The Turn of the Screw: Ch. 19-24

Here we are, at the end of our winding way through the maze of The Turn of the Screw. Based on some of your reactions on Twitter, I’m going to start by saying that this book is expertly ambiguous, I warned you at the beginning of the readalong, and I am still puzzling over certain parts of this story (especially the end). If you want simple answers, or even just ANSWERS, you might be out of luck. But let’s work through it and see where we are at.

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Previously on TOTS: at the end of chapter 18, Butch Governess and the Grose Kid realized Flora had escaped the house while Miles was distracting them with his pianist wiles. Chapter 19 stresses me out because it evokes the panicked kind of searching one does when one is searching for a child, when said child has run off in a park or disappeared in a grocery store. TG and Mrs. Grose find Flora, who is incredibly unrepentant, similar to when she sneaked out of bed earlier, and similar to Miles when he sneaked outside the house. Flora is not bothered by everyone else’s panic, instead “smiled as if her performance had now become complete.” which again evokes relief/anger mix when after your panicked search you find the kid harmlessly playing nearby.

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TG’s bias is very strong in this chapter, because we’re swept up in the idea that Miles is off with Quint and Flora is with Jessel, but we don’t see any actual proof of it. For example, she claims, “They say things that, if we heard them, would simply appal us.” HOW DO YOU KNOW, TG? And then when the boat is missing, she says that “Our not seeing it is the strongest of proofs”, which really sums up her argument throughout this book. The absence of witnessing something horrible is stronger than actually witnessing it, if you have hints or knowledge of it happening.

Even once Jessel has appeared (in chapter 20), it isn’t clear whether she’s been with Flora or just come onto the scene. TG is elated: “She was there, so I was justified; she was there, so I was neither cruel nor mad.” However, to TG’s disappointment, Mrs. Grose can’t (or won’t?) see Jessel, and Flora can’t (or won’t?) see Jessel. TG is the only one who A. can see Jessell and B. admits to seeing her. Do you think Mrs. Grose can see and is lying, or that she can’t? What bond does TG have that enables her to see the ghosts? Is it because she’s replacing Jessel? Is it because she’s emotionally close to the kids? Or, is TG just crazy and Jessel isn’t even there?

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Personally, I think the book supports the idea that the ghosts are real. But it’s definitely a mess and could go several ways. If Jessel IS there, and Flora CAN see her, Flora’s grouchiness and rejection of TG is especially vicious; TG sees her as “hideously hard” and “common and almost ugly.” If TG is crazy, too many things in this story don’t add up and/or go unexplained. But I would also believe that Flora’s mere disagreement with TG would destroy her angelic beauty in TG’s eyes, because TG’s opinions are rather polarized that way.

Flora is so wound up by her outside adventure, TG’s sighting of Miss Jessel, and TG’s accusations to Flora, that the little girl makes herself sick. But is it from fear of TG’s insanity, or fear that TG will interfere with Jessel and Quint? According to Mrs. Grose, Flora is saying vicious, precocious, adult things about TG, which would support the idea that at the very least Flora was under a real bad influence in the past, and at the worst that Flora is currently under the influence of ghost Jessel and/or Quint.

“It’s beyond everything, for a young lady; and I can’t think where she must have picked up-“

“The appalling language she applies to me. I can, then!”

TG assures Mrs. Grose not to feel bad if she feels deceived by Flora, because “You’ve the cleverest little person to deal with.” The way TG talks about the kids is odd; sometimes she places all of the blame on the ghosts working their will through the kids, but sometimes she talks as if the kids, under the influence of the ghosts, are using their agency to be terrible awful sinners. Maybe she herself is confused on this point. In any case, she’s ludicrously happy that Flora is showing her true colors, so to speak, because “It so justifies me!” TG wants to put a stop to Quint and Jessel, but she also wants to make sure that she stands out as the one who hasn’t done anything wrong. Even though in the previous chapter, she admits to having lost Flora to Jessel, she agrees with Mrs. Grose to send the little girl away, in the hope that the ghosts’ influence will dissipate. I’m really not sure of the effectiveness of this plan.

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As pertains to Miles, Mrs. Grose has identified that Miles must have taken the letter which TG wrote and left on the table to be sent to the employer. After all, noooooooo one else in the house has motivations to keep things from the employer (right? Right??). TG still wants to save Miles, which she can’t do by taking him away from the house because REASONS, I guess? DISCUSS.


“If he confesses he’s saved. And if he’s saved-“

“Then you are?”

TG has her own salvation, or perhaps value in the eyes of the world/Mrs. Grose/her employer, wrapped up in what happens to the kids. So at this point in the story, TG feels that she knows everything that is going on with the ghosts, and her main goal is to get Miles to confess or to admit what is going on, and that he isn’t a perfect child but has been operating behind her back. If TG succeeds at this, she will have saved Miles because his facade will have dropped and the ghosts will have nothing to hide behind.

