Comparing Equality in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Edith Wharton's The Lady's Maid's Bell

Comparing Equality in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Edith Wharton's The Lady's Maid's Bell

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The Theme of Equality in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Edith Wharton's The Lady's Maid's Bell


Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Edith Wharton's "The Lady's Maid's Bell" share a common theme: all people are equal. Both authors generate this theme by bridging class barriers with a generous master and mistress who have revolutionary ideas. Although circumstances differ in both stories, the common theme remains easily discernable with the words and actions of both Mrs. Brympton in "The Lady's Maid's Bell" and the young master, Miles in The Turn of the Screw. Through their friendship, trust, and eventual love for their servants, both the master and mistress prove their modern thoughts of equality between servants and higher classes.

Mrs. Brympton establishes a relationship of friendship and equality with Miss Hartley from the beginning, and their friendship resembles that of Mrs. Brympton and her former maid, Emma, whom she dearly loved. Even Mrs. Railton, who mentions the job offer to Hartley, asserts that "[Mrs. Brympton] wants a maid that can be something of a companion" (Wharton 13). Upon employment, Hartley discovers for herself that "Mrs. Brympton [is] the kindest of ladies" (Wharton 15). Something about Mrs. Brympton's nature seems to insinuate an equality between her maid and herself from the beginning because the mistress shows natural compassion and humanity toward all of her servants. Mrs. Blinder, another servant, describes the loyal relationship between Mrs. Brympton and Emma, her previous handmaid: "My mistress loved her like a sister" (Wharton 17). This love between higher and lower classes remains extremely rare in the Victorian Era, and even the mistress, Mrs. Brympton, realizes this; consequent...


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...e master and the mistress stand by their convictions, and their relationships with servants reflect such an equality. Both Mrs. Brympton and young Miles even grow to love their servants and confide in them, which testifies that they are treated as more than equal peers. In Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Edith Wharton's "The Lady's Maid's Bell" servants become equal citizens due to the nature of their master or mistress, and the theme rings clearly through both works, which becomes the concept that all classes of people are equal.

Works Cited

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995.

Robbins, Bruce. "'They don't much count, do they?': The Unfinished History of The Turn of the Screw." The Turn of the Screw. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995. 268-96.

Wharton, Edith. "The Lady's Maid's Bell." New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973. 12-35.

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