Victorian ghost story genre? What alternative interpretations does
it lend itself to?
‘The Turn of the Screw’ was written by Henry James in the nineteenth
century, when the belief that living people were in contact with the
dead was prevalent. In the Victorian era the advance of science was
undermining religious beliefs, because evolutionists were saying that
the world had not been created in 4004BC, as the bible suggests.
Therefore, the possibility of contacting the spirits restored some
faith in the non-material world. The era it was written in does
suggest that ‘The Turn of the Screw’ is merely a classic ghost story,
but Henry James has integrated sufficient evidence to make the reader
believe otherwise. The author has cleverly entwined a wide range of
possible interpretations into one storyline to make any reader unsure
of the real reason that the Governess is seeing ghosts. The only thing
the reader can be sure of is this; Henry James wanted the nation to be
debating their thoughts and opinions of the novel for centuries after
it was written. His wish has certainly been achieved.
By opening his novel with a prologue, Henry James has built tension
because the reader is informed of the sinister settings in which the
story ‘The Turn of the Screw’ is revealed, leading them to believe
that an ordinary ghost story is about to be shared. These settings fit
in perfectly with Victorian ghost story conventions, because ‘The Turn
of the Screw’ is told ‘round the fire’ on ‘Christmas Eve in an old
house’, which is exactly where ghost stories were traditionally told.
Furthermore, an air of mystery is created when the reader is told that
... middle of paper ...
...tating effects of one mentally unstable person
and how they can corrupt and even end innocent lives.
In conclusion, there is more evidence suggesting that the Governess
was suffering from hysteria than there is to prove that it is a ghost
story. Henry James has created this novel in defence of his own
sister, who was prone to violent outbursts of hysteria. He wanted to
show the sceptical Victorian nation how real the images could seem to
the person seeing them, and therefore included pathetic fallacy and
other various methods to demonstrate this and make the tale more
believable. No matter how big the contrast is between two
interpretations of ‘The Turn of the Screw’ the one thing all readers
can agree on is this: Henry James has succeeded in manipulating the
reader into believing anything he wants them to believe, which is
indeed an great achievement.
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