Earlier today I finished Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. I am left with more questions than answers. I can see why so many people reread books. This is one where I can see myself reading for the story first, reading a bit of criticism afterwards and then rereading and seeing everything I missed the first time around. I tried to read somewhat slowly and critically, but I can already see I have missed a lot. I found it helpful to go back and read Isabella's recent post, her link to Litlove's post last month and LK's post of a few days ago. Has anyone else recently posted on this? If so, please let me know I would love to read your thoughts! Since I just finished, my thoughts are in a bit of a jumble (but as it is all fresh in my mind I hate to wait to talk about it), so my post will likely feel all jumbled as well. If you haven't read the work and plan to, I might give away details you don't want to know ahead of time, so please be forewarned!
I knew going into this book that it is a famous ghost story, but there is also debate over what the Governess really saw. Did she see ghosts or is this all some kind of hysterics? This is what I was looking for, and this is what I found. I was very interested in Isabella's reading of this, as she saw the story in terms of fairly overt sexuality on the parts of the Governess and the children (Flora and Miles) as well. I didn't catch on to this, but in retrospect, I can see where she could read this into the story. Since hysteria is all about repressed sexuality (isn't it?), if you are seeing the Governess as a hysteric it would follow. I plan on going back to the references Isabella gives and doing a bit of rereading of passages. I did catch that Peter Quint (the dead Valet) and Miss Jessel (the dead former governess) had an affair, which Mrs. Grose relates to the Governess. I didn't catch at the beginning that the Governess has a thing for her employer, the children's uncle, which would have explained some things along the way.
In her post Isabella also mentions that Miles was likely expelled from school for "saying things". We are never privy to what was actually said, but they might possibly have been propositions. It is entirely possible. Surely if he was making improper overtures to other students and caught at it, it might likely be so severely frowned upon to cause his expulsion and not be mentioned specifically in the letter to his uncle. Surely this would have been embarrassing and not mentioned in polite society.
I haven't gone into detail about the events of the story, but I am guessing that if you have read this far, you have already read the book. Although we are told over and over again how pure and sweet and charming the children are, to be honest they at times creeped me out. I wasn't entirely sure that I felt they were so charming. Certainly the Governess felt they were. Perhaps my ambivalence to this is due to not being sure how I want to read this story. If I read it as a ghost story, I should really see them as pure/good and the ghosts (Quint and Jessel) as impure/evil. But I always sort of felt like the children were both hiding something. That maybe they saw more than they admitted to seeing. They seemed rather manipulative to me. And if you are reading this as purely a ghost story, then the whole good/bad idea takes on importance.
Which leads me to questions. Why did Miles decide to wander around in the middle of the night? Did he just want to show he had it in him to be bad, too, as he says? Why did Flora go off alone in the boat? Where did she learn the nasty language she uses in Mrs. Grose's presence? What happened to Miles at the end? Was it fright of seeing a ghost that killed him? Can you see my dilemma of trying to figure out if it was simply a ghost story or if it was all hysterics? I am not sure which way to think as I see aspects of both in the story! If I didn't have so many other books calling out to me to finish, I would go back to the beginning of the book and start all over.
I though LK's observations on James's use of language in her recent post were very on the mark. I think that James didn't use a lot of superfluous language. I think he planned and wrote very carefully. And I think that there is all sorts of meaning attached to things in this book. This has definitely whetted my appetite for more books by Henry James. Perhaps Washington Square next? I know it is sort of silly, but I feel very accomplished having read my first Henry James book (even if it was only a novella!). I do have a couple of essays that I plan on reading still about The Turn of the Screw--one on the ambiguity of innocence, one on the absent employer, and one on the principle of uncertainty in the novel. To top it all off I should be getting the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation from Netflix in the mail tomorrow, so I can watch it as well.
My next R.I.P. read is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. My edition has an introductory essay by Vladimir Nabokov that looks interesting, but I think I will wait until I finish the novel first before reading it. I am hoping to get back to Bram Stoker's The Mystery of the Sea this weekend as well.