The Turn of the Screw

Reading Slump and an Opera

Well, it seems I’ve hit a bit of a reading slump. I’m rarely getting a chance to settle down with my book and when I finally do, it’s at the end of the night and after a page or two, I’m already falling asleep! I’m halfway through Nausea which I’m enjoying immensely but perhaps something a little fluffier for my next read.

Danielle Calder as the Governess, Victoria Opera, 2010

In other news, I attended the Turn of the Screw Opera this week. It was quite fantastic and I thought the two young performers playing Flora and Miles were great. I had never heard a child sing Opera before. The Opera was sung in English and even so, I think we were all relieved when the subtitles came on after the prologue! It was a very small cast and small stage but the props were nicely used particularly the ingenious idea of using a dollhouse to signify the rambling, Gothic mansion. The ghostly appearances of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel were nicely done too and it never failed to amuse me when my friend jumped every time they materialised on stage. I’m not an expert in Opera but the voices were beautiful. And it might be me but I never realised how overt the pedophilia overtones are. I must re-read the story again.

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Review: “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James

I sobbed in despair: ‘I don’t save or shield them! It’s far worse than I dreamed. They’re lost!’

Henry James’ curious gothic short story remains very ambiguous. More well known for his novels than short stories, exploration of women and society rather than gothic, horror tales, this short story shows a lesser known side of James. Turn of the Screw is told to an unknown narrator while he is staying in an hotel. The story survives in an old journal that once belonged to the young governess who is now long dead. It is her tale that we hear.

Taking up a governess position in the isolated country side, she is placed in charge of two young children who have been recently orphaned. The children’s guardian, their uncle, while generous with his wages and flexibility to the young governess has one condition – that the governess must never bother him with anything and that she should deal with everything as she sees fit. Once installed in the isolated mansion, the governess (who remains unnamed) suspects that something sinister has taken place on the grounds. She instantly falls in love with her young charges, Flora and Miles, who appear to be the most beautiful and angelic children. However, the governess soon realises that they are haunted by Miss Jessel, the previous governess, and Peter Quint, a previous groundsman.

Turn of the Screw is unlike any other gothic, horror story I’ve read. There’s the suspense and the chills and thrills but the horror is what you imagine yourself. The ambiguity throughout the story, with James refusing to spell out in detail what the exact horrors are, keeps the suspense up. While it is short story, the writing is very dense and intense and it seems so much more than a short tale. Character’s are so in-depth that I didn’t realise that the governess remains nameless! It is, however, not an easy read but it is one of those tales that I will go back to from time to time in order to gain new understanding.