Classic Friday #2 Turn of The Screw

18 Jan

Welcome to Classic Friday with Nisha Moodley, your monthly journey into  Classic authors  and their Literature!

Nisha MoodleyNisha is a South African writer, blogger, amateur historian, mystery-chaser and former ghost-hunter who, with a completed collection of short-stories under her belt, is currently working on her first full-length novel.

http://nmwritersbloq.wordpress.com

I hope you enjoy this ‘Classic Friday’ entry and I’ll be back on  Friday 22nd February for some more…

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The Turn Of the Screw - PenguinTITLE: TURN OF THE SCREW

AUTHOR: HENRY JAMES

GENRE: 19th century GOTHIC HORROR

DATE FIRST PUBLISHED: 1898

NO. OF PAGES: 133 (my copy : Vintage Classics/Random House)

It’s been mentioned in numerous popular TV shows including CSI and LOST; it has been the inspiration for many Hollywood movies like Deborah Kerr’s The Innocents (1961) and Nicole Kidman’s The Others (2001). Oscar Wilde described it as “a most wonderful, lurid and poisonous little tale.”

So what is it about Henry James’ Turn Of The Screw that makes it the quintessential classic ghost story?

Brief Synopsis :

A bachelor offers a young woman the position of governess to his orphaned niece and nephew whom he takes no interest in and considers to be a burden. She accepts the job offer, which gives her complete authority and sole responsibility of the children. When she moves to their home in the Essex countryside, she finds herself immediately enchanted by her new charges: a boy, Miles (10) and his sister, Flora (8).

The children at first seem perfect in every respect. Both beautiful, charming,intelligent and obedient, they win over the young woman’s heart completely. In her eyes they can do no wrong. But when a letter arrives from Miles’ school stating that he has been expelled (with no reason given) and when two ghostly apparitions start making their appearance in and around the country home, her sanity and loyalty are put to the test. With the help of her new confidante, Mrs. Grose the housekeeper, she learns that the apparitions resemble those of her predecessor and lover, both of whom died mysteriously. Convinced that something diabolical is at work, she strives to take action andprotect the children at all costs.

The-Turn-of-the-Screw-blueThe diminutive story hardly possesses a complicated plot so what makes Turn Of The Screw stand out from other books in its category? Perhaps it is not only the supernatural apparitions and the eerie country house in an atmospheric locale that play the starring roles in this ‘poisonous tale.’ As James clearly suggests in the opening narration, the fact that young innocent children are involved adds to the dark and disturbing quality of this tale. The corruption of innocence is an apparent motif in the story. This corruption seems to present itself as something to be feared the most, more so than the ghostly appearances themselves. Although, what form this danger or corruption takes is not made clear to us. The beauty of this novella, I feel, lies in its noted ambiguity; the intended loose threads keeping the reader wondering long after they’ve put the book down.

Written in the first person perspective, The Turn Of The Screw possesses all the sentimentality that characterizes many Classic novels. At first I didn’t think anything of it. Usually sentimental dialogue is there to create emotional depth and feeling for the characters but in this case it also serves another function, which I’m not sure if James had intended or not. For the main character at least, her emotional dialogue adds uncertainty, creating that aforementioned ambiguity. The inconclusive nature of the story has been both criticized and praised in equal measure by literary critics and other book reviews I’ve come across. Nevertheless James created a psychological narrative here, the main plot and ending of which, relies on the reader’s interpretation.

The equivocal storyline has one positive quality, if nothing else. It enhances the mystery of the plot, adding a sense of uneasiness, helping us to identify with the main character but at the same time, making us question her as well. James gets us thinking, which has to be lauded even if the narrative does confuse us at times.

Portrait of Henry James

Portrait of Henry James

Is this book for you? This is definitely a must-read for any fan of 19th century horror fiction. Readers of general Classic fiction might also enjoy it but be warned it is not the easiest of reads. I have not read any of his other works so I don’t have a general view of his writing style but judging from Turn Of The Screw, Henry James seems to have an affinity for long complex sentences with far too many comma breaks. I found myself re-reading sentences over and over in order to comprehend them which did hinder my enjoyment of the book to a certain extent. If you can overlook this one writing characteristic or if you are well-accustomed to it, then Turn Of The Screw is well worth a read.

About the author :

Henry James was born in New York in 1843 but moved to Sussex, England in 1915 and became a British citizen. A former Harvard student, he gave up his Law degree and took up writing full-time. He published his first novel, Watch and Ward in 1871. His other notable novels include The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Ambassadors (1903) and What Maisie Knew(1897). Turn Of The Screw, however, is his most famous work.

 

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8 Responses to “Classic Friday #2 Turn of The Screw”

  1. loonyliterature January 18, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Great post Nisha. Yes James does like convoluted sentences, in fact when I was a student, we called him a constipated writer because of this. I think the beauty of this tale is definitely in its ambiguity – in fact, many a wonderful literary, verbal battle can be conducted as to whether the governess has got an over active imagination or it is a ghost story. For my part, I read it as a ghost story but can formulate an effective argument either way; so I read it as a ghost story because that is the way I enjoy it the most. More like this please.

    • Nisha January 18, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

      Constipated writer, LOL, that sounds fitting!
      Whether she was making it up or not, I found the ghost scenes to be quite creepy in fact. Those were my favourite but I’m also sitting on the fence with this one. At first I thought she was completely barmy but then certain factors made me think otherwise. Makes for a great literary debate 🙂
      Thanks for reading Michelle, glad you enjoyed it 😀

      • loonyliterature January 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm #

        Yes, it is a corker for a great literary debate, in fact I can remember being in the midst of a most heated argument once over it amongst quite a few people – it was all in good fun and everyone enjoyed it.

  2. loonyliterature January 18, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

    Reblogged this on loonyliterature and commented:
    The lovely Nisha Moodley is talking about Turn of the Screw. I adore Henry James, even if he does have convoluted sentences. If you are not familiar with this story, read on, it might just be what you are looking for.

  3. Nisha January 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Reblogged this on NM's Writers bloq and commented:
    Book review on the Henry James classic Turn Of The Screw by yours truly. Let me know what you think. 🙂

  4. nelle January 18, 2013 at 8:45 pm #

    Enjoyable read, well researched and explained.

  5. Nisha January 19, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    Thanks Nelle! 🙂

  6. frenzyofflies January 21, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

    Thanks Nisha, for a very interesting article! I’m now currently reading the book. So far so good 😉

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