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(That’s the way I next read it, under a professor’s instruction in college.) But “The Turn of the Screw” is greater than either of these interpretations.Its profoundest pleasure lies in the beautifully fussed over way in which James refuses to come down on either side.In its twenty-four brief chapters, the book becomes a modest monument to the bold pursuit of ambiguity. At each rereading, you have to marvel anew at how adroitly and painstakingly James plays both sides.
Yet—the book’s greatest feat, its keenest paradox—the ultimate effect is precisely the opposite of openness.
“The Turn of the Screw” may be the most claustrophobic book I’ve ever read.
People naturally feared an expanded Pacific conflict—a bloody replaying of the Second World War. Cogdon, who was later judged a “hysterical type” by court psychologists, had a habit of sleepwalking. An eerie prefiguring of this scenario occurs in “The Turn of the Screw,” which was published in 1898.
On the night of August 11th, she was visited by a nightmare in which her beloved daughter was set upon by a Korean assailant. Cogdon went after him with a six-pound axe, in the process bludgeoning her daughter to death. Its unnamed narrator is a young woman, a parson’s daughter, who is engaged as governess to two angelic children at Bly, a remote English country house.
Yet James, working on a much broader scale, somehow keeps the tension mounting. Even so, for all its ingenuities of plot, the story’s central issue, or question, can be baldly expressed: Is the governess mad?
If the ghosts are real, then she is sane, and her desperate efforts to protect her dear charges, though doomed in the end, are noble and self-sacrificing.
Yes, if we choose to accept the reality of the ghosts, “The Turn of the Screw” presents a bracing account of rampant terror.
(This is the way I first read it, in my teens.) And if we accept the governess’s madness, we have a fascinating view of a shattering mental dissolution.
“The Turn of the Screw” has served as irresistible grist for those critics given to solving stories once and for all.
In comment after comment, article after article, the evidence has been sifted through and judgments delivered.