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?

DISCUSS!

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
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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.

Scripture Sunday (39)

Scripture Sunday is a weekly quote-post to highlight Bible passages I’ve read recently that I found particularly interesting. My translation is the New International Version.

From my reading this week:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

Why I chose it: 

It’s really easy to get caught up in drama between church members and fellow Christians. It’s really easy to judge each other. It’s gotta stop. These verses and others like it are always really convicting for me personally. We gotta love each other, even the ones we disagree with or are annoyed by,  the way Jesus loves us: totally and unconditionally.

September Reading Wrap-up

My personal favorites from each section are: The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry, Release by Patrick Ness, All Systems Red by Martha Wells, March: Book 2 by John Lewis, and Inuit Mythology by Evelyn Wolfson.

So-called Kids Fiction:

Princess Adventure Stories by the Walt Disney Company (4/5 stars)

Star Wars: Forces of Destiny: Volume 1 by Emma Carlson Berne (3/5 stars)

Smuggler’s Run by Greg Rucka (4/5 stars)

The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry (5/5 stars)

Moving Target by Cecil Castellucci (2/5 stars)

The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling (4/5 stars)

So-called Young Adult Fiction:

The House of Hades by Rick Riordan (5/5 stars)

Release by Patrick Ness (5/5 stars)

So-called Adult Fiction:

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis (5/5 stars)

 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (5/5 stars)

Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey (4/5 stars)

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell (4/5 stars)

The American by Henry James (4/5 stars)

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (no rating)

So-called Comic Books:

The Wicked and The Divine: Imperial Phase I by Kieron Gillen (4/5 stars)

Mockingbird: My Feminist Agenda by Chelsea Cain (4/5 stars)

Like I’m the Only Squirrel in the World by Ryan North (4/5 stars)

Black Butler volume 19 by Yana Toboso (4/5 stars)

Black Butler volume 20 by Yana Toboso (4/5 stars)

Batgirl: Beyond Burnside by Hope Larson (3/5 stars)

March: Book 2 by John Lewis (5/5 stars)

Buso Renkin volume 1 by Nobuhiro Watsuki (3/5 stars)

Buso Renkin volume 2 by Nobuhiro Watsuki (2/5 stars)

Hawkeye: Kate Bishop: Volume 1: Anchor Points by Kelly Thompson (4/5 stars)

So-called Nonfiction:

Inuit Mythology by Evelyn Wolfson (4/5 stars)

 

The History of Alexander by Quintus Curtius Rufus (3/5 stars)

 

 

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.

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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!