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Sexual Passion in The Turn of the Screw
In a criticism on Henry James’s story The Turn of the Screw, Strother Purdy suggests that large amounts of sexual passion may be assumed to exist underneath the surface of the narrative. Purdy says that under a Freudian interpretation of the story, the sexual element is easily recognized and is used as the whole source of the action. According to this theory, the governess wishes to impress her master because she is in love with him and, therefore, exceeeding her authority with the children. Although the governess only sees her master twice, Purdy refers back to what Douglas had said,” it was the beauty of her passion.” Since the master is not impressed by her initial and ordinary course of governessing, she must make up some life-threatening danger to the children so she can rescue them and win the masters love and affection. She figures the danger must be terrible because he told her he did not want to be bothered with matters dealing with the children. He basically tells her he cares nothing for the children. Purdy suggests the governess is unconscious in doing this because she is sexually repressed and cannot admit her sexual motives to herself
She believes she is actually protecting the children against an outside evil, which happens to coincide with her drive to demonstrate heroism and devotion to the master. According to Purdy, the governess conjures up ghosts because she invited them and willed them to come. Purdy feels the housekeeper plays her trump card and the governess' concern is not for the children but for all that would become of her, her bargain with the master, her relationship, and her passion for him. Purdy finds the following quotes to show her passion for the master and show that this serves as the motive of action.
“She did not know- no one knew- how proud I had been to serve him and to stick to our terms.”
“I set in motion the fine machinery to attract his attention to my slighted charms.
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Purdy also compares James’s sexual censhorship to that of the Bronte’s. He coins this story as a “romantic-gothic woman’s” novel. Like Rochester in Jane Eyre; the master remains offstage after the first meeting, but the governess falls in love with him throughout the novel. He believes this story is a typical “Victorian story about repression and censorship.” He feels sexual overtones are found throughout the novel, but because they are not visible, repression is the key for action and destruction in the novel.