Turn of the Screw
Chapter V - The Influence of Structuralism: 1958-1969
1. Analyses of Narrative Techniques: Jones, West, Rubin, Costello, Enck
We have seen that the period from 1949 through 1957 was dominated by the figures of Wilson and Heilman, as the best critics strove to effect syntheses of these two giants' competing sets of insights--respectively, psychoanalytic and theological readings of the story. So persuasive and so obviously valid were the two sets of insights that few critics of stature could produce interpretations affirming exclusively one side of the controversy.
During the next period under discussion we find a continuation of this pattern with important modifications. One of the most important of these modifications, as Kimbrough points out, is an increasing "emphasis on technique rather than content" (235) in critical analyses of the story. Increasingly, that is, critics, following the lead broached by Edel in his discussion of the novella in The Psychological Novel--published in 1955--concentrated less on deriving philosophical themes which would integrate the psychoanalytic and theological readings and more on studying the ways in which the ambiguity had been produced by the author--through a study of his narrative techniques--and the effects of such ambiguity on the reader's experience of the text. Thus, the ambiguity tended to be cited as worthy of study in its own right--not merely as a pointer to some theme. This tended to produce two kinds of criticism--genre criticism and reader-response criticism. The former tended to be mixed with source studies as critics looked at the literary influences James had employed and the ways in which he had modified them to produce this piece of artistry--with its ambiguous undertones. These ambiguities were often seen as results of patterns of various exponents from sources as diverse as novels, plays, the writings of psychiatrists such as Freud, Charcot, Janet, and Parish, and the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. Sometimes, other writings by James were included as sources which appeared in modified form in the The Turn of the Screw--and thus, the door was opened to a resurgence of that authorial criticism which seeks to understand more fully a particular literary work by studying the author's entire canon. This naturally led to a new emphasis on speculations about the author's intentions as realized in the construction of the literary work.
Alexander E. Jones, in 1958, followed Edel in emphasizing the importance of the narrative "frame" of the novella--i.e., the three interrelated narrators-- the anonymous guest, Douglas, and the anonymous governess.
Jones interprets the story in a traditional, non-Freudian manner--holding that the ghosts are objectively existing entities from which the governess wished to save the children. He credits her with a partial victory at the story's end: "...Flora has been removed from the corrupting atmosphere of Bly: and, although Miles is dead, his heart has been dispossessed" (122). The incompleteness of her victory is attributable not to any fault of hers but to the overwhelming power of the evil she has been forced to fight. Admitting that she has some defects--of the kind which critics such as Lydenberg have cited (pride, bad judgment, etc.)--Jones denies that she wants the ghosts to be there and insists that "her all-too-human frailty should not blind the reader to her great accomplishment. Standing resolutely at her own little Armageddon, she has routed the forces of evil" (122). Those traits which critics such as Lydenberg have taken as evidence against her Jones takes as evidence of her honesty--since she included them in her record of events.
Jones, in arguing for his interpretation of the story, relies mainly on evidence of two kinds: the text itself, which he interprets in a New Critical manner, and evidence of James's intentions which he discerns from an examination of the author's statements about the work in the Preface to the New York Edition and in correspondence about the novella. In these respects his methodology resembles the phenomenological criticism of Kenton. Like Kenton, he seems to see the text as an enigmatic message from the author and the critic's task as a deciphering of the message the author intended to convey. His understanding of this intention is, of course, very different from Kenton's. He is also similar to Kenton in his overriding interest in fully experiencing--not only intellectually but also emotionally--those effects the author intended to convey. Jones differs from Kenton, however, in his additional emphasis on an objective examination of the narrative structure of the work as an aid to the understanding of the author's intended effects. Hence his emphasis on the prologue.
Jones does not use the material in the prologue "against" the governess, however, as do critics such as Goddard and Rubin. Instead, he sees this often used device of "story within a story" as intended to produce a greater verisimilitude--as the reader is drawn into "the circle around the fire" with Douglas and his Christmas guests. Furthermore, such a device, suggests Jones, can "establish an illusion of reality" (112) by distancing the author from the improbable supernatural events to be related. "The skeptic may scoff at the ghosts, the haunting, the sorcery: but James answers--here is the `document'" (112-113). Furthermore, Douglas can "set the stage" for the governess. Thus, the prologue, which has so often been used to support non-apparitionist readings, Jones uses to support an apparitionist reading.
The all-pervasive ambiguity of the story Jones sees as the result of a rendition by a first person narrator who is not omniscient. As she reasons from incomplete evidence, according to Jones, she involves the reader in her story--and the effects of suspense and fear are thereby necessarily heightened. Jones also admits a pervasive ambiguity about the precise evil of the ghosts and suggests that part of the horror arises as the reader is forced to fill in the blanks from his own experience--i.e., "imagine the details for himself" (118). Inconsistently, however, he then criticizes Freudian critics for their "excessive ingenuity" (117) in so doing--citing, for instance, Freudian counters to the apparitionist "identification scene" argument which, he believes, illegitimately go outside the text by assuming, for example, that Flora described Quint to the governess before the first appearance (Cargill's position) or that the governess learned about Quint from trips to the nearby village (Silver's position) (121).
Also, Jones--in stating that the governess cannot be a "pathological liar" because then everything in the story would be subject to disbelief and James would be "violating the rules of the craft" (122)--fails to appreciate Edel's suggestion that the story, with its unreliable narrator, is, perhaps, representative of a new genre, the "psychological novel," which might have new "rules."
We find this same emphasis on technique rather than content in the criticism of Muriel West. In her outstanding article, "The Death of Miles in the Turn of the Screw," West suggests that the physical violence of the governess is the cause of Miles's death and that, in the final scene of the story, the governess succumbs to possession by Quint. West concentrates, in advancing this thesis, on a close analysis of "the governess's method of telling her story" as she relates the final happenings between herself and Miles:
Anent this, in New Critical style, she cites other evidence from the text--pertaining, for example, to the apparent physical size and strength of the governess. West also details numerous ambiguities of language (pronoun references, for example, which are unclear) to demonstrate that the governess may be possessed throughout the story, may become possessed at the end as Miles becomes dispossessed, and may be responsible for killing Miles.
West reminds us of how, early in the final encounter, the governess "`sprang straight up, reduced... to the mere blind movement of getting hold of him, drawing him close...'" and, in the process "`fell for support against the nearest piece of furniture...'" (283). Reminding us of how the governess "enfolds him, draws him close - and so close she can feel `in the sudden fever of his little body the tremendous pulse of his little heart,'" West suggests that
Pointing to the governess's admission that, during the conversation about his difficulties at school, she "`for pure tenderness - shook him as if to ask him why, if it was all for nothing, he had condemned [her] to months of torment,'" West suggests that "her shaking is vigorous enough to cause him pain that is physical rather than mental" and that this is why the boy looks "`in vague pain all around the top of the room' and draws `his breath, two or three times over, as if with difficulty'" (285). West also directs our attention to "Miles's white face, the dew of sweat on his forehead..." (285).
Toward the end of the encounter, West points out, the governess tell us more about what she has been saying than about what she has been doing.
That the governess succumbs to possession, West maintains, is suggested by numerous syntactical ambiguities.
Later in the encounter, "the ambiguities become even more complex - well-nigh indecipherable." West directs our attention to the following passage "as a supreme example of James's `amusement' in creating reader wonder with ambiguity...": "`What does he matter now, my own? - what will he ever matter? I have you,' I launched at the beast, `but he has lost you forever!' Then, for the demonstration of my work, `there there!' I said to Miles." West points out that the governess "uses the word `launched' in a way that could be construed as a speech-label meaning `said vigorously,' or as an action-word meaning `threw myself.'" Even more importantly, however,
West is at pains to argue that these ambiguities have been deliberately created. In so doing she considers other fictional works in the Jamesian canon, comparing the governess's physical behavior with that of the haunted Spencer Brydon in "The Jolly Corner" (287-288) and contrasting the "good health and sound heart" of Miles, "which are never questioned in the tale," with "James's other stories concluding with the death of the young boy (`The Pupil' and `The Author of Beltraffio')" in which "we are prepared by earlier accounts of the boy's health to accept his final death" (283). She also cites statements James made about the story, particularly his designation of the novella (in a letter to Paul Bourget) as "an exercise in the art of not appearing to oneself to fail" (286) and his distinction (in the Preface to Volume 12 of the New York Edition) between the governess's "crystalline...record of so many intense anomalies and obscurities" and "her interpretation of them, a different matter" (283).
West does not attempt to derive any psychological, philosophical, or theological messages from the ambiguities she has divined--the all-pervasive ambiguity is there for its own sake:
This, however, is not West's intention - her aim is only to demonstrate an irreducible ambiguity and show how James produced it.
Louis D. Rubin bluntly declares that "the whole point about the puzzle is its ultimate insolubility" ("One More Turn" 328) and proceeds to shed what light he can on the manner in which James has constructed this "insoluble" conundrum, developing in the process the possible identity between Douglas and Miles which Collins had suggested.
Rubin, however, calls attention to one important additional point, a syntactical ambiguity in Douglas's statement "It was long ago, and this episode was long before." Rubin suggests that the "episode" may not be the twenty-year-old governess's relationship with Miles and Flora, but, rather, her interaction with Douglas when he met her during his summer vacation from Trinity.
