I am presenting you with a prospectus, which will help you learn how I feel about Henry James’s Turn of the Screw and how I interpreted it. I enjoyed the story as a whole, and my initial reading was that it is a terrifying ghost story for the end of the nineteenth century. Of course, I only say this because there are innumerable numbers of horror films and novels in the contemporary society that make my skin crawl. My hope is that you will learn, through my placement and section organization, something about early twentieth century beliefs and Henry James.
Being very interested in the supernatural, I decided back in February that researching this novel and comparing it to contemporary popular culture would be a wise choice for me. I have researched this cause for many days and spent countless hours reading criticism. By believing that James wrote this story to be about ghosts, I have since been looking for information that supports this theory. There is much information supporting this, and information saying that another interpretation is not necessarily wrong.
I would like to thank my friends for constantly revising and revisiting my work. The peer editing was of much help to me in my final stages of this prospectus.
I would also like to thank Professor Bock for helping guide me through the process of researching a topic that was once new to me. Also, Professor Bock taught me to prepare professional looking work under specific time constraints.
Lastly, I would like to thank the University of Minnesota, Duluth library staff for helping me grasp periodicals and library loan complications.
Sarah Lynn Conlin
April 26, 2007
Research Project Prospectus
Although The Turn of the Screw appears to be an inexhaustible source of critical controversy, looking at the majority of evidence we see that Henry James was interested in the supernatural and was given an opportunity to express his curiosity. Psychoanalytic critics have compelling points and a unique reading of this novel. However, when looking at the time and place in which James published this story, interpretations from his contemporaries, and interpretations of those today, we find evidence that the story is bringing in a scary but widely discussed topic for the time. By looking at articles, criticisms, books, the novel itself, and modern day interpretations (plays, movies etc) we will discuss evidence to support the ghost story theory.
II. Information on James: The Beginning
1. Before looking at some personal background of Henry James and what he claimed about the story, there is a key element, which helps us unravel the truth between this supernatural reading and some of James’s intentions.
T. Griffiths’ painting “The Haunted House.”
b. Robert Lee Wolff’s article, “The Genesis of The Turn of the Screw,”1 Griffiths’ picture was first published in the 1891 Christmas Edition of the magazine Black and White.
c. Henry James’s story “Sir Edmund Orme” was first published in the same publication of magazine.
2. James wrote a letter to F. W. H. Myers claiming that “The Turn of the Screw is a very mechanical matter, I honestly think—an inferior, a merely pictorial, subject and rather a shameless pot-boiler” (quoted in Fagin, [pg. 199]).
a. By using the word “potboiler,” James insinuates that his work was subordinate to the fact that he wrote it for the money.
b. Although this evidence is inconclusive, we can assume that James did not put in the extra effort to make Turn of the Screw more than simply a ghost story. And if he did have something more in mind, then he would have been intentionally contradicting himself.
3. In Martha Banta’s book Henry James and the Occult, she discusses James’ enthusiasm for the supernatural: “Between 1881 and 1898 James was exposed to the excitements and controversies stirred up by the Society for Psychical Research.
a. He found new ways of viewing, and expressing, what he had intuited almost from the first about the special nature of psychic sensitivity” (Banta, 7).
b. Banta continued, James had two decades of invested time and says he had had enough exposure to the psychical world to express his beliefs through literature.
c. Throughout her book, we can see the connections between James’s “shameless potboiler” and his elation with ghosts. This is an important source for supporting the argument that this paper will make.
4. Whatever the truth is, it is clearly important to think of James’s contemporary readers. Who, at the time, was reading Collier’s Magazine
a. Cultural documents and illustrations help draw conclusions about this who read and learned.
b. Although accessing this specific history, such as who read the magazine and what beliefs were held wide spread, was difficult, it was not too challenging to really read into the more recent adaptations of this novel through the popular culture.
