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The Turn of the Screw (Dover Thrift Editions) Paperback – January 1, 1991
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The story starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories 'round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don't know what she's talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children's uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Novella by Henry James, published serially in Collier's Weekly in 1898 and published in book form later that year. One of the world's most famous ghost stories, the tale is told mostly through the journal of a governess and depicts her struggle to save her two young charges from the demonic influence of the eerie apparitions of two former servants in the household. The story inspired critical debate over the question of the "reality" of the ghosts and of James's intentions. James himself, in his preface to volume XII of The Novels and Tales of Henry James, called the tale a "fable" and said that he did not specify details of the ghosts' evil deeds because he wanted readers to supply their own vision of terror. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
James wrote well, but the subject matter of this novel was not educational or instructive. I found it depressing and a stretch of the imagination that didn't help me value the plot. Maybe reading it at some other time in my life would have been better.....a time when I had fewer worries!!!
My second reading took place in a place I did not want to be. It was a horrible place and I simply needed something to allow me to mentally detach myself from the situation I was in. A friend of mine had a copy of this work which he gave to me. James' work did the job I wanted it to do at that time. I somewhat appreciated it at the time more than the first reading.
And now we come to this current, and of course most recent reading; different time, different place, different motivations and to top it off...I am now old. Since the first human scratched the first story onto a piece of papyrus there has been literary snobbery. The epicenter of this snobbery centers on `literary' and `genre' fiction. On one had we are told, by those that do the telling, that genre fiction is easy to read, easy to digest, but holds no nutritional value what so ever. On the other side of the coin we have those people who tell us what we are suppose to think praising the popular novel and thumbing their noses at "literature,' claiming that `good literature' is in reality only a cultural artifact and the only reason we have it around is for the same reason we value a well carved hunk of rock that no one can really interpret or really anymore cares about. This battle, if you will, has been heating up of late and is of great interest to me. I love it when people do battle over books.
Anyway, I was once again motivated to pull this small work by Henry James out and give it another go. Of all the works I know, this one has been analyzed, picked apart, speculated upon, and force fed to more people since it was written than any other. I thought it was a good place to start. As I write this, this book most certainly cannot be considered "popular fiction," although it was considered just that when it was first written.
I can tell you right now, before I go on, that this third reading absolutely mesmerized me and I loved the thing from the first page to the last. Am I smarter now? Probably not. As a person quickly approaching the status of "old geezer" has my outlook on life and my perceptions changed? Probably so. What ever the case, this book, over the years, has changed for me...I have changed; the book has not.
This work was first published in 1898. It is a relatively short work and is considered by many to be the classic ghost story of that era. The premise of the plot is at first glance rather simple. A Governess is put in charge of two young children in or at an isolated mansion. The Governess sees ghosts - others do not, and she spends most of the book speculating as to how she will protect the children. Ah, but simple? No, that just ain't so! By the use of what I consider brilliant ambiguity, purposefully crafted by the author, we have so very, very much more than a simple ghost story. The arguments and discussion over this work has been raging for years and years; indeed, since it was first published.
First, did the governess actually see ghosts - were they real? Or, as the other side would ask, is this a young lady with an overly active imagination touched with a bit of paranoia? Is the governess actually insane?
Second we ask ourselves what about the children? The author has given strong hints that not all was well between the two children and the two people who were their former caretakers - who are by the way now dead and are indeed the two ghosts our young governess keeps seeing...or thinks she sees. There is a very, very strong hint of sexual impropriety here at best; molestation at worse. The author never tells us. Why was the young lad in the story thrown out of school? The author never tells us. Vague shadowy hints only.
Third is linked with the first and deals with the governess's emotions and state of mind. There have been strong theories over the years that we are dealing with a very sexually frustrated young lady...frustrated to the point of tipping her over the edge. Again, we are forced to anticipate the mind of James and consider the time frame in which this tale takes place. (I personally view the sexually frustration theory just slightly lame. Most of these theories popped up during a time when the public was obsessed with such matters and just about every aspect of life was linked to sexuality in one way or another.) Fiction and biography tell us strongly that young ladies who became governesses at that time were, as a whole, a very, very frustrated group of people. They were almost invariably "spinsters" with little hope of marriage usually due to reduced circumstances. These young women were well educated and indeed were in possession of a fare degree of sophistication. No prospect of marriage, little to no social life, little to no income, living under the roof of strangers, facing and endless number of rules, rules and more rules...well, quite often these women had major issues which manifested themselves in various ways; often at the expense of the children. Whether or not that was the case here...well, the reader is left to decide.
So ghost or imagination, sane or insane, sexual issues on different level or not....crafty writer, James.
And then we have the writing style. Long, long sentences; many having multiple subjects, inserted clauses and words, words and more words. The author, at first glance, uses a very confusing style with convoluted sentences being the norm. This is not an easy read by any means. The first time I read it was the worse, but I have to tell you that even this last reading required my reading and rereading some of the sentences in order to fully understand what the author was saying. Ah, but that was the essence of the book for me. Navigating through James's prose, once I got the rhythm, was actually fun! Each sentence was a journey leading to another journey. I personally love this stuff! If you are put off by the style, put the book aside for a couple or three years and give it another shot. You may find your wait well worth it.
I have read that some feel that this is James' greatest work. I personally would not even speculate on that since I have not read all of his work. I doubt it though. As to the answer to the questions brought up; those that have been discussed for years and years...well, to be honest with you, I just don't know. And truth be told, I don't think anyone else does either. The author wrote this the way he wrote it for just that reason. He has allowed each reader to come to his or her own conclusions - right or wrong and the author has done it well! That is the true marvel of this little book as far as I am concerned.
For previous generations I have no doubt that this was a truly wonderful, scary good read. For me...not so much.
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