My Photo

Bookish Places


Blog powered by Typepad

« Woolf for Dummies | Main | Old vs. New »



Washington Square is my favourite Henry JAmes novel.

Dorothy W.

Glad you liked The Turn of the Screw -- I've read it but it was so long ago, and all these posts are making me want to read it again! I liked Washington Square too, and so would recommend it. A lot of people I know hate James, but I've always liked him. Congrats on finishing your first James novel!


Rachel--I saw the movie version a few years back, so the story isn't completely unknown, but I think it looks good!
Dorothy--I think I like James, but I found you definitely couldn't let your mind wander when reading him. I wonder what it is about him so many people don't like. I am not sure if I would ever tackle his harder works, but I do want to read more of him!


I'm a little worried that I might have a dirty mind, or that people will think that of me. Honestly, I can't say where I first thought something was a bit sexual, but once I did, EVERYTHING took on a very loaded meaning.

That bothered me that the governess found the children charming. She says it a few times, of Miles especially, that if he'd done anything at school, if there were evil in him, she'd know it, she'd see it. And then of Flora, that it's "that woman" in her, she just knows it. It's a funny way of knowing something, isn't it. She says it when she doesn't know anything at all. It's some kind of instinctive moral certainty grounded in not wanting to really SEE anything at all. Also Douglas in the frame says of the governess he knows her to be sincere, the story to be true -- just take his word for this feeling of his cuz it's true. But I guess a lot of people feel that way about ghosts, actually.

I'm not entirely sure what to make of Miles's wandering and Flora with the boat, either. My dirty mind is at work trying to have them scheming to have some incestuous goings on, but the more I think on it, these are simple events (kid wakes up, kid runs off when upset) blown out of proportion.

The problem with figuring the children out — whether they're charming, manipulative, hiding something, etc — is we know them only by what the narrator, the governess, tells us.

I've not really read any other James. I had a reason for thoroughly skimming The Golden Bowl a few months. What's the big deal, I thought. But after TotS I see that there's a lot more purposeful ambiguity and hidden meanings in the language. You're right — not for a wandering mind.


Isabella--I am sure you don't have a dirty mind! But when you think of a woman who is considered "hysterical", and when this was written what hysterical meant (in thinking about Litlove's post), I suspect it just follows that it is possibly going to have sexual overtones--that whole repressed thing. Actually when I read your post and thought back on the what I had read, I thought you had picked things out really well for a first reading, which is why I had thought of just going right back to the text and rereading it myself. I haven't read those essays that I mentioned but I am curious to see what the critics made of it. When I had read that Quint and Jessel had a thing going on and then when Flora was using nasty words it crossed my mind that there was something inappropriate going on there possibly something abusive--which was partially why those kids creeped me out as you didn't ever really get to know what was in their heads--only Miles to a certain extent. And I agree that the Governess was fawning over those kids an awful lot! Something else that I wondered about was at the end when Miles first said something about "she" being at the window when it was Quint the Governess saw. What did that mean?

I think Henry James was very careful in writing this. Sometimes I would read a sentence or paragraph and feel like this is filled with loaded meanings, I just wasn't always sure what the meanings were. I get the feeling (at least I am guessing) that language was important to James. Whatever he meant by his story it sounds as though it caused critics no end to bickering back and forth over its intended meanings (and still does)! I wonder if that is was he intended all along.

Dorothy W.

I don't know if you are interested in this, but I did really like Colm Toibin's book The Master, a novel about Henry James -- it seems like a good book for people who want to know something about James, and who would prefer to learn something through a novel -- which is a good description of me!


Dorothy--I have this on my TBR pile actually and was thinking about it last night. It may not be the most scholarly approach to learning about James, but it would be right up my alley! Besides, I think he won or was up for a variety of awards for this novel. It would be a fun way to approach his work!


I loved Turn of the Screw (the first 3 times I read it, it was like reading 3 different works). Maybe his brother had an influence on this work because it seems so deliberately ambiguous and definitely has a psychological bent.

The only other works by James that I've read are The Ambassadors (an utter waste of time for me, although many consider it his "perfect" novel) and Daisy Miller. Maybe I should try one of the other well-known works like Portrait of a Lady.


Janclair-I was wondering about what influence his brother had on him as well--as is certainly has the whole good vs evil feeling to it. I think it *is* very ambiguous and psychological. I am not sure I would ever undertake his later novels as I have heard how complicated they are, but I do want to read some of his earlier books including Portrait of a Lady. I will work my way up to them! I sort of have him in a class of authors like Virginia Woolf--more difficult and requiring more thought.


The children are interesting, aren't they? I remember reading somewhere that because children are unformed and directionless and so can seem empty somehow, it's easier to imagine them as being possessed. When women were forced to be just ornamentation, they often fell foul of the same kind of thing. Incidentally, I loved both Washington Square and The Aspern Papers. Can't manage full-length Henry James but really enjoy the short stuff.


I read "The Turn of the Screw" several weeks ago, but I saw it as more of a study in madness than a ghost story. Why is it that the governess is the only one seeing ghosts? At first, I found James's prose style difficult to get used to--it's so flowery, with his long, fat sentences, that I found myself re-reading many parts. But since I see the story as more of a psychological study than a ghost story, I appreciate James's style a bit more. It's confusing to read the story, but I think that adds to the governess' sense of paranoia.

You can read my post on "The Turn of the Screw" here (


I too, now must read more James -I think I am under the delusion that I will somehow find a key to the reading of Turn of the Screw once I get a handle on how he approaches other novels. (What a sly old fox Henry is! He just wants us to read his other stuff.) I personally was trying to avoid the whole Freudian read to TOTS, just because it seemed like the route I was supposed to take (and naturally I have to go another way), though I too was fascinated with Isabella's read. And I also agree with you about the children -- they are creepy, at least the governess's description of them is creepy -- are they being filtered through her perception as such?

I don't know what to make of this, but thought I'd point out that I believe the governess and the uncle are both unnamed (...could be wrong on that), but, if so, that would be something else that is rather interesting and puzzling about this tale.

I think maybe we should organize a Portrait of the Lady reading group for 2007. Anybody else up for that?


Litlove--Yeah, children have a nice innocent quality about them, don't they! Perfect to corrupt, I guess. I wonder what the Governess thought the ghosts were actually doing to them?
Brandon--thanks for the link! I am still enjoying reading about this book and talking about it.
LK--Good point. I wonder why those two in particular don't have names? There is just so much to this story. It seems you can keep peeling away layers and layers to it. I'd love to read Portrait of a Lady. Maybe something can be planned for after the holidays? I want to try and fit in Washington Square this year, still. But I definitely want to read Portrait of a Lady!!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Books Read in 2020

Books Read in 2019

Books Read in 2018

Books Read in 2017

Books Read in 2016

Books Read in 2015