Rubin suggests that, if the real story is the encounter between the governess and Douglas rather than the ghostly encounters recorded in her manuscript, the latter might be seen as an allegorical account
In other words, "the story Douglas reads, supposedly about another little boy and the governess, is in fact about him" (318). This possibility would later, in 1979, be developed at greater length by Sr. Marcella M. Holloway, C.S.J. Holloway, however, argues that Douglas is Miles in order to call attention to what she perceives to be the psychological and philosophical themes of the novella--"the tragedy of love repressed," as well as the destructiveness of that neurotic love with which the governess envelopes Miles and which she would have inflicted on Douglas, to her own detriment as well as his, had their love evolved into an overt relationship. Holloway's emphasis, accordingly, is on the themes of the work rather than on the ambiguous effects themselves. Rubin, in contrast, is not interested in searching for philosophical or psychological insights but, rather, in demonstrating that, if we accept the possible identity of Douglas and Miles, "the whole basis for believing in the governess's narrative is seriously undercut" (318) and the tale's ambiguity is all-pervasive.
Collins's article had concentrated exclusively on the possible identity of Douglas and Miles. Rubin, however, includes this possible identity as one item in as long list of examples of elements in the narrative which, taken together, demonstrate "what a master James was at the deliberate creation of ambiguity with the very syntax of his prose..." (326). Rubin cites apparent "lies" told by the governess: her assertion to Mrs. Grose in chapter seven that "Flora saw" Miss Jessel across the lake, which appears to contradict the account in chapter six; her later description of "the portentous little activity by which [Flora] sought to divert attention" from the apparition, which contradicts her earlier description of Flora's absorption in the task in making a boat out of two pieces of wood; her identification of the man looking through the window --whom she describes in detail - with the man previously seen on the tower at twilight when they were "too far apart to call to one another" and thus, when "to have made out such details would be... too remarkable for anyone to believe" (323); her assertion to Mrs. Grose in chapter sixteen that Miss Jessel had spoken in the schoolroom, which contradicts the preceding chapter's description of her encounter with the silent specter. Rubin also, in discussing the death of Miles, cites an interesting ambiguity which West had missed:
Rubin does not suggest, however, that the points he has made add up to a conclusive interpretation of the story. Douglas may or may not be Miles--the similarities and syntactical ambiguities suggest but do not prove. Flora may have seen Jessel and then turned her back to the water, or the governess - after seeing the apparition--may have seen the little girl looking across the lake and then may have omitted the latter observation from her account in chapter six, or she may have known through extrasensory perception that Flora perceived Miss Jessel. Similarly, she may, in the schoolroom, have been able to read the apparition's mind so accurately that the ghost might as well have spoken--hence, perhaps, her ambiguous "It came to that." All of these possible conjectures demonstrate that "the whole story is to be doubted, and we can be certain of nothing" (326). This is why "we have had theory after theory proposed as the answer ... and there is still no single explanation which satisfies everyone" (314).
Rubin, like so many other critics, cites passages from James's writings about The Turn of the Screw and refers to patterns elsewhere in James's fictional canon to prove that a particular reading of the story is in accord with the author's intentions. Thus, commenting on the striking similarities between Douglas and Miles, Rubin opines that "we can usually assume that when Henry James does something in a novel, he has a reason for doing so" (319). He relates the governess's misleading statements to the rest of James's canon:
Rubin--like Kenton, Edel, Collins, and Levy, among others--attempts to peek into James's psyche as the author imagined his readers' reactions to the story he was creating:
Rubin does not, however, turn the doorknob he seems to have brushed against--he does not, like Edel and Levy, psychoanalyze James to discover hidden motives for the wish to effect such ambiguity. Instead, he portrays James simply as an artful entertainer rejoicing in the creation of a new form of entertainment: a ghost story which "has led us along first one trail and then another, until finally we have doubled back upon ourselves and are just where we started" (326).
Indeed, Rubin seems uninterested in opening any philosophical, theological, or psychological doors. He seems to accept Poe's assumptions that the purpose of art is entertainment and the critical task is to point out in what way and how well the purpose has been achieved. His article ends with praise for the work as eminently successful entertainment:
Rubin adopts a similar approach to the novella in The Teller and the Tale, asserting that James
Rubin's emphasis in this study is on the construction of various narrative voices and their relationship to their authors. His point here is that James "schemed to present a conjuncture" by constructing a narrator who "did not know how to conceal what she had to conceal if we were to believe her" (101).
Donald P. Costello, too, declined to take sides in the dispute between apparitionists and non-apparitionists--maintaining that such debates arise from an irreducible ambiguity which the author has deliberately embedded in the very structure of the story in order to produce in the reader a dual effect of mystification and terror. Costello's purpose, accordingly, is not to affirm one side or the other of that controversy because such
Costello does not attempt to derive any philosophical or other themes from this irreducible ambiguity. His purpose, rather, is to demonstrate "that a close examination of the structure of The Turn of the Screw will indicate that James so built his tale as to make it both to puzzle the reader and to horrify him..." (312). In other words, Costello is interested in narrative structure rather than meaning.
Costello contends that "this double effect" is engendered by the juxtaposition of factual "representations"--including accurate statements of what the governess sees--and dubious "interpretations" of these data--statements, for example, that her visions are supernatural rather than hallucinatory. Accordingly, "scenes in which the governess represents the action usually result in horror; scenes in which the governess interprets the action usually result in mystification" (313). While the latter are "in James' words, `challengeable' (313), the former are "exceedingly specific and detailed" so that they are likely to be "accepted as real and hence horrible..." (319). Most helpfully, Costello provides a detailed chart consisting of "a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire book according to representational and interpretive scenes" (319).
Costello provides another chart to show how the various incidents fit together in an interrelated and suspenseful pattern. This chart divides the story into "thirteen... sequences of structure" (314). In each sequence an incident and its interpretation are preceded by a "foretelling" or introduction by the governess and followed by some plan of action which connects the sequence to later events in the story.
The first sequence, for example, concerns the governess's receipt of the letter stating that Miles will not be allowed to return to his boarding school. The "foretelling" is as follows: "The first day had been, on the whole, as I have expressed, reassuring, but I was to see it wind up to a change of note." The incident--the result of the letter--is followed by her interpretation--first she concludes that Miles must be "an injury to the others" and then is merely bewildered. Her plan is "not to mention the letter to the Master or to Miles but simply to `see it out'" (315). This fourfold structure obtains throughout the first twelve "sequences"; in the thirteenth sequence, however, the emotional confrontation between Miles and the governess is followed, not by interpretation, but by the final incident--the death of Miles. "For the first time," in other words,
We find this same emphasis on technique rather than content in Muriel West's brilliant book-length source study, A Stormy Night with The Turn of the Screw. In this work West's fictional narrator discovers in the novella a bewildering plethora of sources and other "literary influences."
For example, the narrator discerns in the story "the most characteristic, the most typical, of the stock situations and devices of the gothic" (5) which seem to be exaggerated "in the Northanger Abbey tradition" (14) but which, on closer inspection, are "not what one might expect in a satire in the Northanger Abbey tradition" because "they are too accurate, too clinical..." (23).
Similarly, the narrator calls attention to various biblical motifs but, upon closer examination, realizes that their inclusion in the story raises questions without providing answers. There are, for instance, elements suggestive of the First Book of Samuel stories about David and Saul and the Witch of Endor (recall that the governess compares Miles playing the piano for her to "David playing for Saul") which seem to be deliberately inserted into the novella but which engender
Likewise, the abnormal silences and distortions of the normal experience of time which characterize her visions are reminiscent of "old accounts of prophets, saints, monks and witches who `saw things' or `heard voices,'" including "the other Saul (the one whose names was changed to Paul on his conversion)" and "John of Patmos who witnessed the opening of the seventh seal... after `silence in heaven about the space of half an hour'" (21-22). These silences and time distortions, however, also suggest as possible sources the pathological experiences recorded in psychological and psychiatric writings such as Freud and Breuer's Studies in Hysteria, Braid's Neurypnology, or the Rationale of Nervous Sleep, and, of course, William James's Principles of Psychology (320-329).
Finally, to add to the confusion, the "scientific" sources include not only material concerning psychopathology but also the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research and, indeed, "all the thinking of the Gay Nineties on unexplained phenomena... men like Myers, Podmore, and Gurney--not to mention Henry James's brother William.." (33-35). Furthermore, in addition to "scientific" material concerning the supernatural, the narrator finds traces of "elves and fairies from folklore and Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream" (53-60).
After compiling this large combination of "sources" and "influences," the narrator at last concludes that no thematic pattern can be conveyed--that, instead--we have in The Turn of the Screw a dream--a nightmare perhaps--the reality of which exceeds what psychoanalysts would call its manifest content--although West does not use that terminology:
The dream, however, is not only the reader's dream but also the governess's dream--and here, in her discussion of James's technique, West adds a novel twist--"another turn," if you will. For at least some of the literary influences--the Gothic effects, in particular, are referred to in the governess's discussion of her reading (she mentions The Mystery of Udolpho, for example). Thus, part of the ambiguity arises, West suggests, from the contrast between what may really have happened at Bly and the governess's interpretations stemming from her "already lively imagination" (7) which has been "stimulated by long sessions of reading, to satisfy the `curiosity of her youth,' about the horrible villainy of mankind" (9). The prologue, then, becomes important in understanding
John J. Enck, too, considers the novella's ambiguities to be both irreducible and inherent in its structure. He, therefore, urges us to "read The Turn of the Screw not to discern whether the governess either tells objectively what happens or occasionally deceives herself but, rather simultaneously for both likelihoods" (262).
