Friday, January 4, 2008

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James

I've read Henry James before, and greatly enjoyed, psychology, I guess you could say. And I had heard this particular work mentioned many times—I know it was adapted for the stage as well—but somehow, in all that, I somehow missed this was a ghost story. (If I'd known, I probably would have read it in October.)

The most terrible thing (meaning the scariest element of the work, not how terrible the work is, of course) about the story is the way the characters of the two children use passive-aggressiveness. Or, rather, the way they play head games with the narrator, their governess. That, and the way he uses euphemisms to frighten ("horrible" things that the children have done and that were done to them were hinted at constantly, but the only thing he lets us know for sure is that a Mr. Quint (now deceased and haunting the house) had an affair with Miss Jessel (also currently deceased and haunting the house) and that the two ghosts spent a great deal of time in the company of the children while living, were "bad" people, and are now haunting the children, who enjoy the haunting). Every bit of evil and past sin is only hinted at, which allows the reader's imagination to fill in the gaps with just as much horror as they can imagine. I suppose that James, like Hitchcock, understood that the truly scary stuff is the stuff you can't see/know.

I did enjoy it, but I admit that living in a time where everything is tell-all, and people are given the facts of every gory detail, the story was...well, not very scary, and a little frustrating with all the information it did withhold. But there you have it. Maybe James intended to frustrate me personally. (Yeah, not likely.)

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