James.

Recommendation: If your time is limited, I suggest that you read, or at least browse, the following selections: Henry James's Preface to The Aspern Papers (1908), The Ambiguity of Henry James (1934) by Edmund Wilson (including his 1948 and 1959 revisions), Mr. Edmund Wilson and The Turn of the Screw (1947) by A. J. A. Waldock, James's Air of Evil: The Turn of the Screw (1949) by Oliver Evans, Henry James as Freudian Pioneer by Oscar Cargill, and One More Turn of the Screw (1957) by Louis D. Rubin, Jr.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read Goddard's Essay, May 4, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
This is another Norton Critical Edition at its finest. Obviously, many of the essays are volleys shot to support one side or the other of the great literary debate: was the governess crazy or are there really ghosts.
The not-to-be-missed essay is the one by Harold Goddard. In my opinion, it settles the debate conclusively. Goddard was an English teacher who first suggested that the story is not a ghost story but an interior monolgue about a crazy governess. His essay was found in a trunk after his death and published later. It's a marvel in logic, rhetoric, style, and clarity. Plus, it's even more interesting given that such a thoughtful and well-written essay was not intended for an audience; it was simply Goddard's own notes to himself, which he sometimes shared with his students. He presumably had no idea how influential or provocative it would become.
Also not to be missed is Leo Marx's witty and thought provoking essay. I think (hope) it was written tongue-in-check because it reads like a parody of so many criticisms of this story. But, at the same time it presents a good argument.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Psychological Portrait of Repression, February 3, 2003
By 
Dana Keish (Ohio, United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
I had long heard of Henry James and his short novella, The Turn of the Screw and decided to read it, thinking that at only 88 pages long, it would not take more than one evening. Three evenings later, I finished the text and I must admit slightly confused. I had to reread the ending several times to truly understand what had happened. Thankfully, I had the critical edition, which included several essays on the story, one in particular by Edmund White which profoundly changed my opinion of the story.
A simple ghost story on the face of it, but in reality a pre-Freudian tale of sexual repression. Narrated by an unnamed governess who ventures to a country house to take charge of two young orphaned children, it soon becomes a tale of ghosts, mysteries and secrets. Always alluded to and never talked about at face value, the governess becomes convinces that the ghosts are after the children and she alone can save them. But are there really ghosts? The reader must go beyond the plot and carefully read the language...all the language. James writes like no other author I have ever read. The best word to describe it is "dense". With almost no dialogue, the narrator can spend pages describing her thoughts and feelings, yet these are so "coded" as to decipher her real meaning takes much concentration on the part of the reader. I know that James himself thought the story an amusement only, but the critical essays I read after the book deeply impressed me that the story has hidden depths which make it all the more interesting.
I would recommend this novella to anyone with the patience to read it thoroughly and with an open mind as to its meaning. I would strongly recommend the critical edition which helps the reader better understand the story's meaning and importance in literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars bought it for school, January 13, 2014
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This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
I bought this for a college class. It was kinda beat up and there was a lot of writing in it, which i don't mind annotations, but there was a substantial amount of just scribbling and doodles from what looks like a bunch of high school students work... it's usable though. Took a little while to get here.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fear May Be Nonexistent but the Tale is Still Mysterious, October 3, 2007
By 
S. J. Hall (Sacramento, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
From the opening page, we have it that nothing matches this tale's dreadfulness, uncanny ugliness, and horror. Now, for the people reading it around the beginning of the 20th century (when it was published), this might have held true, but for a reader of the present day, this tale isn't going to strike them as being in the least scary. Basically, the only elements of the story that can be construed as even remotely scary are the presence of two ghosts, who just seem to be wandering around looking for something.

Now, while this tale falls woefully short in instilling fear in its reader, it nonetheless remains a very entertaining read, because the mystery that unfolds in this short tale isn't derived from the scariness it is meant to produce; the tale's mystery is just as mysterious in the absence of fear as it would be if it were presence.

The mystery concerns a governess who has recently taken on employment at an isolated country estate. Her two charges are a boy and a girl, Miles, and Flora, who are both graced with overwhelming physical beauty, intellectually quite adept, and impeccably well behaved. In short, they seem to be ideal children. Miles has actually been dismissed from his school for unspecified reasons, but the governess chalks this up to unfair treatment given all his redeeming virtues. So, all is well until one day she encounters a ghost on her daily walk about the premises.

