The Turn of the Screw

Henry James, The Turn of the Screw - e-book
 
Read from November 23 to December 09, 2012
 
My rating: 3/5 stars

 

Well, if you ever had any belief that there is no such thing as minor genre, here is "The Turn of the Screw" to prove you right. With all the ingredients of a sensational story – ghosts, isolated house, strange events and weird children – the novel never abdicates the high standards Henry James always imposed to his prose. So much in fact that you could easily (and a little naughtily) observe that the writer expresses himself as carefully as a very well-bred gentleman who kindly apologizes because he has to spook the hell out of youRigolant

Conceived as a framed story (someone reads the manuscript of a governess), the novel describes some strange events that took place at Bly, a country home in Essex, England. 

The ingeniousness of the plot lies in the reader’s doubt about the reliability of the narrator: can the governess be trusted or not? In other words, did the narrated supernatural events really happen or they are the product of an imagination over-stimulated by hysteria? And finally, is the heroin truly fighting against evil or she is the evil? The title suggests you can find the answer if you dig deeply enough, but can you?

Because in the end, this is the master stroke of the novel: the ambiguity, both of the plot and the literature, the plurality of visions or interpretations: you can read it simply as a ghost story, or as a satire of, for example, the Victorian reticence concerning some sensible subjects such as sexual corruption. And the main means to accomplish this ambiguity is the narrative itself, which never tells but merely suggests. The last turn of the screw is Miles’ end – what scared him to death (literally!) – his governess’ insanity or the valet’s ghost?

One last thing: the well-known care of Henry James for the written word is as thorough here as always and annoyed many a (good)reader who made some funny remarks about it. I know, lingering over a sentence when you read a ghost story is unusual. Not so much when reading good literature, though.

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