Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw
Author: Henry James

A governess is employed in the beautiful English countryside of Essex to take care of two young children her employer doesn't want to bother taking care of. She is strictly instructed to handle all situations that arise by herself, and is told in unmistakably clear terms that she is not to bother the employer with any communication on the kids or her job of taking care of them. Into the her new job of taking care of the little boy Miles, and his little sister Flora, she is soon pounded with circumstances way beyond her comprehension: the sudden expulsion of Miles from his school, the two figures she keeps seeing on the grounds of the estate whom she can neither identify nor can catch in person, eerie periods in the day where the children go out of her sight and nowhere to be found. She is informed of the presence of two ghosts who were former employees in the estate and were close to the children. Time ticks, days darken, and our governess gets increasingly petrified. Her attempts to protect the children from the ghost scares the hell out of Flora, and leaves Miles dead in her lap. 
“No, no—there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don’t know what I don’t see—what I don’t fear!”
This perfect Gothic horror takes you a short, thrilling ride- shrewdly balancing the oxymoron of extremely detailed and extravagantly visual prose, and sheer ambiguity. What happened? Who killed Miles? Was there ghosts? Or, was our governess delusional? No answers in the book, and the reader is left to judge.  The imagery is hauntingly perfect. The supernatural presence is directly proportional to the setting and the lights that author allows you to envision. It's a book, and it's a puzzle. 

A couple of years ago, I remember reading an article which compared a real life case of a delusional woman and the murder of her daughter in a house only she was present. This book was quoted, and I still remember them detailing that actual case- and today I see the spine-chilling similarity. How you interpret the story is probably on you. You believe in supernatural powers? You believe that the woman was simply delusional? You believe that Henry James wrote a story that is beyond a straight-forward horror, or you think he meant it to be a simple ghost story? I really can't make up my mind.

For the classic Gothic horror it is, it is absolutely steadfast on it's walk on the line of ambiguity, refusing to give away a point that can make you fall on either side convinced. It's a short read, but it sure takes you on a ride, and it leaves you with a tingle. This has been on my classic to-read list for a long, long time (many years), but I am glad I read it now because I wonder if I'd have understood the intricacies of James's prose and the imagery had I read it a couple of years ago. I loved it.

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