The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a ghost story, and, as many people would argue (myself included) a psychological thriller as well. According to Wikipedia it is ‘ostensibly’ a ghost story. It would seem that way on the surface, but underneath there is so much more to discover.
The story starts out with a narrator listening to his friend, who reads out a manuscript written some years past by his sister’s governess. As a young woman she takes a job looking after two children in an old country house, Bly. The children are beautiful, smart, well-mannered and charming, and she falls in love with them immediately. They seem perfect. One day, after fantasizing about meeting the proverbial handsome stranger, a figure appears to her on top of a tower, fixes her with a strong look and then disappears. She sees him again looking in at her through a kitchen window, and, terrified, she is suddenly convinced he’s not after her but (gasp) the children!
Turns out he’s the ghost of the absent Master’s manservant, the sinister Peter Quint. And to make matters worse he has a friend, the children’s former governess Miss Jessel. Our governess becomes frantic, paranoid, obsessed. She seeks out validation for her convictions, manipulates the poor housekeeper and hounds the children, never asking them outright until it’s too late.
There are two ways to look at the story. The first is where the governess is the heroine, and the ghosts are real. The second is that the governess is neurotic, the ghosts are perverse hallucinations and the ending is entirely her fault. I won’t give it away, it’s too good. You’ll have to find out for yourselves!
‘I seemed to float not into clearness, but into a darker obscure, and within a minute there had come to me out of my very pity the appalling alarm of his being perhaps innocent. It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent what then on earth was I?’
The song I chose for The Turn of the Screw is Creep, by Radiohead. If you listen to the lyrics I think you can tell which of the two readings I prefer.
‘You float like a feather
In a beautiful world.
I wish I was special...’
Is the governess a creep? Maybe.
But she's definately a weirdo.
Books: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)
Music: Creep by Radiohead
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