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Topic: The Turn of the Screw Discussion

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Subject: The Turn of the Screw Discussion
Date Posted: 9/20/2009 6:32 PM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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Hello everyone. Hope you found The Turn of the Screw interesting. Answer any or none of the questions below. Please share thoughts, ideas, and any questions you have about The Turn of the Screw.

It is often not clear what the governess imagined and what actually happened. James could have told us more explicitly what happened but preferred to leave the story ambiguous and let the reader make their own inferences. So . . . .

 

Is the governess neurotic or courageous?

 

Is she a reliable narrator?

 

Are the children good or evil? There are several underlying themes that suggest evil in the book – Miles dismissal from school, Quint and Miss Jessel’s deaths, etc.

 

Does Mrs. Grose believe in ghosts or not?

 

Do you believe ghosts were trying to claim the children or was it the governess’ imagination?

 

Did anyone else find the relationship between Miles and the governess somewhat unseemly?

 

What do you think Quint did to Miss Jessel?

 

How essential is the setting? Could the story have taken place anywhere else?

 

 

 

I'll post a few thoughts later.  

 

Vanessa - post your question!

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 9/20/2009 9:10 PM ET
Member Since: 11/2/2007
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Wow. That was the longest 100 page story I've ever read.


Most of me wants to think that our narrator is unreliable and psychotic. However, I have no idea why Miles died at the end if that's the case.

I also hated the last line of the book, which should have started with the pronoun "I" and not "we."

The relationship between Miles and the governess was weird, but I don't know Victorian England well enough to know if it was out of the norm then or not.

Date Posted: 9/21/2009 12:41 AM ET
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 I think the governess was courageous even if she was neurotic.  SHE believed that the phantoms were there and she
stood up to them.

I didn't see anything to say that the kids were evil.  They were certainly a handful, what with Miles going out in the middle of the
night and Flora wandering off to the pond.

I'm not sure if the relationship was quite unseemly.  I couldn't figure out if it was the phrasing the author used at the time, or if
he was trying to show an odd relationship.  Also, I wasn't quite sure if we were supposed to think something "unseemly" happened
between the children and Quint and Miss Jessel.

I think the setting was important because the story wouldn't have been able to drag out if they were in a busy, populated place.

That all said, I wasn't crazy about the story.  I like to have things more laid out for me.  Why did Miles die?  What did he die of?
Was it fright? Was it that he was literally "smothered" by the governess?   To be honest after I finished I went to Sparknotes to
see if I was missing something.  Obviously not.  I got all the questions right on their quiz so I must have been paying attention.

Date Posted: 9/22/2009 9:13 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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I liked the story well enough but James is quite "wordy". Also, the story seemed to be written in a conversational tone, not my preference.

I thought there were some sexual overtones with the relationship between Miles and the governess - not that anything happened, just that the relationship (mutual adoration?) was "weird" as Rick noted.  

Chris, I like what you said about the governess being courageous even if she is neurotic. Well put. Good point about the setting as well.

I don't know why Miles died either.

I'm going to go check out Sparknotes and take the quiz!

Anyone going to read another story or book by James? Personally, he didn't wow me enough to seek out more by him.

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 9/22/2009 11:27 AM ET
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I don't think I'll read anything else by James for a long time.

I don't even want to look at a comma again for a while. Five or six per sentence? That's just wrong. His abuse of them helps explain why they're still endangered today.

Date Posted: 9/22/2009 11:51 AM ET
Member Since: 8/20/2006
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Wow, I'm surprised I did not notice the overuse of punctuation. I am usually a stickler for that kind of thing.

The comma is not altogether endangered today. I read The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Mendelsohn and the overuse of punctuation and run on sentences (some sentences are more than a half of page in length) annoyed me endlessly.

Date Posted: 9/22/2009 1:25 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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My question is kind of listed in the ones at the top but here it is:

Who killed Miles?  The governess or the ghost? 

They mention it once in an episode of CSI that Turn of the Screw is only a mystery if you believe in ghosts, which is pretty interesting.  Most people can believe in ghosts in stories at least, but using that credulity or scepticism within a work of fiction is something that never occured to me before (i.e. I know there are no ghosts so the governess must have been mad).

As I read it, Miles is either killed by the governess or by the ghost of Quint.  If it was the governess it could have been a mercy killing (she was crazy & in her eyes she was saving him from being corrupted) or an accident.  I've never quite made up my mind about whether or not the governess was crazy.  If she was, was she mad from the beginning or did she go mad from being in that place.  And how much did the uncle know about what was going on there?  That much denial seems like he was deliberately avoiding something bad happening with the kids.

Date Posted: 9/22/2009 6:23 PM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2007
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I kept thinking that the children were together in trying to drive the governess crazy.  I don't guess that anything in the book backs that up, but I kept waiting for that to happen.

