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Critical Response to the Turn of the Screw

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Henry James’ novella the Turn of the Screw is a highly ambiguous piece of fiction. Set in Edwardian England, a very naïve woman is left in charge of two young children. The beautiful Bly however appears to be hiding a few dark secrets. The appearance of two ghosts plays on the governess’ mind, she comes to the conclusion the children are in danger and being possessed by these two horrors. Throughout the novella James successfully creates a mystical atmosphere, his ambiguous style forces us to think twice about what is written and decide for ourselves whether or not this is purely a ghost story or something far more sinister. However after several reads and a close look behind the words, it becomes clear that the ‘ghosts’ that haunt the house of Bly are nothing more than hallucinations and may be the result of a serious case of sexual repression in the governess. The governess is a hopeless romantic, that becomes clear at the very beginning. The daughter of a poor parishioner, the governess has had a very sheltered life, making her into quite a naïve woman, but no doubt very curious. The governess had only once had a position involving children before she accepted the position at Bly. She was quite nervous and unsure in regards to her own abilities. Yet she took the job. Why? She believed the employer to be the most handsome of men, with a most kind and generous nature. This opinion was formed over one very short meeting. As the governess arrives at Bly she mentions “I had expected something quite dull and dreary, so this place was a wonderful surprise. I wondered why he (employer) had failed to mention it”. The governess is also quick to tell the housekeeper Mrs Grose “I am carried away quite easily. I was carried away in Londo... ... middle of paper ... ...ce was close and he let me kiss it” and her description of Miles saying “oh you know what a boy wants” are all unnecessary. The plot of the ghosts corrupting the children is what the governess’ tales is supposed to be about, just a ghost story. So adding in constant little sentences like these makes us question whether this is really a ghost story at all, or something more vindictive. The ambiguity of this novella shows that the ghosts cannot possibly be real and are a mere figure of the governess’ imagination. Her romantic, whimsical state of mind, strange and elaborate use of words and clearly shown indecency with Miles gives sufficient evidence to say she was suffering a severe case of sexual repression, brought on by her sheltered childhood and lonely position in society. However these circumstances are no excuse for the damage she caused those poor children.
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