Twentieth Century Popular Culture
When looking at some of the many interpretations of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, it is significant to note that the majority of them have actual apparitions. Since the book’s publication in 1898, there have been stage, film, and radio versions to account for. A very notable film rendition of the novel is Jack Clayton’s The Innocents in 1961. According to Peter Hutchings,
“Clayton’s next film was an adaptation of Henry James’ celebrated ghost story The Turn of the Screw. The Innocents is probably more significant an indicator…that would subsequently preoccupy the director…having already explored the psychological dimension of being haunted, it was time to experience the supernatural film.” (197-198)
This is very important in that is shows Clayton having already exercised the psychological aspect of the ghost story. Hutchings discusses Clayton’s first movie dealing in psychological terms but continues to show that Clayton has tired of this type of story and ready for a supernatural tale. Clayton saw James’s story and agreed with many popular culture artists that this is a great story revolving around the terror of actual ghosts.
Another, more recent film of The Turn of the Screw is the 2001 movie “The Others.” The entire DVD could be placed in comparison to the novel. However, there are key moments that need much attention. The opening or introduction giving credits has still paintings. One painting that flashes up is an eerie sun set with a misty glow, and the two children stand next to a tree and look to the horizon. The T. Griffiths painting, which again was probably a basis for the novel, has a very similar effect. A creepy tree with a boy and a girl cannot be denied as a likeness. Another picture comes up in the introduction of the movie: a large, daunting house sits in the distance, over looking a lake and great yard, which matches perfectly to “The Haunted House.”
Staying with “The Others” but moving from the painting, we watch and hear Nicole Kidman’s character, Grace, say, “The housework has been rather neglected since the servants disappeared almost a week ago.” The new servant, Mrs. Mills asks if they have vanished and Grace replies, “Into thin air.” Just like The Turn of the Screw, the previous caregivers have left with no explained reason. A few scenes later, Grace shows the new servants a piano and makes a point to keep the children off it. This is a bit different from the book, as Miles is a beautiful piano player, but it is included in the movie nonetheless. The next scene shows the female servant exclaiming that they do not need to see the whole house, but of course Grace finds that rather odd. We can compare Mrs. Mills and Grace to Mrs. Grose and the Governess. There is not a definite boundary to whom plays what role, yet Mrs. Mills and Mr. Tuttle end up being ghosts.
Carolyn Abbate’s book is about operatic adaptations of such novels as The Turn of the Screw. Abbate claims that the unsung voice can be much stronger than what is actually said. She discusses that having lights and actual people as portrayals of ghosts is showing, without question, the presence of the supernatural. This shows us that any re-make of the novel, having lights or actual apparitions, is displaying the occurrence of ghosts.
When looking at other interpretations, there is a scholarly website that is of great use. The Britten-Pears website has significant references to the ghosts in Henry James’s book. There is an opera that tells the tale by cleverly using its chamber orchestra to signify the entry/exit of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, along with the changing of scenes. In this opera, Peter Quint actually talks to the audience and says, “I am the hidden life that stirs/ When the candle is out.” Clearly, this interpretation of the novel portrays the ghosts as actually physical apparitions and not just figments in the Governess’ mind. There are many pictures of plays on this website that have actually people as the ghosts and lights to signify them. The author of the page claims that there were no voices saying these were just in her imagination. A section devoted to recreating the ghost story in the opera explains all about making the audience believe in the ghosts and see them appear. There is much debate about whether James’s ghosts are real or just in the Governess’ imagination, but one thing holds strong: Countless readings and interpretations of The Turn of the Screw have the supernatural world at heart.
The psycho analytics tend to read the story in that valid way because it is interesting to pick apart little scenes for anything that can support their theory. Nevertheless, we can assume, through evidence such as the pot-boiler, that James wrote this novel for money and personal satisfaction, and that he did not take the time to make it much more.