Miles returns from his own adventures in chapter 22, and TG is ready to have it out, but first they have to have a really awkward dinner with lots of vague table talk. TG has decided that her only hope lies in “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.” In short, what she’s saying is that she can’t react to this whole crazy situation by freaking out, or running away, or treating it like a joke or a trick. She has to react to it like she would any other difficult situation, rationally and with compassion, but realizing that it will test her to the limits.

I think what makes me especially suspicious of Miles at this point is how chill he is about his sister coming down ill and being sent away with no warning. It seems like a normal kid, especially one as close to his sister as he is, would be really worried and ask a lot of questions. But they have a very calm civil dinner, and TG is very proud of herself for acting so normal and saying that Flora’s “journey will dissipate the influence” of her “illness” i.e. the ghosts. I don’t think I agree with her strategy of forcing everything to be normal as much as possible, in the hope of tricking Miles into giving her information. Why isn’t it okay to at least ask straightforward questions???

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Chapter 23 really drives home that TG and Miles are queen and king of the land of vagueness. They talk about how “the others” are here with them, but they could be talking about the servants OR the ghosts. I think Miles especially is enjoying the vagueness and weird undertones. When TG asks Miles if he likes the freedom he has at Bly now that he is ignoring his lessons with her, Miles “stood there smiling; then at last he put into two words–” Do you?”–more discrimination than I had ever heard two words contain.” Pretty cheeky, but also interesting when you think about how free TG is at Bly. She’s one of many children to a country parson, and this is her first time away from home and independently making money. She’s also very free in terms of the kids – they don’t need or want her, and she can do whatever she wants, if she wasn’t so concerned with “saving” them.

All right, chapter 24. So here we are: Flora hates TG but is gone; Mrs. Grose still somehow believes in TG but is gone; TG wants to save Miles; Miles is feeling real chill about everything.

If we look at the “action” only:

  • Peter Quint shows up at the window
  • TG distracts Miles by grabbing him and hugging him
  • Peter Quint disappears from the window
  • Miles looks out of the window, removing himself from TG
  • Quint shows up again
  • TG grabs Miles again
  • Miles struggles to get free and see who is there
  • TG leaps at the window
  • Quint disappears
  • Miles looks out the window but sees nothing
  • Miles dies

Miles is described throughout the chapter as struggling to speak or breath, and as “feverish.” It’s unclear if this is because TG is physically restraining him or because psychologically he is struggling to free himself from TG and/or Quint.

As far as things we learn through the dialogue: Miles admits to stealing the letter to his uncle, ostensibly to find out what TG was saying about him. Miles admits to “saying things” to boys at school he liked; I have no idea what that means but I assume he is a budding sociopath, due to Quint’s influence. Miles asks, “is she here?” and doesn’t disagree with TG when she names “she” as Miss Jessel. You could argue Miles meant Flora; but I’m not sure why he would be so desperate. Once Miles asks, “It’s he?” TG pins him down to admit that Miles means Peter Quint, whom he has not mentioned or named once up to this point.

Miles doesn’t seem to actually see Quint at any point in the scene. TG successfully keeps him from doing so, possibly because Quint is more powerful when Miles knows he’s there. I’m not sure how TG’s physical presence gets Quint to leave, while at the same time Quint’s absence kills Miles.

Of course, there’s the alternate reading, in which TG is completely deranged and kills Miles through a combination of terror and physical assault. I don’t quite buy this, but I really appreciate that the book can simultaneously support two wildly different interpretations.

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What do you think? Which reading do you think is better supported by the story/characters/dialog/action? Or is there a third option that I’m not addressing? If you haven’t read the comments on these posts, I encourage you to read a very interesting theory that Kim commented on an earlier post. I’m sure there are others you might come up with.

Thank you for joining me on this readalong!

The Turn of the Screw: Further Reading

We’re almost done with the readalong. Some of you have finished the book. Some of you have read the book before. If you are completely confused, JOIN THE REST OF US. If you loved it and want more, read on! Below I have listed some Turn of the Screw retellings, a Turn of the Screw sequel, and some Turn of the Screw-contemporary ghost stories.

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Miles and Flora (1997) by Hilary Bailey is a sequel, centered on Flora, grown up and haunted by Miles. This book sounds incredibly bad but I’m mentioning it anyway as an interesting premise. What do you think Flora would be like as an adult (if she makes it that long)?

A Jealous Ghost (2005) by A. N. Wilson is a retelling of sorts about a woman working on her phD thesis (which is about The Turn of the Screw because of course) and decides to take a job as a nanny at a country house. That sounds…fine.  Nothing could go wrong.

Florence & Giles (2010) by John Harding is a retelling from Flora’s point of view; the names are changed but the plot sounds really similar. It also has a 5-star rating by Maggie Stiefvater so color me interested.

The Turning (2012) by Francine Prose is a YA retelling about a modern-day teen stuck with no wifi and a couple of kids because  how else is a teenager going to earn money??? (what.) Having nothing better to do, he writes longhand letters to his girlfriend. This sounds like a terrible premise that will end badly.

Tighter (2011) by Adele Griffin is another YA retelling about another teen working as a nanny for the summer. It sounds like this one explores the reasons behind why the nanny-character is the only one who can see the ghosts, and what kind of connection that is. In-ter-est-ing.

