Thursday, September 28, 2006

Turning the screw

Well, what with everyone reading or planning to read Henry James's ghostly The Turn of the Screw, I finally pulled it out of my purse, where it has resided for some months now, holding the privileged position of transit reading and being the reason that I'd made next to no headway through it as I've had little oppurtunity to ride public transit in recent times, and I read the damn thing.

Here at present I felt afresh — for I had felt it again and again — how my equilibrium depended on the success of my rigid will, the will to shut my eyes as tight as possible to the truth that what I had to deal with was, revoltingly, against nature. I could only get on at all by taking "nature" into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.

It's all perfectly clear to me (if you mean to read it for yourself and don't want me spoiling anything for you, go away, and come again another day). The notes below are not very coherent, rather intended as notes to self so that I can hold a proper conversation on the subject should the opportunity present itself. So.

The governess is a parson's daughter and proper young woman, but perhaps not so proper in accepting this post that many had refused, one reason for doing so being that she's quite taken with the worldly, handsome master. She's horrified by and fascinated with sex.

Not sure why or when it all starts sounding sexual; perhaps the prologue sets the reader's mind on that path with its talk of love. Interesting: Douglas, the keeper of the governess's story identifies her as his sister's governess, about 10 years older than him. He is not Miles, but we readily attribute Douglas's fondness and admiration — indeed, love — for the woman to him.

The ghosts are in the governess's head.

First sighting (Quint) (p15): Governess wills encountering someone charming, handsome.
Second sighting (Quint) (p20): Leaving for church. Guilt.
Third (Jessel) (p28): While watching Flora put a stick in a hole.
Fourth (Quint) (p39): Reading Fielding's Amelia, which includes stories of young women ruined by handsome men and reveals the 'half-innocent meanness, scoundrelism, and vanity' of a young couple.

Subsequent sightings are fed by hysteria, suspicion, guilt. Flora and the housekeeper both deny seeing them. They are never overtly addressed with Miles.

The governess is in love with, or at least longs for some recognition from, the master, who made a favourable impression on her at their only two meeting.

Flora likes a naughty boy (p11). Laughingly suggests Miles might corrupt governess (p12), governess takes to the idea...

"He seems to like us young and pretty!" Is confused over who "he" is (p12). She means the master, but then wonders if the housekeeper does; it occurs to her the housekeeper might mean someone else. That someone else could only be Miles (not yet aware of existence of Quint).

In her questions to the housekeeper about the previous governess, she has a tone like jealousy (p 12).

Miles is "incredibly beautiful" (p13). So angelic, there is no evil in him — it must come from outside.

Governess wants to meet someone, someone handsome — she wills the first apparition (p15).

I don't think the description of the apparition is relevant. Housekeeper dwells on whether or not he appears to be a gentleman and that he's handsome. She does not even acknowledge the other details, as if to dismiss them. She's more than willing corroborate the "horror," knowing the evil Quint already conducted in the household (p23).

Hysteria (p27): "I could succeed where many another girl might have failed." "We were cut off, really, together; we were united in our danger. They had nothing but me, and I — well, I had them."

Jessel is called by our first narrator "a most respectable person" (p5). (On the basis of what? The governess's account?) Housekeeper won't tell tales about her (p12). Governess is certain of identity of apparition (because of her own jealusy, suspicions, transference). Housekeeper eventually comes round to confirming Jessel was infamous (p31). Governess's descriptions were not so detailed; identity of apparitions established through jumping to conclusions based on characteristics that weren't really physical at all, more to do with demeanour.

Flora (age 8) knows all about Miles. Likely it's Miles who's made Flora sexually aware, not Jessup and Quint, or Miles had to explain it to her, or even demonstrate. There is something incestuous going on here.

The governess is smitten with Miles, the 10-year-old boy, charmed by him. May even harbour inappropriate thoughts regarding him (transferred from the out-of-reach master and inspired by the stories, or her imaginings, of the goings on of the previous hires).

Miles calls her my dear. Encourages her. Maybe flirts with her or even makes more overt advances.

Chapter 17 sees the governess and Miles alone. Positively brimming with sexuality and innuendo.
"Well, I think also, you know, of this queer business of ours."

I marked the coolness of his firm little hand. "Of what queer business, Miles?"

"Why, the way you bring me up. And all the rest!"

I fairly held my breath a minute, and even from my glimmering taper there was light enough to show how he smiled up at me from his pillow. "What do you mean by all the rest?"

"Oh, you know, you know!"

I could say nothing for a minute, though I felt, as I held his hand and our eyes continued to meet, that my silence had all the air of admitting his charge and that nothing in the whole world of reality was perhaps at that moment so fabulous as our actual relation.

Jessel shows up again, while Flora appears "to read and accuse and judge me" (p70). Flora know what goes on between governess and Miles, and is angry, I think, for having been replaced.

Miles "wanted, I felt, to be with me" (p73).

Housekeeper has heard from Flora shocking horrors! "It's beyond everything, for a young lady; and I can't think wherever she must have picked up — — " (p76). That's not talking about ghosts.

Governess intent on "saving" Miles. All her attempts futher tempt an unnatural relation between them.
We continued silent while the maid was with us — as silent, it whimsically occurred to me, as some young couple who, on their wedding journey, at the inn, feel shy in the presence of the waiter. He turned round only when the waiter had left us. "Well — so we're alone!"

Chapter 23. Well. It's all sex. Sex, sex, sex.

And chapter 24.

Miles was expelled from school, because he "said things," only to people he likes. Obviously sexual propositions.

Not quite sure what's up with the heart stopping. Is it literal? Not much else is. It's quite a frenzied, orgasmic end.

And on and on and on.

Some discussion.


litlove said...

The ending is bizarre - I'm never sure what to make of it myself. I think if you see the sexuality that pervades the book, then the ghosts have to be just projections of the evil the governess attributes to sexuality. Mrs Grose tells her next to nothing about the dead servants and before you know it, she's decided they're out to sexually corrupt the children. Have you read A.N. Wilson's rewrite, A Jealous Ghost? It's really very very good. I keep meaning to post on it and then never get around to it.

bloglily said...

Hello Isabella, I'm nearing the end of the Turn of the Screw and so was very happy to come upon your notes and the link to litlove's post. Both are quite helpful. I do so like this online reading community -- I can't think of another time when I've been reading something, and known other people are doing the same and then being able to get such good ideas to carry on with. Which is just a long winded way of saying, thank you very much!