5. James’s past allows for a strong psychoanalytic reading, yet his interests in ghosts and reason for writing it proves more reliable.
a. The theory that the young narrator is an anxious case of sexual repression and that the ghosts are merely hallucinations is because it creates more of an impact (Parkinson, 7-18).
b. This perspective has a basis or reason for digging through the text (Katan, “the analysis did not offer much difficulty…”). Idea that James’s traumatic life has had an influence on his writing.
c. Previous point is good. However, James was interested in ghosts.
d. Brother was a supernatural expert and story came at time of great supernatural anticipation for James.
6. Many interpretations of the same work do not necessarily mean that one work must be wrong if the other is right.
a. “The difference between interpretations F and G is not the fact that they exist. What is striking is that these differences are perceived as opposites, representing two claims that mutually exclude each other” (Peer and Ewout, 695).
b. Classify incompatible interpretations as differences and not contradictions.
V. Professional Readings—Critics
Many critics have analyzed James’s story by using the “have it both ways” idea. The romantics, those who insist on taking the ghosts as supernatural, tend to fall in a completely different category than those who believe the governess is a caged up bottle of sex repression.
7. There is much desire and interest to revert to the old-fashioned thrills and sacred terror.
a. C.B. Ives article “James’s Ghosts in The Turn of the Screw,” shows yearning to portray ghosts and fear.
b. It is interesting that a critic from 1963 would say this because James was writing in a time of supernatural phenomena, yet Ives does say that he regrets “the loss, in the new ‘psychical’ type of ghost story” (185).
8. Being objective of the work helps to understand its meaning.
a. In reality, the ghosts are real but mean something else (perhaps reflections of the author’s mind) yet the ghosts are still there (Miall, 310).
The ghosts are key to this novel; nevertheless we should be analyzing them for their meaning and significance to interpretation. No matter what interpretations exist there is not necessarily a wrong answer to the question of “are the ghosts real?” James wrote The Turn of the Screw at a time when ghosts were interesting and terrifying. He wrote this for a magazine that wanted a solid ghost story, and James exclaimed that it was a moneymaker. Because it is so arguable, it is safe to conclude that this debate will not soon be forgotten.
Works Cited Primary Source
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Ed. Peter G. Biedler. 2nd Ed. Bedford: St. Martin’s, (2004).
Abbate, Carolyn. Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical Narrative in the Nineteenth Century. New Jersey: Princeton University, 1996.
Banta, Martha. Henry James and the Occult: The Great Extension. Bloomington, UK: Indiana University Press, 1972.
Britten and Pears. “Featured Work – The Turn of the Screw, Op. 54.”Britten-Pears Foundation 2007. 12 Mar 2007. works/screw.html>
Fagin, N. Bryllion. “Another Reading of The Turn of the Screw.” Modern Language Notes. 56 (March, 1941): 196-202.
Hutchings, Peter. “Screen Online: Jack Clayton.” British Film Institute (2003): 10 April 2007. < http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/502488/index.html>
Ives, C.B. “James’s Ghosts in The Turn of the Screw.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction 18.2 (1963): 183-189.
Katan, M. “The Origin of The Turn of the Screw.” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing. (1966): 15 April 2007. < http://pep-web.org/document.php?id=psc.021.0583a>
Miall, David S. “Designed Horror: James’s Vision of Evil in The Turn of the Screw.” Nineteenth Century Fiction 39.3 (1984): 304-325.
Parkinson, Edward J. “Apparitionists vs. Non-apparitioinists: 1934-1948.” The Turn of the Screw: A History of Its Critical Interpretations 1898-1979. Macomb, IL: Illinois University, 2003.
Peer, Willie van and Ewout van der Knaap. “(In)compatible Interpretations? Contrasting Readings of The Turn of the Screw.” MLN 110.4 (1995): 692-710.
Petry, Alice Hall. “Henry James Issue.” Modern Language Studies. 13 (Autumn, 1983): 61-78. 8323%2913%3A4%3C61%3AJP%22EA%22%3E2.0.CO%3B2-G>
The Others. Dir. Alejandro Amenabar. Perf. Nicole Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan. DVD. Dimension Films, 2001.
1 Complete files of this magazine found at Library of Congress of Yale University Library.