Books 30 Oct 2010 08:04 am
The cover to the Penguin edition of The Turn of the Screw (shown above — the book also contains The Aspern Papers, a novella I have not read) perfectly captures what I imagine Miles and Flora to look like: mostly innocent, but with just a trace of hellion about them.
I read Henry James’s novella for the first time recently, and then immediately followed up with a second reading, along with my Advanced Placement English students. I can’t say the book was a crowd-pleaser; most students appeared confused and annoyed with both the flowery Victorian prose and the author’s reticence to commit to the events of the book being either supernatural or psychological.
Personally, I enjoy the element of doubt and the freedom James gives readers to make up their own minds. Are little Flora and Miles being victimized by the ghosts of their former governess and a valet? Or is their current governess figuratively (and, in the closing scene, perhaps literally) smothering them in her attempts to shield them from imaginary terrors?
According to comments James made after the fact, he considered this a straight ghost story, but too much textual information — and by this I mean material within Turn of the Screw itself — argues otherwise. I think the cagey Mr. James knew exactly what he was doing here, and the novella’s real strength lies in its ambiguity, in the readers’ freedom to decide for themselves just what may — or may not — be going on.
I can’t say this is the greatest book for an All Hallow’s Eve reading, but you could do far worse, too.