I found the beginning of ‘Turn of the Screw’ very effective in building tension and anticipation of the story to follow. However, I felt let down as the story went on. Upon introducing the ghosts of the story there was a sense of relief that was never really compensated for. I think the idea that we are most scared of the unknown rang true in this short story. The delay in starting the tale of the governess kept me genuinely intrigued and the convoluted stylistic tendencies of the author seemed appropriate. Later on in the novel, however, these stylistic tendencies lost their effectiveness and the content of the story itself couldn’t sustain the hopes and expectations that the start of the novel buit up. The first narrator promised to ‘up the ante’ or ‘turn the screw’ but as the book dragged on, I felt as if its best moment were behind it.
I feel that The Turn of the Screw was firstly good, then steadily lost its pace.
For the first few chapters, it was atmospheric and eerie. The first two encounters with the male ghost were eerie, or even scary, but I felt that when Henry James gives them a name and human-like qualities, they lost their scare appeal. The conflict in the book quickly turns from the threat of unknown ghosts or unwanted visitors trespassing and getting very close for some clearly sinister purpose, to a governess that merely frets over whether she should break the commands of her employer to ensure the safety of his children. She then takes to being unable to control a ten year old and fearing her own reputation from them.
What I noticed in “Tun of the Screw” was that the children really never talk. Their speech is not shown until about the middle of the book, and even then, it is very vague. The book was very straight forward and I liked this part about it. The description was detailed only in important parts, and even then was said tersely.
The surprising thing for me was that in the end, it was actually Miles who was the one who volunteered to talk. I always thought he was the “worse” one, so it did not end the way I expected. Plus, the fact that he didn’t actually get to saying anything, and the story actually ended with him dying. Throughout the whole story, the main character was trying to find out about what happened and tried to protect the children, yet Miles died in her own hands.
The book is very open to imagination, and many things are not clear to us readers. In this sense, it is similar to “Heart of Darkness’.
I feel that despite being a ‘ghost’ story, I didn’t find it particularly scary. Also, I personally found that the first part of the novel where the people are sitting around telling stories and waiting for the manuscript to come had an ominous atmosphere. The purpose of having this strange introduction to the story somewhat baffles me. The introduction sure created a sense of anticipation in me though, so perhaps that is one of its purposes.
As for the main storyline of little Miles and Flora, Quint and Ms Jessel, the governess and Mrs Gross, I found interesting yet unrealistic. It raises so many questions and has so many possibilities. Let us imagine for a moment that such a situation were possible in real life. What are we to take of Flora’s reaction when the governess asks her about seeing Ms Jessel? Has she already been possessed by the ghost? Or is she just finally showing her true colours. Why would Flora and Miles keep seeing the ghosts a secret? They are obviously not afraid of the ghosts. Either that, or they feel that there’s no one that they can turn too. That is a little impossible, as they were very sweet and obedient and seemed to like their governess a lot, especially since the governess showered them with love and care. So I take it they enjoyed the presence of the ghosts? Miles wanting to talk to the governess about seeing the ghosts could simply be him growing up and wanting to be a part of reality where he’s out in the world experiencing manly things, and does not wish to be held back by illusions and ghosts.
In the beginning, I had a distinct impression that Miles and Flora were really young children of about 4 and 8? But as the novel progressed, they seemed to mature so quickly it was scary. It was more frightening to see the children behave the way they did than at the fact that there were ghosts involved in the story. I found myself wondering more than once if the children were in fact the ghosts, being so unreal in their obedience and their quick and sudden extreme change in character . The fact that Miles’ heart stopped at the end could be an indication that he’s admitted that he was a ghost and thus was ‘at peace’. Well, that’s just a little theory I had anyway.
I’m not a fan of ghost stories- but the most surprising part is that the children’s unclear character, intention and behavior in the novel is what scares me most.
What struck me the most in this novel is the role of Flora and Miles and the resulting vagueness. I’ve noticed that in the first half of the novel their ‘speech’ was never mentioned, and they were kept being described as flawless and sweet. This gave me a feeling that the children, despite of being ‘innocent’, seem too perfect and vague as if they are not human.
After their speeches are mentioned, Miles tells the governess that they can be ‘mean’ as well. I interpreted this as few different meanings:
- Childlike behavior such as going out at night without permission, lying.
- Causing the governess to see the ghost (this is purely my assumption!)
- Their innocence was faked, either by them or by the ghosts.
Even at the ending at which Miles’ heart stops, it is not clear whether the children are purely normal kids who see the ghost, or whether they are ghosts themselves. Everything seems to be too open-ended in this novel. We have no idea how the governess came to see the ghost. It is not clear whether Miles and Flora are corrupted, or only traumatized by other’s reaction of them seeing the ghost (when they lie about them seeing the ghosts). We have no idea what happened to Flora after Miles’ heart stops. The fact that the kids see the ghosts wasn’t really shocking. Especially at the part when the governess sees Quint, she says that she expected to see a man, and ‘there he was’, the story seems too coincidental and unrealistic. But what made the story more thrilling was the impact of these vaguenesses which really ‘turned the screw’ for me.
I actually liked this novel a lot more than I expected. The characters were the most interesting part of the novel. I couldn’t really understand the housekeeper. I wanted to know whether or not she really understood the governess or whether she was on the children’s sides.She seems to be the only one that understands what the governess is saying but at the same time she constantly defends the children. It may be on purpose that she’s trying to not see their faults and only see the perfect side that they show. To me, the scariest characters are not the ghosts but the children themselves. They present themselves as perfect children but they are in fact haunted by the ghosts. THis could be to make sure that nobody knows what they are up to and they can get away with doing bad things but then Miles wouldn’t have tried to let the governess know that they can be bad too. I reasoned this as Miles liking the governess and wanting her to know the truth. I also think that the children might be ghosts because of how perfect they are and the fact that they don’t really talk much but then Mile’s heart stops at the end and so they were still living.
As Mr. Macknight tells us often, good students ask questions. So I want to know why the author left everything hanging. We don’t really ever meet the uncle even though we know quite a lot about him considering. Also, what’s the purpose of writing a novel and leaving more than half of it to the reader’s imagination. This novel’s climax is where everything starts to unravel and the housekeeper doesn’t know whether to agree with the governess or keep defending the children.