Shades Of Words

The Turn of the Screw



After having really liked “Washington Square”, I went looking for my second Henry James novel.

” The Turn of the screw” caught my attention because it was a gothic horror story and not something that I quite expected from James.  An old english country house , a young naive governess , the seemingly innocent golden haired children and floating shadows – how perfect!

Well, now that I am through this novella, I can inform you,dear reader, that “The Turn of the Screw” is not your typical ghost story. Lets look at the premise first. The story is narrated by a young gentleman in front of a country house’s weekend gathering. He reads from the notes of a young governess, our novel’s heroine.

This lady, who remains unnamed, had been hired by a young charming man ,who wanted her to look after his orphaned niece and nephew at his country mansion.  He puts only one condition to  her-  he must never ever be troubled with any of their concerns. The governess , eager to please her handsome employer , agreed to this. Her welcome in Bly, the country house aforementioned, was pleasant. Flora, the younger of the two wards, is delightful and beautiful. It is here that the story starts getting sinister – as a reader , every interaction with Flora and the governess sent chills down my spline. Its innocent..but the the child is so perfect that it unnerves you. Soon enough the governess sees a vision of a man , who she later comes to know was Peter Quint, the master’s valet. The governess coaxes the housekeeper to tell her more and soon learns of an illicit relationship between him and the ex-governess Miss Jessel.

At this point of time ,you are just warming up to the prospect of reading a lovely scary ghost story when things get suddenly odd. The governess is convinced that the ghost has come to claim the child and corrupt the child (and I honestly dont know what it means and whether it is related to religion and concept of satan) and she must save her. She partakes this as her new mission. Meanwhile, Miles the other child arrives from school , from which he has been expelled ! He is more delightful and perfect than Flora, if such a thing were possible. On a picnic to a nearby pond, the governess now meets her second visitation , she sees an image of what she assumes to be Miss Jessel ( who has also been dead) . She also notices that Flora has apparently noticed this vision too. The governess now believes that the children are in some collaboration with the ghosts and they are about to be lost to them. On confiding her fears to the housekeeper, she learns  that the chidren were rather fond of Quint and Jessel  and were in their constant company. I dont tend to have a Freudian bent of mind but as I heard that particular conversation my mind somehow jumped to sexual abuse, paedophilia and other similar concepts. Worried that I may be reading in too much I went online to  find some analysis of this and yes one, from the many interpretations of this story, talks about the possibility of these relationships between the children and these ghosts.

The governess thought the same or something even worse , what that is, is neither stated nor implied, and she becomes almost obsessed of saving the children. Infact its the way she carries on ranting and raving that I start believing that she is quite mad. She believes that the children can be saved if they only would confess to what they see and she pushes them into situations to do so. The story’s ending is quite  unpredictable and leaves open many questions.

What really amazes me that even though the ambiguity is so high and as a reader you are so at a loss to understand the inner workings of the governess mind , not once , you feel fed let down or fed up. You keep reading page after page waiting for the big relevation that will explain everything.  One of the main assumptions and secrets to enjoying fiction is that you believe it is the truth in that relative space. In this novel, there comes a point when you realize that what may happening may not be true at all and that is very discomforting as you no longer have any frames of reference.  You dont know which character to trust!

A thorough roller coaster.


Author: Vipula

Before talking about who we are, we’d like to tell you a bit about how and why Shades of Words came into being. It all started with the idea of “A place where we could share with likeminded people about things we enjoy. From books to music to movies to travel; Shades of Words was to be a place about the best of our experiences” We thought about why should anyone read us? The answer was that whatever we review would be a mix of our experience of the thing along with interesting and useful information about it. So in case you are reading us regularly or even checking us out once in a while then we have succeeded in our efforts someway somewhere. Who are we? Known as Kapil Sood and Vipula Gupta, we thought of Shades of Words on one fine Sunday afternoon. Tired of writing interesting RFP’s and project documentation; we decided to give this a shot. Yes! We work in Indian IT industry. Cupid struck us while were innocently slogging together on the highly intricate job of formatting and beautifying documents! And since then, we have been working together to establish Shades of Words as a place that we can claim as ours. (Because buying a house is still years away!) What else? Kapil also writes some blogs which you can read here and here.

7 thoughts on “The Turn of the Screw

  1. well you couldn’t have put a better perspective on this book…very interesting though. But not sure if I really have a penchant for horror stuff.

  2. Zoya – oh you must definitely read ghost stories..its a genre that is not to be missed. A cold winter evening, hot cocoa in hand, blanket over your legs and a ghost story in your cant get any more perfect than that

  3. HJ, know for his trans-Atlantic literature — juxtaposing European and American characters and characteristics against a European backdrop — delivers some great stuff in the form of The Portrait of a Lady and Daisy Miller. You must try these.

  4. Purvi – thanks for finally reading our blog 🙂 …I do want to read The Potrait of a Lady..maybe its something that I will pick up next

  5. I just love mistery and ghost stories. Henry James is one of the best, whatever he decides to write about. That kind of development in the story sounds just like him. I have studied him in college and have become a fan. Rest assure I will read this one. Thanks for the review.

  6. Oh, by the way, I’m from Brazil and have a blog about literature. It’s written in Portuguese, but I have included your blog in my list of links for those who speak a little English as myself. I hope you don’t mind.

  7. @Claudinha – thanks for stopping by and adding me to your blogroll. I checked out your blog but unfortunately i dont read Spanish( i think thats what it was)
    But keep visiting.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s