Enck agrees with Edel's contention in The Psychological Novel that The Turn of the Screw must be seen as a representative of a new genre in which ambiguity is deliberately engendered. He is thus, like Edel, an historical genre critic. Indeed, the failure to recognize to what genre The Turn of the Screw belongs is, in Enck's view, responsible for the long debate between apparitionists and non-apparitionists. Enck, however, takes Edel's point a step further--seeing the novella not only as a representative of a new literary genre but as "part of an international revolt in aesthetics" (259) which included musicians, painters, and sculptors as well as writers. Accordingly, Enck compares the tale's ambiguity to that found in the opera Ariadne auf Naxos and, in discussing the ambiguities of The Turn of the Screw, employs similes from both music and sculpture. In discussing the interaction between the children and the governess he suggests that
In a similar vein, Enck suggests,
Enck does not, like West in A Stormy Night, pinpoint numerous literary sources for the novella. He would, however, be sympathetic to West's approach; for the "intended revolt in aesthetics" (259) to which he calls attention was founded, he contends, on
Accordingly, Enck would be neither surprised nor disturbed by the bewildering variety of "sources"--from the bible to Gothic novels to the writings of psychoanalysts and parapsychologists--which West's fictional narrator divined in The Turn of the Screw and by the failure of these diverse elements to fit together in a coherent thematic pattern. Such "futile squabbles" over themes, says Enck, arise from unhistorical readings which assume "that twentieth-century artists just perpetuate, often less effectually, outlooks inherited from the nineteenth" (260). We see here also, as in West's book, the influence of one of the central ideas of structuralism--that the world of literature is self-contained and self-referential.
In his discussion of James's technique, Enck isolates in the narrative "four strata," a distinction to Costello's representation-interpretation dichotomy. Enck lists these levels as follows:
Thus, as so many other critics--among them, Rubin and Trachtenberg-have pointed out, a great part of the story's effect lies in reversals of the reader's expectations. Enck summarizes the governess's presentation in this way:
The following are representative examples of the "slight but indicative details" which infect the governess's narrative with an "evasive duplicity":
Enck's criticism is expressly technical rather than thematic. In his view the work "...needs no excuse beyond its aesthetic perfection" (268). Perhaps paradoxically, however, Enck seems to find a philosophical lesson precisely in the story's refusal to yield a definitive reading--i.e., in the very intractability of its ambiguity:
2. Criticism Reflecting the Structuralist View of Literature as an Isolated and Self-Referential World
A: Heilman, 1961
Enck, we have seen, considered other artistic works--such as the opera Ariadne auf Naxos--without constructing a source study. He did not argue that James consciously or unconsciously drew upon these particular works in constructing the novella but rather that the work can be understood as the product of a certain cultural milieu which can be known through its various artistic productions and that the elements shared by many artistic works of a period can shed considerable light on any particular work. We have suggested that one origin of this approach is the structuralist view of the world of art--and, particularly, the world of literature--as isolated and self-referential. Whatever its cause, this type of criticism becomes increasingly prevalent in the 60's and 70's. We will consider only a few outstanding examples.
In 1961 Heilman reiterated the arguments he had previously made against the non-apparitionist position, accusing Wilson and other Freudians of "an ignoring of such objective facts as Miles's wrongdoing at school and the governess' obvious good health after the events of the story," as well as a certain disingenuousness in that "the new knowledge that sexuality influences many nonsexual activities is applied eagerly to the governess but not at all to Miles and Flora" (347). Once again, Heilman contended that this Freudian bias arose from certain culturally induced preconceptions on the part of critics--in particular,
Because of the failure of these and similar arguments to settle the critical controversy, Heilman suggests the "presentation of new evidence." Since "new direct evidence--testimony as to author's purpose and so on--is not likely to show up" (348), Heilman turns to another type of evidence.
In Duerrenmatt's novel The Pledge a hitherto stolid, cold detective named Matthai--called by his colleagues Matt the Automat--is profoundly affected by the sex murder of a pre-pubescent girl and, particularly, by the devastation of the parents when informed of the crime. He makes a "pledge" to the girl's mother to find the murderer and then becomes possessed by his obsession. Although a peddler who has been previously convicted of molesting a fourteen year old girl confesses to the murder, the evidence against him is inconclusive, and Matthai is convinced the real murderer is still at large. A friend of the deceased reveals that the victim had spoken of meeting a "giant" for some time in a secluded place and had drawn a picture of him. Matthai takes the picture to a psychiatrist and then, on the basis of a psychological profile of the killer and clues from two similar unsolved murders in neighboring cantons, forms a detailed hypothesis as to how the killer will strike again. Having left the police force (the authorities are determined to close the case), Matthai sets a trap for the killer by purchasing a gas station on a highway he thinks the man will eventually use and setting as "bait" the daughter of a prostitute he has brought in to live with him. This plan is conceived, of course, without the knowledge of the child or her mother.
After months of waiting, Matthai learns from the young girl's teacher that Annemarie has recently been absent from school without his or her mother's knowledge. He finds expensive chocolate in her possession, which she claims, unbelievably, to have received from an unidentified child her own age. Under further questioning, she admits she has been secretly meeting a "wizard" in an isolated dale. Matthai then tells her to continue meeting the "nice wizard"; meanwhile he and some of his former police colleagues secretly trail her and, for over a week, secretly watch her while she sits in the dale singing in apparent anticipation of the "wizard" who never arrives. Out of patience, they finally violently question and even beat the uncommunicative child. The child's mother then arrives and, upon learning Matthai's motive for befriending her and her daughter, denounces him as "swine." No more murders of the same type occur, so Matthai's theory that the murderer was alive and planning to strike again appears to be disconfirmed. Another detective points out that "anyone can give a child chocolate." The child's story about the "wizard" can be plausibly explained by the "fairy tales" Matthai has been constantly telling the child for months in order to keep her close to him so that he can watch her.
Years later, however, a wealthy old woman summons another detective to her hospital death bed and reveals that her deceased husband, thirty-two years her junior and previously her servant, had committed the other three murders and was secretly seeing Annemarie before being killed in a car accident. The man exactly fits the psychological profile sketched by the psychiatrist--he is a man sexually exploited by an older woman, fearful of confronting adult females, and filled with a murderous hatred of the female sex. Accordingly, says the detective, while Matthai was not "a Biblical figure, a kind of modern Abraham in the greatness of his hope and faith," neither was he "someone who searches for a non-existent murderer because he believes in the innocence of a guilty man..." (157) but rather a genius who became overconfident and failed to "reckon with the inevitable fractures and distortions of human reason," failed to realize that "there is this element of incalculability, of chance," (160-161) in human life. Instead, "the man degenerated mentally, physically, morally, became a sot. There was no helping him, no changing him" (150). Years later, Matthai, now "an old man," sits in his gas station, still waiting for the murderer--"his face transfigured by an insuperable faith," repeating over and over, "I'll wait, I'll wait, he will come, he will come" (10).
Nevertheless, the detective narrator insists that Matthai was a genius, not merely a deluded fool. For he rightly recognized the persistence of an evil which continued long after his colleagues had closed the case. He "fathomed the factors of reality which were hidden to the rest of us, fathomed them to such an extent that he broke through the theories and assumptions which tripped us up and penetrated close to those laws which we ordinarily never get at, and which keep the world in motion. Only close to them, of course" (160). Striking parallels between this novella and The Turn of the Screw, according to Heilman, reinforce his view that the ghosts are real, evil entities and that the governess is a savior, albeit not a completely effective one.
Both stories, for example, feature "adults practicing the seduction of children...creating a kind of fidelity to the destroyer that seems to cut off an incipient sense of wrongness in the situation." There is, further,
Thus, Quint's "spoiling" of Miles can be compared to the killer's offers of candy. The children's secret meetings with the killer suggest
Even more interestingly, however, Heilman discerns in both novellas the pathos of a child's only partial consent to the threatening evil. Here the comparisons are striking.
Heilman finds that "Duerrenmatt and James are even alike in their imagination of the evil enemy." The psychopath and Quint, of course, are similar in social position. Durrenmatt's psychopath "hates women and seeks revenge against them," while Quint and Jessel "want to `get hold of' the children and make them share their own infernal `torments'..." The "demonic lures" of both Durrenmatt's killer and James's ghosts can be seen as
Heilman also points out striking similarities between the final appearance of Jessel at the lake and the failure of the killer to appear with Annemarie in the dale before the eyes of Matthai and his colleagues. There is, first of all,
Even more importantly, however, according to Heilman, in each case the main character's vision of evil appears to be disconfirmed, even though the vision is true.
