The following is the first work of classic literature that I've reviewed in the new format, and I've decided that, for works in the public domain, I will provide a truncated MLA citation with only the AUTHOR, TITLE, and DATE OF ORIGINAL PUBLICATION. Comments regarding the specific print edition I'm utilizing, if applicable (since in theory I could read it online but in practice I like having a nicely-bound copy in hand), will be located in Notes
.James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. 1898.Summary
: An English governess claims to see the ghosts of the deceased valet and the previous governess, but no one else can see them (though a maid believes). By the end, she has managed to drive the girl Flora to feverish hysterics and literally frighten the boy Miles to death.Comments
: This short novel also features a frame story in which a man who claims to have known her personally reveals the governess's written narrative to an audience many years later. This frame story is quickly abandoned; it's purely a literary device to perhaps make the reader more comfortable with the first-person narrator more palatable. Moreover, for readers in 1898, the unreliable narrator is not a assumption from the get-go as it is nowadays, and the frame helps to clue you into the layers of subjectivity in the text. Anyway, it's probably foolish to level a psychological analysis on the governess given the age of the novel, but I can't help wondering if her fear of the ghosts was a sublimated sexual panic. She dreads the ghosts' corrupting influence on the children, yet they apparently do nothing but watch, and you have to believe the narrator claims that their expressions are malevolent. Oh, and speaking of sublimated sexuality, an ongoing mystery throughout is exactly why Miles is expelled from his boarding school. Even at the end, the extent of his confession is that he "said things" to "those he liked." Err? Is this supposed to be a confession of homosexual feelings? My Norton Critical so kindly does not address this peripheral issue. :P Notes
: Norton Critical Edition, 2nd editionRating
- Over 100 years later, it makes for a fascinating study of early attempts to write unreliable narrators, but don't bother if you're looking for base entertainment value.