The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is one of those few works that still have its readers talking about its meaning till this day. Did James do this on purpose or was there something more within the context that no reader has yet to pin point the true meaning of the work? The ambiguity of both The Turn of the Screw and James’ personal life is up to debate if there was any correlation with the two to gain a better understanding of what really happened in the novella. There have been many critic reviews of James’ work that want to connect his work with his personal life.
While others feel that The Turn of the Screw is just a plain old mystery work with the ability to create your own ideas of what really took place in the novella and nothing more. Points will be stated that James did have a deeper meaning for the work and just that critics have still yet to find that inner meaning. It has become a battle between critics versus James on who is right when it comes to The Turn of the Screw. The ambiguity with the work itself begins with the main character. A character with no name already brings up a red flag to start off.
Simply called the governess, the only thing the reader truly knows about her is that she is from a very small town and highly religious, which may have play a role to events that take people later on in the novella depending on whose interpretation of the novella one reads. Looking at other characters like the children Miles and Flora also shows ambiguity to the overall work as well. Miles and Flora have a very strange and awkward relationship towards one another and with the governess. The situation with Miles getting expelled from his school for reasons unknown.
Miles’ relationship with Flora is strange because they never seem to fight with each other anywhere within the text and seem too almost being some form of infatuation with one another. This infatuation also spreads with the governess and her own relationship with the children. Looking at Paul B. Armstrong article “History and Epistemology: The Example of the Turn of the Screw” opens up the question of knowledge within the world of the novella. How much the reader truly knows about the characters and the setting that is set forth by James. Making the mind a mirror to its object will end hermeneutic conflict” (246) is a great summary of how James’ and the novels ambiguity shine. Armstrong just like every reader of the work is left to interpret the work. Seeing that many questions remain unanswered by the end of the novel the power of knowledge is what the reader wants to think. James only gives only the needed details to lay what will take place in the novella and he wants the reader to come up with their own conclusion.
Thanks to the many interpretations of the work and their own personal views on it, that it is impossible to tell which interpretation is right and is that the story that James wanted to express. A major part the plot that is up in the air for many readers is, the aspect of the ghosts. Depending on how the reader takes the events for themselves. Some believe that the ghosts are trying to help the children escape from the governess. While others see it as the ghosts are trying to corrupt the children from how perfect the governess and others around the house see the children.
Many of the ideas about the governess and what might be the truth about her can be brought up in the Leon Edel article: “Introduction to Tales of the Supernatural”. In the article Edel states that the governess is the evil one, “… evil, however is in her own mind” (Edel 191). This can be believable given the reader personal opinion about the governess and what her intentions are with the children Miles and Flora. In some senses the ambiguity of the work is scarier than the novel itself.
Edel also states within the article “He tells us he has given each reader, so to speak, a blank check-told him draw all the funds he needs out of his private bank of horror”(Edel 192). The way that James’ ambiguity makes the reader think from his very first words to the last sentence, James’ just leaves the novella with the bare minimum information that the readers must decide for themselves what everything means. Most of the characters within the novella can be seen as the hero or the villain depending on the reader’s own perspective.
For example the governess can been seen as some as a quiet young women who just wants to take care of Miles and Flora as best she can. While others can see the same character as the extreme opposite, one who wants to push her religious views on the children and is very overprotected. Even as stated in one of the article the governess is seen as sexually frustrated and that is the reason why she is seeing the ghosts. In the case of the Miles and Flora sort of the same comparison can be made.
The children are depicted in the novella as perfect little souls that never could do a thing wrong. This perfectness is too the point where it is to perfect where the reader will tend to think that something might be off about the relationship to the children and the world around them. While the other side of the coin in the case of Miles the unknown excuse for being expelled from boarding school sends up a red flag to readers and that these children are too smart for there own good. So smart that they are able to manipulate the governess and others around them to get what they want.
In the counter argument James’ wanted to leave all these questions unanswered. If one reads most of the critics are able to put together some aspects of the novella but none seem to put the whole story into context. In the biography of Henry James, James stated “I always understood,” he continued, “though it was so strange–so pitiful. You wanted to look at life for yourself–but you were not allowed; you were punished for your wish. You were ground in the very mill of the conventional! “(Ch. 54). Which basically shows that James left these questions open on purpose.