This encounter starts a chain of events lead to the governess adopting a Sherlock Holmes persona and baptizing Mrs. Goose, the housekeeper, into the role of her Watson. In the course of her investigation, she encounters another ghost, learns what both ghost are after, and who they are, and begins to question whether Miles and Flora's displayed perfection is just a façade to mask their sinister nature. The key to solving the mystery turns on with what caused Miles's dismissal from school and the identity of the two ghosts.

In this brief work, James has crafted a rather well paced mystery that is told with descriptively rich language and with elaborate and fluid prose. In other words, it was quite a pleasure to read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Read on its Own with a Number of Great Essays Included, July 3, 2014
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
The Turn of the Screw is one of the most outright brilliant, though freakishly dense pieces of literature I've ever read. And this edition happens to contain numerous essays and interpretations on Henry James' masterpieces that make reading through it a second time that much more exciting.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Demons of the Mind and Manor, April 14, 2013
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw' (1898) is the notorious supernatural novella that is almost as famous for the many interpretations of its 'ghosts'---are they actual, or merely the products of the protagonist's sexual repressions?--as for the story itself.

In 1945, American critic Edmund Wilson published a long, creatively successful, and influential essay outlining why he believed the governess at the center of the story was imagining apparitions where none actually existed. Later, when James' diaries came to light, Wilson publicly conceded the point, since James' diaries established that the author had indeed intended a straight-forward ghost story with genuine spiritual presences.

Though only a novella, the mildly engrossing 'The Turn of the Screw' remains ironically, an overlong and overly written work. James' sentence structure is often highly eccentric, and too many sentences seem to be about absolutely nothing at all (as Camille Paglia underscored in 1990's 'Sexual Personae,' no major American writer wrote as many bad and ponderous passages as James did).

The story has a proper young lady of nineteen taking her first job as a governess in an isolated manor house ("the place, with its grey sky and withered garlands, its bared space and scattered dead leaves...") where she is assisted by competent longtime housekeeper Mrs. Grose. Her two charges, Miles and Flora, are delightful, beautiful little children of calm manner and excellent disposition.

Within a week of her arrival, the governess begins to notice a strange man about the house and grounds, one who stares at her rather brazenly.

Questioning Mrs. Grose, she learns that the figure resembles Quint, a "menial" employee who recently died just outside the grounds of the estate.

Then the governess notices a female figure dressed in black as well, one who corresponds in appearance to Miss Jessel, the previous governess, also recently deceased. And Miles, it seems, has just been expelled from the public school he attends without specific explanation.

The governess slowly comes to the conclusion that the children are aware of the apparitions of the dead Quint and Jessel, and simply saying nothing, which outrages her, since this suggests that their placid exteriors are false ("It's a game...a policy and a fraud") and, more disturbing still, that they have a hidden independence and secret life from which she is excluded.

Before long, she is obsessed with her own theories about the mysterious figures ("How can I retrace to-day the strange steps of my obsession?"), what their intentions are, what they meant to one another while alive, and why Miles and Flora are so crispy nonchalant when asked about them.

In her quiet frenzy, the governess herself quickly becomes dangerous to the children, unable as she is to think of anything else, despite the apparent passivity of the specters.

Unstated but implied is the sexual corruption of the children by Quint and Jessel, who are not just the transgressive dead walking again in the world of the living, but phantom pedophiles as well.

The governess also maintains an ongoing fancy for her distant male employer, whom she has only met once and never will meet again, those conditions being the romance-quelching terms of her contract.

Is she unconsciously projecting her own romantic and sexual frustrations outward into the world, where they have taken the threatening form of Quint and Jessel?

Despite being only 93 pages, 'The Turn of the Screw' is simply too long, especially since most of the text is devoted to the governess's rambling emotionalism and ideas, and not to anything resembling a traditional ghost or gothic story.

Those who enjoy the book should seek out the excellent 1961 film version starring Deborah Kerr, 'The Innocents,' which follows the original closely, but makes the character of the governess some 20 years older.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Challenging her own irregularity...", December 27, 2008
By 
Akethan (Arlington, VA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Second Edition) (Norton Critical Editions) (Paperback)
That governess - is she just a love-struck melodramatic whack-job or is she genuine in her visions and concerns for her wards? James' language is over-labored and spends to much efforts getting nowhere at times - and to no great effect. Shakespeare is less complicated and more colorful. The color is often stripped out of the writing - and painted back in with a lighter wash. It moves the story forward - but often requires a step back here and there to clear things up. There is honest fear built up through the course of the tale - and I certainly felt that "waiting for the next shoe to drop" sense - but nothing that would keep me up at night.
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