Finding Meaning in The Turn of The Screw, by Henry James Essay

Finding Meaning in The Turn of The Screw, by Henry James Essay

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    At first glance, Bly appears to be a rather lonely place. The vividly bleak backdrop for The Turn of the Screw houses a handful of servants, two orphaned children, and ghosts who fade in and out of view. But there are others present who are less obtrusive yet just as influential as Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Peering into and out of Bly's windows and mirrors, engaging with the text and the lingering trace of author Henry James, a crowd of real and virtual readers hope to catch a glimpse of a specter or to unravel a clever Freudian slipknot that will tell them something: They may be looking for that which they think James intended as the text's truth - a transcendental center - or maybe they subconsciously wish to see a reflection of themselves, somehow transformed by the reading, smiling back from the gilded, glassy panes.

Whatever they are seeking, this crew of interactive observers might be surprised to find out that there is not only one answer to James's literary mystery and that the worth of their readings centers on effect, not meaning. It is futile to seek the "answer" that is supposed to tell because, as Douglas forewarns, "the story won't tell." The langue of Bly is based on deceptions and ambiguities, ways in which "truth" is kept at bay. But many readers are unaware that they are really seeking effect, and thus experience effect only when they think they are

searching for meaning. Whatever the motivation, the pack should not be deterred from the quest, for the creation that Wolfgang Iser calls the text's "esthetic pole," --its true value--depends upon a conscientious reader to notice the text's gaps and ambiguities, fill in some of the holes, and to revel in the pleasure, finally, ...

... middle of paper ...'s dream, how reassuring for everyone else that it will never happen.


Works Cited


Felman, Shoshana. "Henry James: Madness and the Risks of

Practice." 1977. The Turn of the Screw. Ed. Deborah Esch

and Jonathan Warren. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1999. 196-228.


Iser, Wolfgang. "The Reading Process." Reader Response

Criticism. 1974. Ed. Jane Tompkins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. 50-68.


James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Ed. Deborah Esch and

Jonathan Warren. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1999.


Lustig, T.J. "Henry James and the Ghostly." 1994. The

Turn of the Screw. Ed. Deborah Esch and Jonathan Warren.

2nd ed. New York: Norton, 1999. 255-60.


Tompkins, Jane. "The Reader in History." Reader Response

Criticism. Ed. Jane Tompkins. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1980. 201-26.


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