Finally, the questionable morality of Matthai's plan to use an innocent child as "bait," according to Heilman, is similar to the failings of the governess-- particularly, her "go-it-alone hubris which, we cannot doubt, reduces the effectiveness that added help might have given her battle." We see in both cases, Heilman suggests, not the portrayal of a self-deluded mental case but rather
The parallels which Heilman points out are certainly striking. They suggest, however, an interpretation considerably less laudatory of the governess than Heilman's famous 1948 article, and this point Heilman does not make. Also, Heilman does not consider a highly plausible alternative explanation of the similarities he cites--namely, that Durrenmatt used The Turn of The Screw as a source in the construction of his novella. If he did so, he could certainly have changed the material considerably in the process of incorporating it into his own creation. The fact, therefore, that Durrenmatt's detective pursues a truly existing killer would not prove that James's heroine pursues objectively existing ghosts. It would be reasonable to assume that a writer as erudite as Durrenmatt had read The Turn of the Screw. The possibility of such deliberate conscious or unconscious incorporation is, accordingly, very real.
Ignace Feuerlicht takes a somewhat similar approach in "Erlkonig and The Turn of the Screw." Feuerlicht succinctly states his point in the first paragraph of his essay:
Feuerlicht thus appears to be presenting not a source study, but rather a consideration of the kind of "new evidence" which Heilman offered in his comparison of James and Durrenmatt1. Feuerlicht, however, confuses the issue in two ways. First, he states that
Such an allusion by James in a critical preface would seem to imply that he used the work as a source. Secondly, in discussing the "strong link between beauty and perversion" in The Turn of the Screw and Goethe's ballad, Feuerlicht makes the following statement:
This "curious similarity of names" would seem to suggest that the Shakespearean play was used as a source. If the novelist's use of sources can explain why the novel and the play contain similar erotic material, why can this explanation not account for corresponding similarities between the novella and Goethe's ballad? There is, of course, another possible explanation which Feuerlicht does not consider--namely, that both Goethe and James used A Midsummer Night's Dream as a source. That possibility casts serious doubt on interpretations of either work which are based on similarities to the other work. It is possible that both James and Goethe used the same material but in very different ways.
Most of the similarities Feuerlicht cites appear too general to shed light on the interpretation of either work--in this respect his essay is inferior to Heilman's. We are told, for example, that
We are also reminded of the "sudden and mysterious death" of a child in each work and of the "abrupt ending" of each (74). Similarly, two biographical details are presented which, although interesting, shed no great light on the interpretation of either literary work:
Feuerlicht's most important point--that the supernatural entitles are real--is assumed in regard to both stories but proven in regard to neither. Feuerlicht's most cogent argument is overstated and far from conclusive:
Feuerlicht does, however, point to an interesting parallel in the critical reception of the two works:
Comparison of the critical reception of two or more literary works can lead to valuable insights about the works themselves, about a particular period of literature or about literature in general, about the literary criticism of certain periods, or about the broader cultural milieu from which such criticism proceeds. Feuerlicht, however, unfortunately does not pursue any of these lines of development.
Wayne C. Booth adopts a more fruitful approach in The Rhetoric of Fiction. Here he takes note of other works to explain not The Turn of the Screw itself but much of the criticism of the novella.
Booth--like Jones, Hoffmann, and others--sees the governess as generally reliable, although not perfect:
That so many critics have thought otherwise Booth takes as an example of a frequent error in twentieth-century criticism--namely, the fact that "the hunt for hidden symbols and ironies has been carried too far." Anent this, Booth cites Henry Miller's rejection of Edmund Wilson's inappropriate praise for a supposedly "skillful ironic portrait" in the Tropic books, Mary McCarthy's "amusing attack" on "the search by a Freshman English class for hidden meanings in a story of hers, when in actuality `the whole point of this story was that it really happened,'" and Saul Bellow's cautions against "deep reading" (367-369).
These critical excesses are inevitable, Booth contends, because of the nature of so much twentieth century fiction--e.g., Kafka and Joyce--"where the ironies are piled, thick and deep" (368). Moreover, these authors have influenced our reading processes to such an extent that such continuing critical excesses are inevitable.
Other critics, of course--most notably, Heilman in his 1947, 1948, and 1961 essays--have attempted to explain what they perceived as widespread biases on the part of critics. However, if we compare Booth's approach to that of Heilman and others, we discern an important difference which we might interpret as an accentuation of the trend toward viewing literature as a self-referential world. For Booth does not attribute these biases to philosophical or cultural preconceptions but to the specifically literary conventions to which these critics have been exposed.
We can see further evidence of this trend toward seeing literature as a self-referential world in the structure of Muriel West's A Stormy Night With The Turn of the Screw. For this work of literary criticism--really a hybrid mixture of fiction and criticism of fiction--is itself a novella the structure of which mirrors the structure of the novella it critiques. For West's critical speculations are presented in the form of a manuscript written by an anonymous critic to an "old friend and classmate, Baldy Twitchell" (vii) and edited by the anonymous critic's "discoverer and annotator who signs himself merely by initials-- H.K.Y." (vii). This critic's work and the comments made by H.K.Y. are presented to us, along with the additional comments about both the anonymous critic and H.K.Y., by the purchaser of a "box of miscellaneous old books bought at auction" (ix). Moreover, the anonymous critic's work is a narrative of his sequential speculations throughout a Christmas eve night and early Christmas morning in an old country house. Furthermore, H.K.Y. tells us he discovered this narrative "in the secret compartment of an antiquated brass and mahogany desk--found in the attic of an old house on W n Square" (xi). Moreover, the critic toward the end of the work claims to encounter the governess. Whether this is an hallucination, a dream, a tongue-in-cheek account, or a use of figurative language is not entirely clear. It follows other events faithfully recorded by the critic in which events first considered supernatural were shown to have natural causes. Consider this one amusing and representative example:
Thus, some of the experiences of the anonymous critic parallel those of the anonymous governess. His cogitations as to the meaning of the literary work mirror her speculations about the meaning of the "story" at Bly. His manuscript is kept in a locked drawer by H.K.Y. and then transcribed by another narrator, just as the governess's manuscript is kept by Douglas in a locked drawer and later transcribed and presented to us by another narrator, one of Douglas's friends. Our perception of the critic's account is qualified by the annotations of H.K.Y., and our perception of both the anonymous critic and H.K.Y. are qualified by the comments of the narrator who purchases the manuscript at auction; similarly, our perceptions of the governess's account are qualified by the background material given by Douglas, and our perceptions of both the governess and Douglas are modified by the context as related by the third narrator, Douglas's guest.
In chapter 2 of this study I discussed Heywood Broun's essay as a hybrid literary form partaking of the qualities of both literary criticism and fiction. Broun's essay purportedly detailed his own psychological reactions to the novella but in so overstated a manner that his essay must be considered at least partly fiction. West's work, of course,--with the relationships among its narrators mirroring the relationships among James's narrators--must be considered infinitely more sophisticated than Broun's. Furthermore, because of this complex mirroring of literary structures, West's work more than Broun's can be seen as a product of structuralism--particularly of the structuralist view of literature as a self-referential universe. Broun's work, on the other hand, can more realistically be seen as a product of phenomenology. He is driven to a semi-fictional expression not to mirror literary structures but to experience and make us experience the particular brand of terror he feels James intended to convey.
Erich Solomon's "The Return of the Screw" is a hybrid of a different form, a work not of fiction but of satire--specifically a spoof on the criticism of the story, "the classic controversies" and "the many refinements of Freudian, mythic, or pastoral readings James' story has received" (237). To critique the critics, of course, is itself an act of criticism of the story. By parodying the critics Solomon at least implies something about the novella--that it ought to be read more simply and straightforwardly, perhaps--although Solomon does not tell us straightforwardly what he considers a straightforward reading to be. Thus, in the act of mocking others, he commits the very sin which has aroused his scorn; and his criticism mirrors the criticism he writes about in a manner faintly analogous to the way in which West's novella mirrors the novella it critiques.
Solomon's thesis--that Mrs. Grose is the jealous villainess who deliberately drives the governess crazy--was later argued seriously by the psychiatrist C. Knight Aldrich, M.D. That Solomon is not serious becomes apparent as we ponder his overstatements--e.g.,
Solomon then proceeds to tell us how "Sherlock Holmes...would have cleared up the horrible crimes at Bly--for crimes they were--in an instant" by reflecting that Mrs. Grose, who has reason to be jealous of the governess, is the uncorroborated source of so much of the governess's information. We are told that "even Dr. Watson" (238)--later, "even Lestrade or Gregson" (245)--could have quickly perceived the truth which has eluded so many critics. We are invited to "read the governess' story with the care we would apply to, say, The Hound of the Baskervilles and watch the incredible become elementary" (238).
At least one of the functions of literature, of course, is entertainment, and Solomon's essay is certainly entertaining. As a matter of fact, critics who dislike James and Jamesian criticism might find Solomon superior to the novelist himself in this regard.