Edith Wharton was a contemporary author of Henry James and has written many amazing books including The Touchstone and The Age of Innocence. She also wrote a collection of ghost stories called Ghost Stories that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Here’s an article giving some reasons to read it.

Robert Louis Stevenson has a ghost story called The Body Snatcher (1884). It’s about body-snatchers, aka criminals in this era who stole bodies from graveyards to sell to doctors, medical students, etc etc, and who were sometimes accused of murdering people for the bodies to sell. Gross. Sign me up for this story though because I love RLS.

Rudyard Kipling has a story set in India, At the End of the Passage (1890) about a British officer who is either haunted or hallucinating, and has a super fun time.

Was it an Illusion? (1881)  by Amelia B. Edwards is a contemporary-with-TOTS story about a school inspector who sees mysterious figures while traveling. It explores the blurry line between hallucination and the supernatural, which was a big topic of discussion in the Victorian era.

 The Open Door (1882) by Charlotte Riddell (1882) is a sensational Victorian story about a  haunted great house with a mysterious door. Who keeps opening the door and why? I personally have a huge fear of unexpectedly open doors so I’m into this.


Lost Hearts (1895) by M.R. James is about an orphan boy who is taken in by a distant relative, in a house where two children disappeared. I’m guessing the missing kids show up and haunt the hell out of him.



The Turn of the Screw: Ch. 13-18

On the one hand, I love Mrs. Grose (besides her charactonym), and on the other, if I was trapped working at a haunted house with two precocious children, Mrs. Grose would NOT be my sidekick of choice.

Hello and welcome back, turn of the screaders!

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me looking at you with love and appreciation 

Today we discuss chapters 13-18 of this ghostwreck! You just can’t look away, CAN YOU?

Ok so can we talk about the fake-letters bit? I realize that TG’s employer/the kids’ uncle is a careless loserpit, and that there is no way that he would read letters from his niece and nephew, but ? Um? TG allowing the kids to write letters to their uncle while simultaneously assuring them that he will NEVER RECEIVE THEM is a really terrible move. Like, just tell them it’s not going to happen. Don’t lead the kids on with ideas that their uncle gives a shit about them (he DOES NOT.).

Of course, just when I’m feeling bad for the kids, TG assures me that they are master manipulators and I feel bad. TG realizes that while the kids never ever talk about their pasts, “they were in possession of everything that had ever happened to me.” On the one hand, this is a pretty typical kid thing to do because adults seem really interesting and full of stories, and on the other, TG always manages to word it in a way that makes me really suspicious and uncomfortable. Knowledge is power, after all, and these kids know EVERYTHING about her.

There’s also the bit about Strange Stillnesses in this chapter: “There were times of our being together when I would have been ready to swear that, literally, in my presence, but with my direct sense of it closed, they had visitors who were known and were welcome.” TG’s awareness and commentary on these quiet spells around the house are one of the many moments where we are 100% reliant on TG’s interpretation of an event. TG finds it suspicious that the kids don’t find the stillnesses, but maybe they don’t even notice because it’s a perfectly normal quiet time, not ghosts creepin in and hangin out with them in total silence.

My favorite part of chapter 14 is when TG is completely honest to Miles on one point, which is that “I don’t think your uncle much cares.” THIS IS AN EXTREMELY IMPORTANT POINT, WHETHER OR NOT YOU GOT GHOSTS ON THE PREMISES.

Miles doesn’t believe her, which is just, well, his prerogative but is definitely a point against his trustworthiness and a point in TG’s favor. This chapter shows how aware Miles is of his masculine power and position in society. I don’t mean that he’s a full-grown man or possessed by a full-grown man (TG means that, for sure).

“Miles’s whole title to independence, the rights of his sex and situation, were so stamped upon him that if he had suddenly struck for freedom I should have had nothing to say.”

Even if there’s no ghosts involved,  Miles is  aware of what “his own sort” is, whether he means his peers, the ghosts, or lechers (like his role model Quint). Miles accuses TG of keeping him from becoming a man, which, first, ew,  and second, maybe calm down with your fragile masculinity and feeling threatened by your own governess just because she won’t send you to school.

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completely done with Miles tbh 

TG starts asking the important questions in this chapter; for example: “Why did they never resent my inexorable, my perpetual society?” She’s haunting them just like the ghosts, and these kids just put up with it for seventeen whole chapters.

As distressed as TG continues to be, I think we need to admit that Miss Jessel is pretty miserable as well. So far we’ve only seen her twice and both times she’s been collapsed with her head in her hands, rather than malevolently stealing souls or whatever. It’s noteworthy that when TG  decides to leave, only to see Miss Jessel appearing to take possession of her schoolroom, TG has a complete turnaround. TG’s pride won’t let her leave now that she’s been so directly challenged by her dead peer: “she had looked at me long enough to appear to say that her right to sit at my table was as good as mine to sit at hers.”

In chapter 16, TG is incredibly irritated when neither the children nor Mrs. Grose make ANY comment on TG’s absence from church. I shouldn’t laugh but I did. I realize that TG is upset because their normal behavior would dictate that one of them would mention her absence, or ask questions, or accuse her, and that their atypical behavior is her problem. But it looks kind of childish for TG to hinge so much weight on the lack of commentary on missing a church service.

