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Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Nicole Kidman played the nanny character in Alejandro Amenabar loosely adapted film version, The Others (2001)  Did Nicole Kidman get the rights to every gd Henry James novel or what?

Book Review
The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James
p. 1898

Guide to 19th Century American Literature

Book Review: The Awakening by Kate Chopin ,1899,  9/26/13
Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1885, 10/15/13
Book Review: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James ,1880 , 7/16/13
Book Review; Ben Hur by Lew Wallace,1880  6/13/13
Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott,1869, 3/9/13
Book Review: The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne 1860, 9/19/12
Book Review: Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 1852, 9/12/12
Book Review: The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne,1851, 5/30/12
Book Review: Moby Dick by Herman Melville 1851, 8/27/12
Book Review: The House of the Seven Gables,1851,  6/21/12
Book Review: The Pit and The Pendulum  1842, 3/28/12
Book Review: The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allan Poe, 1844, 3/27/12
Book Review: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe, 1839, 3/20/12
Book Review: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper, 1826, 6/18/12

  In grade school there was this program called "Great Books" where we would read short stories and such and then have a discussion about the themes and issues raised by that story.  I particularly reading a Ray Bradbury short story about a boy living on Venus where it rained every day.  On the one day it is sunny he is victimized by bullies and locked in a closet, so he misses the sunny day.

  Reading The Turn of the Screw, I was reminded of that grade school experience, because James seems to have written The Turn of the Screw specifically to enthrall and dismay readers who want a novel to have a specific meaning.  At a basic level, The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story heavily influenced by the genre of gothic fiction, but at a more sophisticated level it is a story told by an unreliable narrator with multiple potential interpretations.

  The two central unresolved issues at the heart of The Turn of the Screw are first, are there actual ghosts involved or is the narrator/nanny insane; and if the ghosts are real, what is the horrible, unspoken secret that they are concealing.  Like a road trip, all the fun in The Turn of the Screw is the journey, because the end gives you no answers, unless you consider a dead child an "answer."

  This kind of narrative ambiguity obviously foreshadows a central concern of modernist literature, that of the collapse of a certain narrative, and it is totally clear while Henry James is so utterly beloved by literary critics.  He really gives you the best of both pre-modernist/Victorian fiction while including enough Modernist themes to keep the reader interested in the deeper meaning of his work.

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