There is no in deep theory to why events in the novella happen the way they do. To him there was no inner meaning to his words there were just words on a page and how the reader analyzes those words is up to the reader and the reader alone. James maybe felt that the overall ambiguity of all his written was for the best and had no deeper meaning. This ambiguity could even correlation with James personal life. While James lived a life of privilege he kept a very private and to himself. There were also some questions about his sexuality.
At the end of the day James just wanted to tell a good horror story and he believed that leaving a story so open is the scarier than any ghost or other horror element. In every situation there are many ways to analyze what is really going on. The events in The Turn of the Screw are no different, at times there is too much to analyze at any given point throughout the story. There are logical answers to the events that take place and some extreme answers to the same events as well. One critic review took the novel to a whole new light, which is the extreme of all other reviews.
In “Sexual Hysteria, Physiological Bogeymen, and the ‘Ghosts’ in The Turn of the Screw takes the theories of the novel to a whole new level. Author Stanley Renner argues that the governess is dealing with sexual issues. “The story’s spectral figures, colored by the governess’s sexual fear and disgust symbolize the adult sexuality just beginning to “possess” Miles and Flora as they hover on the brink of puberty” (176). This statement shows that the governess saw the children as a vision of her younger self-entering puberty.
This can explain the conversation at the start of the novel between the governess and the children’s uncle who hires her to work at the house. The reader can sense a strong sexually attraction between the governess and the uncle, and seeing that the governess is highly religious and from a remote location it could be maybe a feeling that she has never felt before. Flora could be a vision of the governess’ former self before moving into the house in seeing how Flora is very pure and sweet. The counter to that is Miles.
While Miles comes off as a very intelligent boy with a heart of gold, Miles has a very dark side to him and can be a vision of what the governess might become if she lets temptation around her seek in. When the governess was asked to describe the ghosts that she saw, she describes them sort of her image of a perfect mate in her eyes but something was off set. “The governess’s function as ghostwriter gains a new dimension through her relationship with the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel.
In this relationship, she serves to provide them with an effect of presence—a reality and materiality of being—through her own physicality” (Jang 17). While this explains the relationship between the ghosts, the governess, the uncle, and the children it leaves out one character of Mrs. Grose. What was her role in the story if this interpretation is correct? As these aspects answer some questions it does not make the story full circle to the point where it all makes sense. It will be an extreme assumption to think that while James was writing the novella that governess with dealing with sexually issues.
As much that would fit into our society today, back in James times this concept with hidden or not really disused. None of this ambiguity seems to take away from the work as a whole. It is needed to create the horror aspect of the work, because without it readers and critics alike would not be debating to this day. The ambiguity of it all it what makes The Turn of the Screw as well known as it is. It has played a major role in our society and what readers or views see as scary. Not knowing is half the battle in a sense; for example darkness.
It not the fear of darkness itself, it is not knowing what is in surrounding that person. James just picks up on this form of horror before anyone else could master it in writing. James’ ambiguity leads one to think that everything in the work has a purpose and it did, since James’ is dead it might never be answered what was the messages James was trying to portrait in the novel but it there and no critic has yet to answer all the questions and we might never know but it can lead to more theories on this great work.
Was this all done just to create a great mystery novella or was this all done with a hidden purpose? Did James’s personal life have anything to do with how the novella was written? There are many critics and reviews that show both sides of the argument. At the end of it all it is all up to the reader and The Turn of the Screw is one of those few novels that it is so open ended that a reader can come up to a conclusion and it can not be wrong. It is what makes it one of the first great mystery novels of our time and it is still talked about to this day about what truly happen in the novel.
Armstrong, Paul B. “History and Epistemology: The Example of The Turn of the Screw. ” New Literary History 19 )1987-1988): 245-254 Edel, Leon. “Introduction to Tales of the Supernatural. ” The Turn of the Screw. Comp. New York: Norton & Company, 1999. p 191-192 Print. Freedman, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Henry James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print. Jang, Kiyoon. Governess as Ghostwriter: Unauthorized Authority and Uncanny Authorship in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. ” The Henry James Review 28. 1 (Winter 2007): 13. 25. Print. James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. 2nd Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. , 1999. Print Renner, Stanley. “Sexual Hysteria, Physiognomic Bogeymen, and the ‘ Ghosts’ in The Turn of the Screw. ” Nineteenth-Century Literature 43. 2 (September 1988): James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. 2nd Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton & Co. , 1999. Print