Krishna Baldev Vaid approvingly quotes Heilman's contention "`that a great deal of unnecessary mystery has been made of the apparent ambiguity of the story'" (122). He thus agrees with Booth's contention that many critics have misunderstood the story. However, while Booth attributes this misunderstanding to the influence of so many inherently ambiguous twentieth century narratives--e.g., the works of Kafka and Joyce--Vaid explains it as a failure to see The Turn of the Screw in the context of the entire Jamesian canon with its many other first person narrators. Vaid's criticism is thus frankly authorial. He assumes--in contrast to the New Critics, for example--that an element in one literary work can be better understood if considered in reference to other works by the same author. We can see here some reflection of the structuralist view of literature as a self-referential universe. Each author's canon is considered, in a sense, to be a distinct world with its own rules and criteria of meaning. Underlying such authorial criticism, it seems to me, is the assumption that we interpret a literary work by apprehending the author's conscious or unconscious intentions.
Vaid also, in seeking to apprehend these intentions, considers Wilson's argument "that in the New York Edition James placed `The Turn of the Screw' not among the ghost stories but between The Aspern Papers and The Liar" (93). Vaid disputes the significance of this placement but appears to accept Wilson's assumption that James's conscious or unconscious reasons for such a placement are relevant to the interpretation of the story.
Vaid discusses a large number of Jamesian works to make two points: (1) that the governess is not "the main subject of the story"--i.e., we are mistaken to conclude "that the intention of the story is primarily to portray her"; (2) that the governess is "unambiguously reliable." To support the first contention Vaid surveys the Jamesian canon and concludes "that the narrator...is used primarily as a method of telling the story." In support of the second point Vaid surveys the canon "to establish the governess' reliability as a witness in the context of James's practice in his other first-person tales" (91-92).
Vaid's discussion of the canon is far from cursory. He makes perceptive comments about Jamesian narrators which other critics--most notably, Wilson--have categorized as unreliable and the creator's main concern:
In The Aspern Papers, Vaid contends, "the intention of the author is unmistakably reflected in the very tone of the narrative and its denouement" (93).
Furthermore, says Vaid,
Again in contrast to Wilson, Vaid finds "The Friends of the Friends" to be
Vaid thus agrees with Wilson regarding the relevance of considering the entire canon in order to understand The Turn of The Screw but disagrees with Wilson concerning particular works and what they mean for The Turn of the Screw.
In his discussion of the story itself, Vaid is very close to Jones. Vaid contends that the prologue, with its two narrators, is intended to convey "the general idea that the ensuing tale is to be about two haunted children" (96) and to lead us to "identify ourselves with the receptive attitude of the suppositious company gathered round the fire on the Christmas Eve" (97). Its "most important function," however, is "to establish in the reader's mind an initial image of the governess's personality....This is done through the medium of Douglas..." Once again Vaid appeals to the totality of the canon, and once again, in doing so, he disagrees with Wilson:
(...there is no reason to suggest, as Wilson does, that `it is a not infrequent trick of James's to introduce sinister characters with descriptions that at first sound flattering.' As a matter of evidence, in no Jamesian prologue-tale is our impression of the second narrator in conflict with the impression given by the first narrator (97).)Vaid provides a detailed incident by incident discussion of the governess's narrative. Here he agrees with Jones that most, if not all, of the "ambiguity" in her account is there to heighten the reader's suspense as the reader discovers gradually, along with the governess, the full horror of the realities at Bly. Throughout the story, some evidence, such as the "beauty" of the children and their good behavior, seems to disconfirm the governess's interpretation.
Her conclusions, thus, from one vantage point, appear poorly supported. These conclusions, however,
Similarly, the governess's inclusion in her narrative of her frequent doubts concerning her sanity and the correctness of her course testify to her honesty and balanced view of herself.
Similar views have been expressed by other critics such as Jones and Eli Siegel.
Vaid's criticism focuses on technique rather than meaning. He does not, however, deny that its meaning is important. His "description," he tells us, "far from constricting the deeper meanings of the tale, should perhaps be the only point of departure for a fruitful probe into those deeper meanings" (122). But Vaid himself does not specify what those "deeper meanings" might be.
3. Ambiguity Intended to Convey Philosophical, Theological, or Psychological Themes
Stanley Trachtenberg, for example, accepts Rubin's arguments that Douglas and Miles are the same person and then proceeds to demonstrate how this shared identity functions as a vehicle for what Trachtenberg takes to be the novella's central moral message, the dreadfulness of secret sin and the overwhelming need for confession.
The real focus of the story, says Trachtenberg, is Miles, not the governess. The apparent centrality of the governess, he suggests, was James's technical way of solving "two salient" problems:
According to Trachtenberg, the novella is the story of "the guilt . . . of a boy whose unspecified corruption, personified as sinister specters, festered as he attempted to conceal it" (182). Trachtenberg contrasts Miles, who is continually "wanting to expose his own guilt and lacking the courage to do so" with Flora, whose "eventual damnation" as she "symbolically dies, an old woman," occurs because she "lacks entirely these moments of self doubt" (181). Miles's "recurrent insomnia," on the other hand,
In the prologue, Trachtenberg correctly points out, we see
Consequently, his story is
John A. Clair also attempts to demonstrate how a particular narrative method is intended to convey a certain theme. Clair focuses on
The purpose of these "formal or functional ironic effects" is the conveyance of a particular view of human life, which Clair terms "thematic irony" (x). Clair's criticism is authorial in that he attempts to understand the canon as a whole.
Clair's reading of The Turn of the Screw focuses on the governess's misinterpretation of those "intense anomalies and obscurities" which she witnesses. These misinterpretations, Clair suggests, are deliberately abetted by the deceptive Mrs. Grose (37-58). So far, so good. Aldrich and Rees (to be discussed later in this chapter) have done some good work in removing the "saintly" Mrs. Grose from her pedestal. Other critics--for example, Cole and Cranfill and Clark, among others--have concentrated on likely misunderstandings in the governess's conversations with Mrs. Grose. And, of course, many critics have suggested that the governess in some way misinterprets what she sees (Bontly, for example, suggests that the apparitions may be innocuous spirits).
Clair's specific reconstruction of the events at Bly, however, is breathtaking in its implausibility. He suggests that the children's insane mother is hidden at Bly, attended by a male guardian, without the knowledge of the new and strange governess but with the full knowledge of the completely trusted Mrs. Grose. Thus, the two figures seen by the governess are this insane woman, when she periodically escapes, and her guardian, who then looks for her. Mrs. Grose's stories are designed to keep the strange new governess from learning the truth, so as to protect the family from embarrassment. She denies seeing Miss Jessel on the other side of the lake in order to keep Flora, as well as the governess, in the dark.
The numerous and overwhelming objections to this interpretation are too obvious to need a detailed statement; nevertheless, a few brief comments are in order. There is so little in the story to support this interpretation that Clair, in effect, has written his own story. The apparitions in James's story quickly and mysteriously disappear--they do not leave the scene the way real people would. Furthermore, it would be highly unlikely in Victorian Britain that an insane woman would be assigned a male guardian. The employer, moreover, if he were so desirous of secrecy in such a matter, would be unlikely to leave the insane woman at Bly while placing an unknowledgeable stranger "in supreme authority." Aldrich has succinctly summed up some of the most telling objections to Clair's interpretation:
The Confidante in Henry James by Sister M. Corona Sharp, O.S.U. is, to some extent, a psychoanalytic study which focuses on the psyche of James himself. Sharp claims that his use of widowed or maiden older women as confidantes is at least partially traceable to the "matriarchal system" of the novelist's family of origin and its lifelong effects on his unconscious.
The resulting "crippling in the boy's development toward emotional maturity," suggests Sharp, goes far toward explaining both his lifelong bachelorhood and his asexual friendships with older women such as Edith Wharton and Grace Norton. These psychodynamic realities also partially explain his pervasive use of such women as confidantes to the protagonists in his fiction, although Sharp emphasizes James's debts to confidants in fictional works such as Wuthering Heights and his "study and practice of the drama" which ". . . did much to influence the techniques in his fiction . . . the majority of his confidantes appear in works written during or after his dramatic years, 1890-1895" (xii).
Sharp's approach is authorial in that she surveys the entire Jamesian canon. "In each case," she tells us in her introduction,
Sharp finds that her psychoanalytic insights are more directly applicable to some confidantes than to others. Sharp sees in Mrs. Grose "the kindness of [James's] motherly friends" (xxi) but then discusses her as a technical narrative device without further reference to psychoanalytic insights. Accordingly, we have chosen to include Sharp's study not with the psychoanalytic studies of the period but rather with those studies which attempt to describe how a particular technical narrative method of engendering ambiguity is intended to convey a thematic message. It is easy to see why Sharp would not find in Mrs. Grose a convincing example of James's unconscious mother fixation. In the first place, Sharp does not see the hostility toward the governess which Aldrich perceives. Secondly, Mrs. Grose seems markedly different from James's mother both in social standing and in a lack of aggressiveness which makes her easy prey for the governess's bullying.
Sharp reads the novella straightforwardly as a tale of supernatural evil so profound that it eludes rational understanding. Consequently, she holds that James deliberately, as he asserts in the Preface, sought ambiguity,
Furthermore, "the . . . opacity of Mrs. Grose's perceptions is functional in safeguarding ambiguity," says Sharp (46), because "her character presents the stolidity of the English serving class as a foil to the governess's acute sensibility" (41). She functions as
Far from understanding depths of evil, Mrs. Grose can only perceive superficial manifestations such as Flora's language or Miles's possible theft of letters.
