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"The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James

A Reading Experience (Pt.46)

By Annie KapurPublished 4 years ago 3 min read

I was fairly young the first time I read this - around ten or eleven. I’m not going to lie to you, I had my dictionary at the ready and was looking up strange words left, right and centre. First time around, I didn’t really get it, so I went back and read it again and scared myself half to death because, after reading it once, I knew what all the words meant now. For a few days, I didn’t get much sleep and I was up most nights thinking about those weird children and the haunting coldness of Bly Manor. I would re-read the book over the years because the way in which the ghosts psychological enrapture the children is so incredibly intense even though the text itself is relatively short. You’d imagine you would need a long novel to build that kind of atmosphere, but Henry James does it in a short amount of time, leaving you with a shivering and shuddering feeling long after the text has ended. The last time I read it was when I was teaching it, maybe last year some time in the Spring. The students I was teaching it to often admitted that the text felt very dark because of the fact the bad things were happening to children. I think that much like novels such as “The Exorcist” by William Peter Blatty and “Suffer the Children” by John Saul, Henry James offered us a darker look at hauntings and horror through his writing of the innocence and child-like nature of Flora and Miles. It is not only frightening, in some cases it is rather disturbing too.

There is a backstory behind the ghosts. One was the former nanny at Bly Manor and one was a former chauffeur. These are the two ghosts that try to enlist Flora and Miles into their grasp and, through suggestion, often succeed or almost succeed had it not been for the intervention of the current nanny and majority narrator - the sister of the frame narrator. I believe that the book is even darker than we see it because, if we read the frame we get a sense of backstory and the past. The fact that the brother states that his sister is now dead makes all the difference because you want to know whether it was because of Bly Manor and whether she ended up like the previous nanny of Miles and Flora. The way in which the ghosts are presented was so influential, you can see it in everything from Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” to the works of Susan Hill. These aren’t ghosts that just jump out and say ‘boo’, these aren’t poltergeists who throw things around your room. These are ghosts of the mind, ghosts of control and ghosts of humanity. They take the innocent and psychologically, they will corrupt the child’s nature, pushing it to new and extreme boundaries which often they are unaccustomed to because of their innocence. The way in which the nanny controls Flora and the way in which the chauffeur controls Miles are so different because we can definitely tell that the chauffeur is particularly malevolent in his treatment. Whereas, it is clear that the previous nanny only wants to psychologically mess with the new nanny - the narrator.

As we have a narrator who is finding things incredibly difficult, we get a connection to the ghosts of the novella. From the fact that she constantly questions why Miles was kicked out of school, we get the strangeness of the situation when she cannot seem to locate the uncle. When the ending finally happens, the reader is shocked, appalled, but it seems to close the questions of the novella perfectly and make way for a start that may include paying better attention to the young. From disappearances to the children being in places the nanny clearly didn’t leave them, this novella is a strange, dark and chilling entity of horror fiction and the damned original there was. It plays with your mind as the children become entranced by these ghostly figures that they once knew as real people and so, they have a trustworthy connection even before the beginning of the book.

book reviews

About the Creator

Annie Kapur

200K+ Reads on Vocal.

English Lecturer

🎓Literature & Writing (B.A)

🎓Film & Writing (M.A)

🎓Secondary English Education (PgDipEd) (QTS)

📍Birmingham, UK

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