Why Do I Have to Read This?
Governess on the edge. Depraved ghosts, corrupted children. Great title admonishing us all for our perversity. What is not to like here? This is the touchstone of horror narrative. Yes, the sentences are sometimes long twisty things with oh-and-by-the-ways nested in them, but believe me, Henry James was just getting warmed up. His long novels have sentences so extended and convoluted you may need someone else to read for you while you go out and get a sandwich—you’ll have time to get back before the period. Henry James is a one man explanation for Ernest Hemingway, but that’s a future conversation. Certain contemporary novelists, such as Annie Proulx and Lawrence Norfolk, like to riff and juggle and go for triple backflips in their sentence constructions, but long-windedness is generally a hallmark of the dead white pre-paperback male. And Edith Wharton. Tackling complicated sentences, however, will fill your brain with snappy new synapses that will allow you to dig in and enjoy humanity’s greatest yawps. Think of The Turn of the Screw as a means of pumping up your reading level, thereby opening unsuspected vistas and improving your life forever and ever, while creeping you out and inspiring you to rent a couple seasons of Dark Shadows. Still doesn’t sound like fun? Okay, Turn of the Screw is whatcha call a psychological novel. Dickens might have used a ghost-seeing governess to comic effect; Wilkie Collins would have made her a dupe; F. Scott Fitzgerald would have made her a lunatic; Stephen King would make her the girl next door. Henry James’ governess is a respectable woman with a romantic imagination and a heroic self-image–like Don Quixote, but not that crazy. Or is she? That is the question. Is she seeing ghosts or conjuring them in her warped, frustrated spinstery mind? As all the other characters come to see her as a raving nutcase, the reader is forced to the same conclusion. She’s tyrannical, vicious, seems all too fond of little boys, and spends her free time imagining children learning to do things so bad she isn’t even sure what they might be. Yet. It doesn’t quite square. There are unresolved details, the validity of which cannot be ascertained. If the ghosts were real, the story would have ended just the same. Ultimately, the nature of the ghosts is not relevant, the point being what the governess made of them.