Walter F. Wright finds insoluble ambiguities in the story. He suggests, like Enck, that these ambiguities have been deliberately effected to reflect important truths about the human condition--most importantly that we can never know the whole truth and yet must act in contexts where mistaken action can bury us in guilt. James termed the tale a fairy tale, according to Wright, because of its "universal implications" (178). The governess's plight is our plight; her ghosts are our ghosts because "the governess's concern about them is symbolic of our own philosophic predicaments" (181).
This dilemma concerns the ghosts' "relation to the children" (181). Wright maintains that the economy of the story requires us to accept the existence of the ghosts.
The ghosts' "relation to the children," however, poses a terrible ethical problem for the governess and for us as we attempt to judge her.
Wright, like the other critics we have been considering, offers a detailed analysis of the narrative method James has employed to produce this all-pervasive ambiguity.
Wright lists those elements in the plot which have given rise to "three perspectives":
None of these critics are merely wrong; James has deliberately constructed the story so that all three interpretations are supportable. "All three types of readers cite the same evidence, and on it all build up substantial superstructures of reason to prove their points" (177). Because the other two readings can be so easily supported, ". . . each of the three perspectives is . . . not compatible with economy in storytelling" (177). The wise reader does not exclusively embrace one of the three perspectives but instead recognizes the insoluble nature of the governess's dilemma and his own.
Muriel G. Shine also holds that the story is about the ethical problems of acting in the light of incomplete knowledge. However, Shine is far less sympathetic to the governess than Wright. While Wright holds that the ghosts are real and that the governess does the best she can under terribly difficult circumstances, Shine holds that the governess is an example of the wrong way to seek knowledge. "Fundamentally," says Shine,
Shine's answer is no.
Shine is reminiscent of Lydenberg in her suggestion that the governess acts as a conducting rather than protective screen--i.e., in her suggestion that the destruction occurs through the agency of the governess. Shine is like Firebaugh in her insistence on the importance of knowledge in this story. "For James," she says, "the inability to exercise the cognitive faculty is equated with moral insufficiency" (135). However, Shine's point is somewhat more complex than Firebaugh's simple indictment of the governess for "denial of knowledge." While Shine arraigns the governess for her failure to seek knowledge, she maintains that, by an ironic twist--a turn of the screw perhaps?--the children are destroyed by a perverse knowledge the governess forces on them.
Shine differs from most anti-governess critics in seeing the governess as a normal adolescent rather than as a pathological case. Shine's book is a study not of "haunted people" but rather of children in the Jamesian canon. Predictably, Shine sees Miles and Flora as two of many examples of "children . . . manipulated by adults . . . invariably . . . in the name of some higher ideal connected with the welfare of the child" (175). Interestingly, however, Shine sees the governess not as a typical manipulative adult but rather as an adolescent. Shine makes some of the same points psychoanalytic critics have made--referring, for example, to "her unrealistic infatuation with the mysterious and almost unknown guardian of the children" (136) and her "frantic effort to subdue and possess Miles" which arises from "a sexual fantasy" (92). Shine views these elements, however, in the light of developmental psychology rather than abnormal psychology. The above reactions, Shine tells us, are "surprisingly reminiscent of adolescents one has known" (136). In arguing this point, Shine considers the story itself--in New Critical fashion--and the total canon--in the manner of an authorial critic.
Nevertheless, although Shine faults the governess for deplorable judgment, she does not categorically assert that the children are innocent. On the contrary, the inconclusive evidence presented
. . . serves as a commentary on the essential ambiguity of the human condition and the interchangeability of appearance and reality in a world where most questions do not have final and irrevocable answers (139).
This "essential ambiguity" is the result of a meticulous choice of incidents comprising the plot.
This ambiguous situation and the adolescent response to it are presented to convey a theme of universal significance.
Moreover, this theme is conveyed to the reader in a manner more immediate and powerful than mere intellectual presentation. For the ambiguity of the evidence, suggests Shine, puts the reader in the same position as the governess. The reader is forced to judge the situation and the children in the light of his own experience just as the governess is forced to do (138). Here, Shine, like Willen, is a reader-response critic. This reader-response criticism, however, does not depend on a detailed analysis of the psychology of a particular reader but rather upon the analysis of the text itself as its lacunae invite constructions from readers with diverse psychologies. We think immediately of Felman's later contention that the structure of the story forces the reader to duplicate the psychological responses of one or more of the characters. Thus, the story serves as a touchstone of the reader's maturity. The reader either judges simplistically like the adolescent governess or apprehends the situation's complexity and irreducible ambiguity a la critics such as Enck.
J. A. Ward also sees the story as deliberately ambiguous and contends that the purpose of the ambiguity is to convey certain philosophical themes. Ward, however, is not completely successful because some of his points are implied rather than stated specifically. His interpretation, consequently, tends to break down into two distinct and only loosely related readings. By making the implied points specific, however, we can construct from his work a unified and persuasive reading of the story.
Ward, like so many other critics of this period, is authorial in his approach. His understanding of Jamesian evil is arrived at through consideration of a large number of Jamesian works; and he places the governess in chronological perspective among James's other protagonists.
As Ward reads the canon, the Jamesian philosophy of evil "represents, if not the synthesis, certainly the coexistence of a Puritan concern with evil and a transcendentalist concern with experience" (16). Ward approvingly quotes Siwek's definition of evil:
This "implicit identification of good with growth," says Ward, marks James as "fundamentally in the tradition of nineteenth century romanticism" (vii-viii). "Growth," in the Jamesian world, requires a plethora of experience. Ward cites examples such as the pathetic end of John Marcher in "The Beast in the Jungle" and
Consequently, "evil in James usually takes the form of . . . the malign intervention of one person in the life of another" (vii) to restrict experience and thus restrict growth. James's preoccupation with evil is Puritan, Ward contends, but Puritan with a novel twist: "James tends to concentrate on the good man's reaction to evil, rather than on the guilty man's obsession with his own sin" (9). In other words, "James alters the traditional Puritan consideration of evil by focusing on the sinned-against rather than the sinner . . . " (14). The main reason for this shift of emphasis, suggests Ward, is that "the evil character in James is almost never reflective" (10). We see the influence of transcendentalism in the Jamesian assumption that evil "derives from the fundamental human condition of limited perception" (11).
The above underlying "malign intervention" is the essence of evil, not specific actions or omissions considered in themselves. This "is related to James's notion that phenomena are only important when the private consciousness contains them" (17). Thus, a specific act only becomes evil as the victim suffers its constricting effects. Both these effects and the actor's motives are pervasive and mysterious, extending to deep subconscious depths where human beings accept or reject spiritual growth. Thus, evil is always much more than any particular concrete manifestation; James often makes this point, Ward suggests, through ambiguity and indetermination.
The "fairy tale" elements which James referred to in the Preface, serve, says Ward,
The governess, according to Ward,
Like Lydenberg, Ward suggests that the governess "helps to damn" the children. Her overprotective domination--culminating in her brutal encounter with Flora by the lake and with Miles in the dining room--drive the children into the arms of the ghosts. Ward sees the governess as possessed by pride and concerned almost exclusively with herself. Like Goddard, he sees her motivated by a desire to perform some heroic service to the uncle "because of a foolish romantic attachment" (68).
It is here that the unity of Ward's interpretation seems to break down. For the governess, as Ward describes her, seems to be not merely imperfect but the very essence of Jamesian evil as Ward has defined it. It would seem logical for Ward to suggest that the ghosts are her hallucinations, as Goddard does, or that they represent cosmic evil which materializes through the mediumistic powers of this self-deceived but evil woman, as Lydenberg does. The governess, with her unreflective and self-serving smothering of the children, is far too exact a representation of Jamesian evil as Ward has defined it to be merely an ineffective fighter against an evil whose primary manifestation is elsewhere.
This, however, is Ward's view. He criticizes the governess for initially romanticizing Bly as "an imagined garden of Bliss" instead of recognizing "the ugly real ghosts" (68). He faults her "deficiencies" in failing to grasp sooner the corrupt assignations between the children and their infernal mentors.
Ward's insights can be complemented by Lydenberg's interpretation in which the ghosts materialize through the governess's mediumistic powers or West's reading in which the ghosts possess the governess rather than the children. The ghosts could also be seen as mysterious founts of evil emanating from the depths of the governess's subconscious. However, the unity of Ward's interpretation is vitiated, it seems to me, if the ghosts are not, in some way interpreted as "her" ghosts.
Dorothea Krook also considers the story's ambiguity to be an irreducible part of its structure. Accordingly, she faults both Heilman and his polar counterparts-- Wilson and Goddard--for one-sided readings of the story. In Krook's view, both the theological and psychoanalytic readings call attention to essential elements in the story; consequently, both are invalid by reason of their incompleteness. Krook offers insightful analyses of James's techniques for engendering this insoluble ambiguity and then proceeds to suggest philosophical and theological themes which, in her view, the ambiguity is intended to convey.
