Customer Review

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a conjectural analysis, January 2, 1999
This review is from: The Turn of the Screw (Paperback)
One can accept either of the two established opinions -- that the children did see the ghosts and the governess was telling the truth; or that the children saw nothing, but were frightened by the hallucinating governess -- or one can realize that James intended the reader to be nagged by doubt concerning this -- and a few other -- questions. The question of doubt goes beyond the governess's account. Whether or not one believes her, Quint and Miss Jessel are real, evil figures. But how evil can they have been if they left the children so seemingly innocent? If one believes the governess, so evil that the children's innocence is merely a sham. But there is too much doubt planted and not enough known about the nature of the evil for this to be at all convincing. If one disbelieves the governess, then are the children uncorrupted? In that case, what would explain Mrs. Grose's abhorrence? The abundance of unanswerable questions hints at a void at the center of the story. So do, of course, the multiple frames and narrative ellipses. But is that void simply a void, or is it itself a ghost? How many readers have been haunted by this story, unable to shake it, disturbed and unsatisfied? How many, in other words, have felt like the governess felt? Worse, how many have felt the empty evil at the heart of this ghostly void, the feeling that James may be playing a terrible trick, may have something even worse up his sleeve than whatever dark suggestions the reader's own imagination may have conjured up? The story is not unfathomable, however. Like so many of James's other stories, especially those written during the previous few years, it is about a writer -- in this case the governess -- who fails. The children she takes care of are no less imaginary than the ghosts she describes. It is she who muddies the waters, not James. There are evil ghosts out there, but they live in pens and pencils, not old houses.
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3.6 out of 5 stars (192 customer reviews)
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