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“they don’t love meeeeeeeeeee” – TG 

In any case, the important point from this interaction is that the children can manipulate Mrs. Grose easily: “Oh yes, they asked me to say nothing; and to please them- so long as they were there-of course I promised.” However, they seem to have lost the ability to similarly manipulate TG’s behavior; she seems to be staying because of her interaction with Miss Jessel more than anything else.

And then there’s this bit where TG lies through her teeth. She tells Mrs. Grose about seeing Miss Jessel, which is true, but then she implies that they had a conversation. Mrs. Grose asks, “Do you mean she spoke?” and TG answers “It came to that.” and goes on to specify that Miss Jessel said “she suffers the torments” “of the damned.”

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Let’s all take a moment to side-eye this blatant falsehood.

I realize that TG and Miss Jessel got down to some serious eye-vibing, but at no point did Miss Jessel say anything. So here’s my question: Is the only time TG lies through her teeth, or is this the only time we catch her at it?


TG has also come to some conclusions about Miles, including that Miles must have been expelled “For wickedness. For what else-when he’s so clever and beautiful and perfect?” TG has a lot of feelings about Miles, but I like that she still can’t get any more specific on his expulsion than “wickedness.” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN.

TG finally gets almost a heart-to-heart with Miles in chapter 17, where she admits that “his secret precocity…forced me to treat him as an intelligent equal” implying that Quint’s influence (or possession) is making Miles more adult than is normal. I’m not sure what I think about that, but I do know that Miles’ admission “I want a new field” is possibly the most disturbing thing he’s said or done. Am I oversensitive? Is this a normal thing for a homebound kid to say? The connotation of “field” suggests competition or battle, which is why it makes me concerned about his motivations.

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What do you think about Miles’ wish to talk to his uncle? It doesn’t seem like his uncle has ever shown any inclination to care about talking to Miles. If Miles is influenced by or possessed by Quint, it might make more sense that Miles would rely on his uncle, since Quint seems to have been friends with (?????acquaintance of???? minion????) him.

TG comparing herself and Miles to Saul and David was probably the weirdest expression she uses in this book. Like….what.

In any case, by seducing her with music, Miles distracts TG from her haunting long enough for Flora to get away. I continue to be amazed at how useless Mrs. Grose is in a crisis, but the way TG leaps from conclusion to conclusion is also bizarre. She’s been watching Miles this whole time and she suddenly decides he can go to the devil and do whatever he wants? Why didn’t they recruit him to the search?

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see you next tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime

The Turn of the Screw: Viewing Material!

There have been many film, stage, and tv adaptations of The Turn of the Screw; a lot more than I expected, actually, and as recently as 2009.  I haven’t seen any of them but I’ve compiled a list if you’re interested.

The Innocents (1961), directed by Jack Clayton is the most famous one, and to me it’s the scariest of the these trailers.

The Turn of the Screw (1959),directed by John Frankenheimer looks like a really bad tv movie BUT it stars Ingrid Bergman which makes me want to watch it.

The Nightcomers (1972), directed by Michael Winner is a prequel to the novella and looks really, really ew.

The Turn of The Screw (1992) directed by Rusty Lemorande, is set in the 1960s for some reason, and looks epically bad. Why did you make these choices, Rusty.

In a Dark Place (2006), directed by Donato Rotunno is more of a modern-day retelling where the protagonist is a nanny and everything is terrible.

The Turn of the Screw (2009), adapted by Sandy Welch for the BBC looks promising and stars Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens, making me think this is some sort of Downton Abbey Gothic AU fanfic.

There’s also a 1999 adaptation with Jodhi May and Colin Firth, but I can’t find a trailer. Here’s the beginning clip, if interested.

Last but not least, here is a video comparing four different versions of Peter Quint at the window. What I think is interesting and really unfortunate about all four is that they’re all really clear and close-up. What I think is scariest about the window scene (and the tower scene, and the stairway scene, for that matter) is that the distance and/or obscurity makes it a lot more intense. You fear what you don’t see more than what you do, and putting the governess eye to eye with a random dude outside a window is scary, yes, but more in a “let me fetch my gun” house invasion way than an unsettling and supernatural terror.

The Turn of the Screw: Governessing Is A Rough Gig

This post contains possible spoilers for chapters 1-18 of The Turn of the Screw.

An illustration by William Blake for Mary Wollstonecraft’s book Original Stories From Real Life. Source 

As we’ve seen in recent chapters, TG is in a difficult spot. She has a responsibility to the children and the house, but it’s a fine line to walk between taking care of crazy problems without bothering the employer and trying to do too much herself. The children, specifically Miles, pressure her to get their uncle involved, but her employer has certain rules in place that limit her choices. Even if she wasn’t dealing with ghosts, TG would have a difficult job pleasing both the ones she’s responsible for and the one she’s responsible to. She doesn’t have to negotiate with or placate adult family members, true, but she also has no one to back her up (Mrs. Grose, I think we can agree, is almost no help in a crisis).