Krook faults the psychoanalytic interpretations of Wilson and Goddard for their incompatibility with James's stated intention to write a story of two corrupted children, their failure fully to account for contrary evidence such as Douglas's glowing recommendations in the prologue and the "identification scene" in chapter five, and their tendency to ignore, de-emphasize, or explain away central elements of the story--such as the history of the living Quint and Jessel and the questionable behavior of the children (373-74). On the other hand, the apparitionist readings, according to Krook, although they call attention to the real corruption of the children and rightly see the governess as engaged in a battle to save them from evil beings, fail to do justice to "at least three vital elements in the story": its all-pervasive ambiguity; ". . . our persistent impression that the governess is, in some sense, guilty . . ."; and "the significance of the governess's being the first-person narrator of the whole story" (375). In contrast to these incomplete readings, Krook offers an approach which, she holds, is "genuinely inclusive" (107).
Krook insists that the story's ambiguity is deliberately engendered and ineradicable.
Krook provides a detailed and insightful analysis of the narrative methods which effect this ambiguity. She points out elements in the plot which, in Wilson's words, can be "read in either of the two senses." For example, in his conversation with the governess on the way to church in chapter fourteen, Miles says, "I want my own sort." This can mean either that he wants to be with boys his own age or that he wants to communicate with his evil soul-mate, Quint. The governess's statements about "losing" or "possessing" Miles can be interpreted as the anguished cries of either a good angel or a selfish and possessive woman. Mrs. Grose's ready identification of the apparition in chapter four might be due to suggestion but might also be a genuine recognition that the governess has seen the ghost of Quint. The governess's continual expressions of doubt about her sanity, similarly,
Furthermore, and perhaps more interestingly, Krook suggests that evidences which seem unambiguously to support one of the two positions--apparitionist or non-apparitionist--are balanced by others which seem unambiguously to support the opposing position. James, therefore,
This ambiguity is first intended to convey
The novella is, therefore,
The governess's love for the children, according to Krook, can be seen as genuinely self-transcendent and hence not explainable in terms of neurosis or psychopathology. In defending the governess, Krook stands so vehemently with Douglas in the prologue and against Wilson that one wonders why she is so sensitive to criticism of frustrated spinsters:
Interestingly, Krook admits that the governess's devotion to the children springs partly from an erotic attachment to the employer. She insists, however, that
Similarly, the corruption in the children extends to unexplainable depths. Quint and Jessel represent "Henry James's sense of the mystery and final inexplicability of absolute evil . . . the sheer inexplicability of the nature and origin of evil in the human soul. . ." (129). However--even though the lack of specificity indicates that the evil in the children is more than sexual--it is rooted in sexuality, just as the governess's goodness is rooted in her erotic attraction to her employer. Krook suggests that the children have been damaged by intimate exposure to the sexual affair between Quint and Jessel:
Krook suggests that these confidences amounted to covert molestation and that overt molestation possibly accompanied them.
Such violations of boundaries between adults and children could educe the corrupt elements the perspicacious governess perceives:
Moreover, just as the governess's erotic attachment to the employer was able to lead to a goodness transcending sexuality, so the "dangerously, unhealthily exciting and alluring" sexual interest which the living servants awakened can lead the children to an abyss of evil far beyond sexual misconduct, an abyss of evil represented by the mysterious, ghostly figures the once living servants have become.
James, however, according to Krook's interpretation, is dramatizing not only the mysteries of good and evil but a deeper mystery still: "the co-existence or co-presence of good and evil in the human soul" (130).
For the governess, in her goodness, falls prey to "spiritual pride . . . the last infirmity of the angels of light themselves" (127). In the final scene, according to Krook, Miles is on the verge of renouncing his allegiance to Quint. The governess, however, continues her interrogation, brutally pressing for more details,
Her excess finally drives Miles back to Quint and terrifies the child to death. The governess's pride, which has led her to renounce all aid throughout the story, finally takes the form of an insatiable spiritual possessiveness--
The story's ending influences retrospectively the reader's perception of the governess's earlier actions.
Just as the goodness of the governess coexists with Faustian pride, so the corruption of the children coexists with innocence. The children are innocent because they "are not old enough to be morally culpable" (110). But though they have not deliberately chosen wrong, they are corrupted by "a knowingness . . . of `forbidden' things" (109) and "a craving for more and more `knowledge' of this kind--for the fascination, the excitement, the stimulation, to the imagination and the senses, of a debased eroticism" (113-14). James, according to Krook, has chosen the children's ages with this mysterious co-presence in mind.
The all-pervasive ambiguity of the story is intended to convey the "co-presence of good and evil in the human soul" (130). The good governess is tainted with Faustian pride, and the children are both corrupt and innocent. We have in this story, says Krook, two stories--a Faustian fable which becomes something deeper than a straightforward version of itself.
This "tormenting impossibility," Krook maintains, is "another aspect" of the story's ambiguity, an aspect which "may properly be called metaphysical" (131). Each of us has the tendency, Krook reminds us, "to `read out' of the situation what is really there and . . . instead to `read into' it some part of the content of one's own mind" (132). This tendency renders problematic our moral choices and, hence, our moral stature.
Krook, like Shine, perceives in the work the theme of epistemological skepticism. The governess's recognition of this fundamental "epistemological incapacity," suggests Krook, explains her doubts about her own sanity and her own moral stature. She cannot "ever know for certain whether what she thought she saw of the children's relations with the dead servants was or was not there to be seen" (133). Here, of course, Krook is very close to Shine, who also sees the ambiguous situation which confronts the governess at Bly as paradigmatic of ambiguities which confront all people. However, while Shine sees in the governess an immature adolescent, Krook sees in her
Her doubts about her sanity and moral stature express "a cruel paradox that the most highly developed mind should, in the end, be incapable of knowing what it knows" (133).
Krook's approach is authorial, like that of so many other critics in this period. She interprets elements by comparing and contrasting them with others in James's canon and by placing the novella in the chronological sequence of James's works. She argues that the governess is not a neurotic spinster by contrasting her with Olive Chancellor in The Bostonians (380). She highlights the governess's moral failures by contrasting her with Maggie Verver in The Golden Bowl (128). She argues that the governess is a "victim of developed consciousness" by comparing her to another protagonist of the same period--the weekend guest of The Sacred Fount (132-33).
Krook's approach is also philosophical. She seems to see the literary work as a series of messages which the author is conveying and the critic's task as a deciphering of the meaning the author intended to convey--as one might attempt to decode an obscure diplomatic communication or an enigmatic letter from a friend by studying closely the text itself in conjunction with information about the life, beliefs, personality, and writing methods of the author. Here, of course, we are reminded of the phenomenological criticism typified by Edna Kenton. Krook, however, relies solely on discursive reasoning--she does not attempt to intuitively "enter into" the mind of the author as do Kenton and other phenomenological critics.
4.Psychoanalytic and Related Readings
A number of important psychoanalytic and related readings were published during the period under discussion. As we have previously noted, psychoanalytic criticism, with some overlappings, can be divided into three types: that which focuses on the psychology of the author; that which analyzes the psychology of fictional characters; and that which seeks to probe the responses of the reader--whether a particular reader (such as the critic himself), a particular type of reader, or a fictional reader imagined consciously or unconsciously by the author and encoded in the structure of the text. These are three areas of emphasis, not mutually exclusive types. The first type, if it is genuine literary criticism, focuses on the author's persona as the text presents it to the reader and thus aids in understanding the literary work--including its fictional characters--and readers' responses to the work. Psychoanalytic speculation which investigates the author solely as an historical personage is not literary criticism. The second type ceases to be literary criticism if it treats fictional characters solely as psychiatric case histories. They are not real people but fictional characters and, thus, can be understood only as artistic creations of a particular author which affect readers in certain ways. The third type ceases to be literary criticism if it becomes merely a self-study on the part of the critic or a sociological commentary; it is literary criticism only in so far as the reader's responses are explained by the examination of the literary elements themselves. Thus, quality criticism of each type incorporates the other two approaches. Emphases, however, differ, and thus the threefold division is permissible for convenience in discussion.
A. Psychoanalytic Criticism Focusing on the Author
An excellent example of the first type of psychoanalytic criticism is "A Causerie on Henry James's `The Turn of the Screw'" by M. Katan, M.D. Katan reads the story as a nightmare in which James attempts to transfer his primal scene anxieties to the reader. His main focus is on the depth psychology of James, as he attempts to show how James's particular history would lead him to construct this particular nightmarish fantasy. In discussing the fantasy as a primal scene nightmare, Katan offers telling insights into the depth psychology of the fictional characters. In relating the experiences of these fictional characters to that of many real people, Katan offers a cogent explanation of the story's powerful effects on so many readers.
Katan's starting point is the assertion that James intended to frighten his readers. To support this he quotes at length the Preface to the New York Edition. Katan cannot, however, be justly accused of succumbing to the intentional fallacy, for he is concerned with James's intentions as realized in the work. Thus, he approvingly quotes "an analytic rule, not at all incorrect even today, that `the result reveals the intention' . . ." (321). Katan then suggests James's probable motivation:
At this point a less perspicacious psychiatrist might fall into the trap of equating art and neurosis. Katan, however, is sophisticated enough to avoid this simplistic misidentification:
Thus, in the tradition of Goddard, Katan combines telling psychological insights with a profound respect for literary values.