What about Mrs. Grose?  Why was she so ready to believe all that the governess told her?

I do think that the setting was essential.  You must have this huge country home on an estate for all the action to take place.

I really don't get it and I thought that you all would have the answers.  Sigh....  Then, I would have felt dumb and thought that you all figured it all out.  So, at least, I don't feel any dumber than I felt at the end of the book.

Date Posted: 9/23/2009 9:33 AM ET
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Vanessa, reading your post, I think you answered the question of who killed Miles.

If you believe in ghosts then Miles probably died at the hands of a ghost.

If you believe the governess was crazy then she probably did him in.

Or, if you believe both, then the ghosts drove the governess batty and she scared Miles to death . . .

I guess I'm too much of a pragmatist to truly appreciate this story :-)

Vivian - interesting thought about the children. Did you get the feeling they might have been trying to drive the governess crazy out of evil or because they were influenced by the ghosts?

Mrs. Grose's actions bolster the governess's belief in the ghosts she sees. Now, because the governess in our narrator we only know that Mrs. Grose believed everything she said according to the governess. Probably analytical overkill on that one.

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 9/23/2009 10:39 AM ET
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What was the point of that framing device - the several-page intro where it takes some guy at a dinner party a few days to get some papers together to tell the story?

Date Posted: 9/23/2009 12:25 PM ET
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Sheila,to answer your question about the children, I guess that I don't know such perfect children as these seemed to be, so I'm suspicious. Plus, there was the idea in the back of my mind that they may have had something to do with the deaths of Quint and Miss Jessel. Rick, I assume that James used the frame just to build suspense. By the way, I told my seventh graders today a little about the story, mostly to make a point about setting (using your question, Shelia.) Guess what! They want to read the sequel! I guess that they are too attuned to having sequels.



Last Edited on: 9/23/09 12:26 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 9/23/2009 12:56 PM ET
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I assume that James used the frame just to build suspense

Well, that didn't work.

Date Posted: 9/23/2009 1:10 PM ET
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I assume that James used the frame just to build suspense

Well, that didn't work.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HA :)

Thanks for making me LOL Rick.

Vivian may have been on the right track but maybe that worked better when the story was published as a serial or when audiences expected less!

Date Posted: 9/28/2009 3:20 AM ET
Member Since: 7/6/2009
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I hope you guys don't mind if I jump in so long after you started this thread. I'm relieved to see I'm not the only one who finished it wondering what the heck happened.

The governess seemed courageous to me. I did wonder if she was psychotic - I'm no psychologist, but I think that neurosis wouldn't account for hallucinations, and there wasn't any mention of substance use.

I had several questions that would remain whether the ghosts existed or not: Why did the children's uncle want nothing to do with them? How did Mrs Jessel die? Was Quint murdered? Was Miles really expelled for naughty words? So many gaps seemed to point to some kind of mental deficiency in the narrator.

I agree with you guys that it's hard to interpret the relationship between the governess and Miles, and the description of his relationship with his sister was also odd. There were hints that his precocious maturity was evidence of his evil, but I don't know how a normal child would have been described.

The question about the housekeeper is interesting. Surely she would have stopped believing in the ghosts when she couldn't see one where the governess pointed. But if she didn't believe in them, why did she continue to cooperate with the governess and leave her alone with Miles? 

James's sentence structure is atrocious, and his long descriptive paragraphs exacerbate the problem. I thought maybe the style was deliberately mysterious for this story, but I just flipped through The Portrait of a Lady and discovered it's no better. At least that's another one off the TBR pile. ;)



Last Edited on: 9/28/09 5:06 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 9/28/2009 8:45 AM ET
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Glad you joined in Cateye. You brought some interesting observations.

I am not a fan of James's writing style either.

Why did the uncle want nothing to do with them? That is a great question and I don't recall anything from the story telling us exactly why. At the beginning of the story when the governess meets with the uncle it says that "It had all been a great worry and, on his own part doubtless, a series of blunders, but he immensely pitied the poor chicks and had done all he could . . ." It also says that he would go down whenever he might to see how they were doing. But, he obviously never does that. Later he tells her that she should never trouble him - take everything over and let him alone. So, he doesn't want anything to do with the children because . . . . (my thought is because of the deaths of Quint and Miss Jessel - either the uncle was somehow involved or the children).  James has left it vague.

Date Posted: 9/28/2009 1:04 PM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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Apart from 'Turn of the Screw' I can't staaaand Henry James.  We had to read Washington Square in my sophomore English class and it was pure torture.  Funnily enough the movie version of Washington Square (The Heiress, 1949, starring Olivia de Havilland) was fantastic.  I also really liked the movie version of TotS (The Innocents, 1961, starring Deborah Kerr).

Date Posted: 9/28/2009 7:05 PM ET
Member Since: 7/6/2009
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Sheila wrote:

James has left it vague.

I think that pretty much sums it up. :)