Governesses in 19th c. England were in a difficult place, economically and socially. Kathryn Hughes, who has also written a book on the subject, sums up their position very well:

Life was full of social and emotional tensions for the governess since she didn’t quite fit anywhere. She was a surrogate mother who had no children of her own, a family member who was sometimes mistaken for a servant. Was she socially equal or inferior to her employers? If the family had only recently stepped up the social scale, perhaps she’d consider herself superior. She was rarely invited to sit down to dinner with her employers, even if they were kind. The servants disliked the governess because they were expected to be deferential towards her, despite the fact that she had to go out to work, just like them.

If you’d like a nice overview of the 19th century governess’ job, read Hughes’ online article: The Figure of the Governess .

Literature of this time period often employs governesses to illustrate the emotional and filial difficulties in the well-to-do household. In addition, the governess makes a good protagonist because she can fit in with the upper class but she’s generally from the middle class, and exists in a socially liminal space. Jane Eyre was published in in 1847, and The Turn of the Screw in 1898, but there are many more lesser-known novels that feature a governess character or protagonist.  Victorian Web (my favorite online resource for Victorian lit) has a good summary on the novels of the 19th century that feature governesses:

The governess novel must be connected with the nineteenth-century anxiety concerning middle-class female employment in general, and governess work in particular. The situation of governesses generated a debate which was especially active from the 1840s until the end of the century. A large number of manuals for governesses and their employers were also published all through the nineteenth century. The governess debate focused on terms of employment, salaries, and on the socially intermediate position of the governess. In the novels, this intermediate position functions both as a device of bringing the governess’s plight in focus, and to furnish the writer with a framework for female development.

Governesses, like modern-day babysitters or nannies, had a lot to deal with. It would be interesting to compare and contrast the creepy 19th century governess stories with pop culture slashers featuring babysitters. Orrrrr maybe that’s just me.

What would a conversation between Jane Eyre and our governess look like?

The Turn of the Screw: Chapters 7-12

This post contains spoilers for chapters 7-12 of The Turn of The Screw!

It’s really hard to write about this book and not give you just my own emotional reactions because this book is WILD. So. I’ll try to give you actual discussion and thoughts.

Mrs. Grose and the governess have a very unequal partnership (OR DO THEY??? it could be argued that Mrs. Grose is manipulating their relationship the whole time but you would have to convince me.). The governess (TG from now on, short and simple, thanks Aubrianne!) frequently bosses Mrs. Grose around, forcing her to tell her things or treat the children a certain way. TG even refers to Mrs. Grose in chapter 7 as “the victim of my confidence.” It’s phrases like that that make me sympathize with readers who think TG is completely off her rocker (to put it idiomatically). Please don’t victimize the only person here who is at least ostensibly on your side, TG! The other servants haven’t had any dialog, the ghosties are clearly not friendly, and the kids, as we’ve seen, have TG wrapped around their little fingers.

Speaking of the kids, in chapter 9 TG comments that they were “extravagantly and preternaturally fond of me” but that this made sense because she was so affectionate toward them. She seems to walk a fine line between being aware of their charm and its affect on her, but still ignorant of how much power they have over her ideas and conceptions. For example, in that same chapter she notes that sometimes “one of them should keep me occupied while the other slipped away.” If she notices this, and she’s also trying to keep an eye on them because of ghosties, why doesn’t she do more to stop them? Bizarre.

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TG has formed her ideas so firmly at this point that she doesn’t even ask Mrs. Grose to identify Miss Jessel; in chapter 7, she tells Mrs. Grose flat out that the figure watching little Flora across the pond was certainly “My predecessor – the one who died” despite the fact that TG has never seen Miss Jessel before. TG has several chapters worth of interrogating Mrs. Grose, but Mrs. Grose is an expert at vague-tweeting about former employees’ behavior. “They were both infamous,” she finally said. TG can make of that whatever she wants, which is unfortunate because she doesn’t need any encouragement.

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Even more ominous is this exchange between them about Quint:

“I’ve never seen one like him. He did what he wished.”

“With her?”

“With them all.”

Like yeah okay this guy was hella abusive. It sounds like Miss Jessel was his willing accomplice but can we really conclude that for sure? DISCUSS.

In chapter 8, TG shows her determined but pessimistic attitude: “We were to keep our heads if we should keep nothing else.” I’m honestly not sure what TG is referring to, here. It’s in the context of Mrs. Grose and TG planning together as to what they should do. Does she mean, keep their heads i.e. their wits about them, even if they lose other things like….their emotions? Their soul? And then again, is she worried about keeping the figurative heads of their intellect or their actual heads; is decapitation and dismemberment a concern here? DISCUSS.

As we see in chapter 8, once TG gets Mrs. Grose to admit to specifics on Miles’ bad behavior, TG says: “His having lied and been impudent are, I confess, less engaging specimens than I had hoped to have from you of the outbreak in him of the little natural man. Still,” I mused, “they must do, for they make me feel more than ever that I must watch.” TG has already made up her mind on a few points; the chief being that Quint is influencing Miles, he is influencing him negatively, and that the best TG can do is keep watch over the kids and by so doing, obstruct Quint’s influence. Miles is observed as being “under some influence operating in his small intellectual life as a tremendous excitement,” (chapter 9) but this observation is made by TG in the future narrating the story, rather than TG noticing it at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 (if this is indeed a case of hindsight).

