John Jr.'s Reviews > The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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Nov 20, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: henry-james-fiction, fiction-19th-century-british

Read in the 70s in a graduate-level seminar I took as an undergraduate English major. Might better be read as a tale of uncertainty and anxiety than as a horror story, at least as present-day readers understand horror, though it shares features with 19th-century Gothic horror tales.

Are the ghosts real? Or is the governess in some sense crazy? Most readings of the novella advance one view or the other; the Wikipedia entry reports that Edmund Wilson (who, like others, felt compelled to adopt a unitary view) changed his mind on that question not once but twice. My seminar taught me that in much of his fiction James allows for multiple answers to questions, not as alternatives but simultaneously: as I believe our professor put it, there is no reason, there are only reasons. In this novella, the question is not about the motivation(s) of a character or about one character's understanding of another but about fact. The possibility that arises, then, as I seem to recall that at least one critic has proposed, is that the ghosts are real but the governess is crazy as well.

Like James, I'll leave it to you to decide.
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