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Ok but the moment on the staircase. I said I wasn’t going to get emotional buT I LOVe ThIS SCenE sO MUcH! It’s so freaky. My personal nightmares and daymares are full of thinking I saw a person where a person shouldn’t be and then looking again, so the moment where TG’s candle goes out and then she realizes there’s a person there is VERY REAL and terrifying.

Of course, as soon as TG has triumphed in her stare down with Quint’s ghost, both of the kids completely ruin her mood. In chapter 10 Flora is caught outside of her bed, and in a classic move known by babysitters everywhere, defends herself by accusing TG of naughtiness, rather than going on the defensive for sneaking out of bed. She also argues that her deception was motivated by not wishing to scare TG. Good grief I hope Flora is actually under a ghost’s influence because otherwise this tiny child is way too clever for her own good.

In chapter 11, Miles is caught outside at night, and defends himself by claiming that he wanted to prove to TG that he could be naughty after all, that she has TOO GOOD AN OPINION OF HIM thus far. TG only manages to feel “a curious thrill of triumph” over the embarrassment she senses from Miles. But after thinking over his words, TG explains to Mrs. Grose: “He knows down to the ground what he ‘might do.’ That’s what he gave them a taste of at school.” Up to this point, TG was firm in her belief that Miles did nothing wrong at school, that it was a mistake or a misunderstanding. Now she has begun to acknowledge to herself that Miles CAN be bad, but it’s not even his own fault, it’s because of the influence of Quint and Jessel, and that Flora and Miles are “steeped in the vision of the dead restored to them.” Mrs. Grose, who is either very trusting, very good at dissembling, or really bored with her job and enjoys the entertainment of ghosts, puts forward the question of WHY Quint and Jessel would even WANT to hang out with 2 kids in their afterlife. TG has firmly decided on a reason: “For the love of all the evil that, in those dreadful days, the pair put into them.” Again, vague-tweeting.

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I’m not sure what she explicitly means; like, they were influencing the morals of the children and want to see how their handiwork turned out? They were physically abusing them and want to keep being jerks? You can take it in a bunch of different directions and I don’t like any of them. Certainly they seem to be negatively stalking the place and the kids, but we only get TG’s viewpoint on what’s happening. If someone else were to narrate these scenes, would they change in tone? How so???? I can imagine Mrs. Grose either purposefully ignoring any haunting, or just thinking, “Well, it’s probably fine…it wasn’t THAT bad when they were alive, after all.” Or some other character who has a positive opinion of Quint and Jessel? How would they view or describe the ghostly visits?

The employer is judged to be a useless ally by TG and Mrs. Grose, since “he do hate worry.” TG notes that “his indifference must have been awful” to ignore all of the injustices and abuses going on under Quint’s reign at the house. But if it was as bad as all that, who would have dared tattle on Quint? Regardless, the employer really doesn’t want to be involved in raising two kids, and in any case TG refuses to ask him for help.

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TG acknowledges that “I go on, I know, as if I were crazy, and it’s a wonder I’m not.” I’m not sure if this is a layered piece of irony because she is mad and won’t admit it, or if it’s a sincere bit of defense of her steadfast persistence in the face of monsters. What do you think? How reliable do you consider TG at this point in the story?

Henry James and the Ghost Story

This is a post for our Turn of the Screw (TOTS) readalong and will not contain any spoilers. I will give a SPOILER WARNING for any outgoing links.

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me, thinking thoughts about Henry James while watching you play

Henry James wrote a lot; he’s best known for his novels and short novels like TOTS, but also for big literary bricks like Portrait of a Lady and The Ambassadors. He’s a literary giant, and is treated like one: fair enough. But he wrote more than one ghost story like TOTS, and since the literary world loves to argue about everything, often it is argued that his ghost stories aren’t “horror” or “genre” stories at all; they’re simply literary metaphors. Yeah, okay. Agree to disagree, and all that. If you’ve ready absolutely anything by James, you’ll notice that he really loves ambiguity, multi-faceted perspectives, and different interpretations of character motives; regarding TOTS specifically, James is both writing a straightforward ghost story and inviting us to question the heck out of it, but he isn’t rejecting either approach, and neither should we.

I really appreciated this article at Conceptual Fiction for arguing that Henry James can be both a literary giant and a horror writer. The essayist Ted Gioia emphasizes that we need to relax and face the fact that he was a horror writer, even if he didn’t write solely horror: “If you cut through all the posturing and theorizing of later critics, and return to what James himself said about his work, we find that he had no problem labeling these works as “ghost stories.” Even more noteworthy: if you read James’s prefaces, which represent his most important contribution to literary criticism, you can even find material for a very sophisticated defense of genre fiction.”

SPOILER WARNING for this link: The Guardian has a really good review of sorts for The Turn of The Screw that emphasizes how terrifying it is, and mentions some of the movie adaptations, if you’re interested in those.

As for whether Henry James believed in the supernatural, I have no idea because Henry James a big literary tease in EVERY ASPECT OF HIS LIFE. However, his dad (also named Henry) supposedly saw a ghost this one time, and his brother William founded the American Society of Psychical Research, so even if James didn’t believe in it, he had a lot of pro-supernatural influences in his life.

Speaking of William, there’s a write-up here on his beliefs on life after death. Apparently he promised his friends that he would make contact with them after he died to prove the reality of the supernatural; some of his friends claimed to have contact, one of them via a 15-year-old-boy, which, wooooo boy howdy yikes. Another article here says that William and Henry promised each other that whoever died first would try to contact the other (William died first).

SPOILER WARNING FOR THIS LINK: Oldstyle Tales has a blog post called “7 Best Ghost Stories by Henry James….Not Including “The Turn of the Screw.” For those of you who want to read more creepy Henry James, the list is: “The Real Right Thing,” “The Way It Came,” “Sir Edmund Orme,” “The Ghostly Rental,” “Owen Wingrave,” “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes,” and “The Jolly Corner.” There are also some incredibly creepy illustrations at this link, along with some brief thoughts on Henry James’ skill as a writer of scary stories: “His fiction is impressionistic, psychological, and “courtly,” but it has one pervasive emotion to it: unease — discomfort, awkwardness, and a lurking shame buried in intentional secrecy. The fear of truth. The terror of exposure, of reality and confrontation.[…]And yet, for all his love of manners, whit, upper middle class malaise, and psychological realism, James returned time and time again throughout his career to a genre which seemed so at odds with his oeuvre: the Gothic ghost story.”


That’s all for now! Enjoy your reading and I will be back with more #turnofthescread content soon!

The Turn of the Screw: Ch. 1-6

“I remember the whole beginning as a succession of flights and drops, a little see-saw of the right throbs and the wrong…”

The opening lines of chapter 1 of The Turn of the Screw immediately align us with the governess-narrator’s feelings on what will happen in the story. This sets us up to pay attention to how events, circumstances, and ideas are interpreted and felt rather than looking at them more objectively. The governess-narrating-from-the-future is aware of this, but the present governess doesn’t seem to be. For example, the narrator admits that Bly House is “a big ugly antique,” but at the time, exploring it for the first time with Flora, the governess sees it as “a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite.” If you pay close attention to how the governess describes things or events, you can see the bias of her feelings, often her feelings that have been predetermined beforehand. Her one point of self-awareness is that she admits that she was “carried away in London” – presumably by her employer.

These first few chapters emphasize the atmosphere and the mood over plot. Most of what happens early on is setting up the house, the inhabitants of the house, and the governess’ attitude toward everything. The only really strange thing that has happened is the governess seeing a strange man outside of the house, behaving in what I would call An Excessively Creepy Manner.

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However, there are lots of other odd goings-on, if not explicitly a threat of home invasion.  The little boy Miles gets kicked out of his school, supposedly for “corrupting” his classmates; Mrs. Grose’s occasional weird attitude; the unexplained absences and deaths of previous employees.

Miles and Flora so far are perfect angels. Like, too perfect. Kids that entertain themselves??? Kids that strategically show up to interrupt serious conversations so that you can cuddle them??? NEFARIOUS FLORA. SCHEMING MILES. I might have a suspicious attitude toward children….I think it’s hard to judge (so to speak) the children at this point in the story, because we don’t have that much description of them besides the governess’ vague, besotted one. We don’t see much of their behavior, aside from Flora leading the governess around and Flora playing determinedly by the pond at the end of chapter 6.

Mrs. Grose has a lot of influence over the governess’ ideas because she is the only one who has expressed an opinion on what’s going on, or provided information on what happened before our governess arrived. Mrs. Grose seems reluctant to use her influence, though, instead taking cues from the governess on what to share. We haven’t seen much of the other adults at the house, and they’re apparently too far below the governess to count for much???? Or maybe she’s just too busy with the perfect children.

The governess herself seems very ready to jump to conclusions, but I think that’s realistic given her age and experience level. As she says herself: “It was the first time, in a manner, that I had known space and air and freedom, all the music of summer and all the mystery of nature. “ She also admits that “I was off my guard.”

I don’t think it’s indicative, at this point, of any conscious unreliability in how she is telling the story. But DISCUSS! Another point in her favor is that she hasn’t heard Quint’s name or description before she sees him twice: “the figure that faced me was- a few more seconds assured me-as little anyone else I knew as it was the image that had been in my mind” (the image=her thoughts about her employer).  So either she’s lying through her teeth to her audience, or she is really seeing a person that she had no idea existed before. According to Mrs. Grose (NOT the governess), the stranger must be a ghost, because he must be Quint, who is certainly dead. The governess is ready to seize this idea but it’s handed to her externally rather than her coming up with it herself.

THEN AGAIN, why doesn’t the governess say anything to Mrs. Grose after seeing him the first time? As the governess says, “An unknown man in a lonely place is a permitted object of fear to a young woman privately bred.” In other words, it would be very natural for her to complain or report the sighting of a random man standing on top of the house she’s living at. She decides not to say anything so as not to worry Mrs. Grose but like, what the heck, governess! You have kids in the house! Randos are not tolerated!

I love the bit at the beginning of chapter 4: “Was there a “secret” at Bly- a mystery of Udolpho or an insane, unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement?” It’s very possible that this woman is related to our good friend Catherine Morland; she’s a country girl who has apparently grown up reading Radcliffe and Bronte.

It’s not until the governess sees the guy a second time that she gets pretty freaked out. I love and hate the image of the governess entering the house, looking out through the window on the far side, and seeing someone standing there, simply staring at her.

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“On the spot there came to me the added shock of a certitude that it was not for me he had come. He had come for someone else.” This is a very odd thing to say, aside from the fact that she doesn’t recognize the guy, so he must be recognizable and known to someone else, the person he has come to see. But it’s a good example of the governess coming to conclusions based on her gut feeling at the time, rather than from any information she does or doesn’t have.

In chapter 5, we learn lots of unsettling things about a dude named Quint, who matches the governess’ description of their rando visitor. Mrs. Grose’ reaction to the sightings, as told to her by the governess, is very telling: her face shows “the delayed dawn of an idea I myself had not given her and that was as yet quite obscure to me.” Based on everything we learn about Quint in chapters 5 and 6, I am ready to defend the point that Quint was abusive in some way to everyone living in Bly House (after the boss leaves). Mrs. Grose’s vague but alarming “He’s a horror!” and the fact that she says the boss left Quint Alone with us” are enough of a hint for me.

Mrs. Grose is very ready to believe that Quint’s ghost is coming after them. I’m not sure if this is criticism of her as an illiterate, possibly superstitious person, or if it’s as the governess believes, that Mrs. Grose and her are SUPER TIGHT FRIENDS that will support each other through everything. What do you all think?

The governess has determined to protect the two kids at all costs from Quint, even though she really has no evidence at this point that he’s after them. All she knows is that Quint was “much too free” with Miles, whether that means socially, physically, spiritually???? She also is aware that she will not ask for help from her employer, and in any case he would probably refuse to help. Her attitude toward her employer is strange – she seems besotted or at least very admiring of him at times, but she also knows that he’s not to be depended on: “he was not a trouble-loving gentleman, nor so very particular perhaps about some of the company he himself kept.” Mmmmhmmmm.

What did I miss in these chapters? As always, leave your comments and questions below, or throw them into the #turnofthescread hashtag on Twitter!

Tune in next Tuesday for discussion of chapters 7-14, where hopefully we find out who the “third figure” from chapter 6 is! I’ll be posting some more this week on context of the novel and Henry James’ attitude toward the supernatural.

The Turn of the Screw: Introduction

Welcome to our readalong of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James! You can follow my discussions here or join our chatter on Twitter using the hashtag #turnofthescread . You can check out the reading schedule here. 

This post will include some spoilers for the “prologue” of the book, but no farther.

As you may already know, I am a big fan of this book and of Henry James’ work in general. The Turn of the Screw combines a few of my favorite things: it’s a short book; it’s a ghost story; it has several ambiguous elements and moments; it’s by Henry James.

Look at this goof! Source

Henry James was an American author who was born in 1843, but he died a British citizen in 1916. Over the course of his life he grew more and more critical of American culture and politics, and spent more and more time and energy in Europe.

James is one of the biggest influences on the formation of “realism” in literature, and could be called a sort of  prototype author of the “stream-of-consciousness” method of fiction. As his fictional career progressed, he moved from more straightforward storytelling in his novels like Daisy Miller and The Europeans, to very introspective fiction that mostly takes place in the characters’ inner lives, such as in his novels The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove. The Turn of the Screw was written in what is called his “middle period” so there’s elements of both. He really, really likes getting into a character’s head and showing as much of their complexity as possible, while still holding off on proclaiming them to be a certain “type” or judging them as perfectly good or bad.

So! Are you ready for the ghosties??? While you’re reading The Turn of the Screw (or TOTS) here are a few things to look out for:

  • For those of you who participated in Eyrealong, or if you’ve, you know, read or watched Jane Eyre, pay attention to parallels between JE and TOTS. It’s debateable how much of TOTS is a response to Jane Eyre, but certainly some of it is, and certainly James was aware that his readers may have read JE.
  • The prologue frames the story that the governess is telling. How does this frame story promote suspense? How does it undercut it? In other words, WHAT IS THE POINT OF THE FRIGGING PROLOGUE?
  • The Governess: Is she a reliable narrator? What hints or information do we get in support of her reliability or unreliability? Keep a sharp eye!
  • Bly House: How does the setting influence the action, or the characters’ behavior, if at all? PS why would you name a house “Bly”? WHY, BLY?
  • What expectations does the prologue give you for the story, for the young governess-narrator, or for the master of Bly House?


“But it’s not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have been concerned with a child. If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children-?”

-from the prologue to The Turn of the Screw