That the story is the re-creation of a nightmare Katan deduces from the prologue, reminding us that the story is preceded by a guest's narrative of a child awakening to a terrifying nocturnal vision; that the nightmare is James's, Katan infers by a highly original, if perhaps questionable, mixing of historical and fictional time:
These "traumatic events," according to Katan, included "primal scene observations" which the young James shared with "another child" (334)--hence the nightmare in the mother's bedroom which Douglas's guest narrates and the implied collusion between Miles and Flora. Since the story ends "without a solution" (322) (Miles is dead at the end, and Flora is seriously ill), Katan divines the following psychoanalytic moral:
James himself was "lost," Katan suggests, not only because of his sharing the secret with another child, but also because of his mother's unhealthy response to the situation, a response which is reflected in the governess's manner of relating to the children. In the story the governess becomes sexually excited because of her attraction to Miles and her own incestuous desires for Quint, the sexualized counterpart of the asexual bachelor who represents her father. Her sexual excitement puts Miles in an impossible situation, the only escape from which is death.
Similarly, Katan suggests,
The effects of this maternal misbehavior may have been exaggerated, according to Katan, by James's emotionally absent father, who is reflected in the physically absent and indifferent uncle.
Katan finds in the ineffectiveness of the governess important lessons not only for parents but for psychotherapists as well. Indeed, the governess can be seen as the model of one kind of incompetent psychotherapist.
Although James's sexual problems were never satisfactorily resolved, according to Katan, he did attempt various solutions. Flora, Miles, the governess, and the absent guardian represent four of these attempted solutions or
Flora, for example, represents one aspect of James's childhood personality.
Miles, on the other hand, represents the child's "masculine protest," the boy who "wants to associate with men and to shake off the influence of being dominated by women" (336). The governess represents James's mother, with whom at one point he identified. "James, in his mother identification, loved a little boy who was the picture of himself at an early age" (337). James, however, "forbade the appearance of overt homosexual features in his life"--hence, "the sexual side of the identification is abolished and can appear only in the form of Miss Jessel's ghost" (337). Thus, James finally became the figure represented by the bachelor uncle.
Katan's article is an outstanding example of psychoanalytic criticism. He explains the story as a primal scene nightmare which "changes . . . into an event of supernatural character" (323) and affects the reader by arousing primal scene anxieties which, at the end of the story, are not discharged. This reading offers profound insights into the psychodynamics of the fictional characters. In a manner reminiscent of Wilson's 1938 essay, Katan sees the sexual relationship between the ghosts as a projection of the governess's desired sexual relationship with the employer. He relates this to her unresolved oedipal feelings in a more detailed way than Wilson had done. He also analyzes the children and the master more convincingly than most critics who have analyzed the governess. The children's obsession with Quint and Jessel, Katan suggests, combines with the governess's fantasies about the master to form a shared delusion--"une hallucination a trois" (324), which sexually excites all three. The master is driven from Bly, according to Katan, because the children's excitement threatens to revive his own primal scene
memories--"he runs away from the obscure stirrings of the oedipal feelings which have so strongly aroused the other three" (330). Katan suggests that Mrs. Grose, while she understands what the children have witnessed, does not see the ghosts--i.e., does not share the hallucinations--because she is "only a motherly figure, who does not harbor any incestuous fantasies. . . . Her defenses do not need hallucinations to fall back upon" (332).
Katan's psychoanalysis of the author is, in all essential points, in agreement with analyses made by other students of James, such as Wilson, Leavis, Edel, and Sharp. His discussion of Flora, Miles, the governess, and the employer as representatives of four stages of James's psychosexual development is a new and profoundly insightful contribution.
Finally, Katan does not lose sight of literary values. His analyses of James and his fictional creations all move toward an explanation of the story's effect on readers--namely, the arousal of primal scene anxieties which are not discharged. Katan explicitly denies the identification of art and neurosis. His discussion of that problem is, of course, not complete, but a complete discussion would require a separate essay.
The great merits of Katan's essay are highlighted
when the essay is compared to a psychoanalytic reading of less profundity and scope, such as "Another Twist to The Turn of the Screw" by C. Knight Aldrich, M.D.
Aldrich's purpose is to defend non-apparitionist readings from the most commonly cited objections, succinctly summarized by Alexander E. Jones: "there is no other way to satisfactorily explain the governess' knowledge of Quint's appearance, Flora's shocking language, or Miles' final surrender of the name" (qtd. in Aldrich 367). Aldrich suggests that these objections may be overcome "if the customary assumption about the character of Mrs. Grose is questioned" (368). Aldrich suggests that the older woman is not a naive and benevolent ally of the governess, but rather a bitter enemy, possessive toward the children and jealous of the governess's authority over them and affectionate interaction with them. She, therefore, manufactures the "infamy" of Quint and Jessel and "tailors her description of Quint to fit the governess's description of her hallucination"; she also "covers her tracks by discouraging any attempts of the governess to confirm her picture of Quint" (370-71). Flora's obscene language is also a fabrication. Miles's identification of Quint results from information given him by Mrs. Grose.
Upon first consideration, this would seem to be a psychoanalytic study focusing primarily on the fictional characters rather than the author. The above observations, however, are not Freudian per se--they are observations about the plot which any New Critic might make. Aldrich offers a "diagnosis" of the governess which appears to be both incomplete and unconvincing:
This explanation ignores the governess's infatuation for the employer, her obsession with the preconceived heterosexual relationship between Quint and Jessel, and the fact that her erotic feelings seem directed toward Miles rather than Flora.
Instead, Aldrich's most interesting suggestions concern the psychodynamics of the author. Aldrich suggests that
This inability consciously to perceive the truth may explain why her villainy is so well hidden that so many readers have missed it. Possibly, Aldrich suggests, "James himself was deceived . . . his unconscious, not his conscious mind, determined the real character of Mrs. Grose" (373). Interestingly, Aldrich agrees with Katan that James's relationship with his mother was unhealthy, but disagrees with Katan as to which fictional character represents James's mother. It is also interesting to note that Aldrich agrees with Wilson that James was deceived but disagrees as to what character deceived him. These partial disagreements ought to remind us of the complexities of psychoanalytic judgments and warn us of the dangers of facile psychoanalytic interpretations.
Aldrich's essay is also interesting for its serious suggestion of the villainy of Mrs. Grose--a suggestion which Solomon had made tongue-in-cheek. Unlike Katan, however, he does not offer profound analyses of the other characters. His speculations about James's mother are in agreement with those of a host of critics and biographers of James, such as Edel, Wilson, Sharp, Knights, and Leavis; Aldrich does not, however, analyze the author's persona as thoroughly as Katan--consider, for example, Katan's analysis of the various fictional characters as stages of James's ego development. Finally, Aldrich does not offer any profound insights concerning the story's effect on the reader. He suggests only that readers have been fooled about the character of Mrs. Grose because the author has declined to "include . . . tangible evidence of her villainy" (373).
"The Turn of the Screw: Some points on the Hallucination Theory" by A. W. Thomson, is another essay which appears, upon initial consideration, to be focused on the fictional characters but which, upon closer reflection, can better be classified as focusing on the author. The structure of Thomson's argument is remarkably similar to the structure of Aldrich's. Thomson, like Aldrich, sets out to defend the hallucination theory from powerful objections by offering a new theory about the author.
As Aldrich sought to reply to the objections of Alexander E. Jones, so Thomson seeks to reply to the objections of Dorothea Krook. Both Aldrich and Thomson explain the apparent anomalies by postulating certain mental processes in the author. However, while Aldrich suggested unconscious processes, Thomson suggests deliberate and conscious choices on the part of James. Since Thomson is concerned with the author's conscious choices rather than with his underlying psychodynamics, some readers might question our inclusion of Thomson among the psychoanalytic critics. Thomson's concern, however, is to explain the co-existence in the story of "the depiction of the growth of the governess's neurosis" (28) and the elements which seem to disconfirm non-apparitionist readings. In the course of developing this explanation, Thomson offers some profound insights into the psychodynamics of the governess, although his main focus is James's conscious intentions.
Thomson considers the arguments for the
non-apparitionist position to be overwhelming. He finds in Wilson's interpretation of the Preface "a very strong suggestion" (28) for a position which is confirmed by a close reading of the story. In his close reading of the story, Thomson accepts Wilson's 1938 suggestion that Quint and Jessel represent sexually active counterparts to the employer and the governess. Thomson then adds several points of his own. "We may also note," he says, "that the difference in the manner of the appearance of the ghosts strongly suggests that their origin is in the governess herself." Thomson points out an important difference between the two ghosts. Jessel
Thomson also points out that Quint's only entry into the house interrupts the governess's reading of Amelia, a book often censored because of its frank treatment of sexuality. In addition, Thomson, like Feinstein (to be discussed later in this chapter), points out that Quint almost always is visible only from the waist up. That this peculiarity represents sexual repression is suggested even more strongly, according to Thomson, when we consider James's story "Rose-Agathe": "In this story, as Wilson says, `a man falls in love with a dummy in a Parisian hair-dresser's window and finally buys her and takes her home to live with. The wax dummy is cut off at the waist'" (33). This citing of other Jamesian works as evidence is consistent with Thomson's critical method, an attempt to divine the author's intentions.
Like so many other proponents of non-apparitionist readings, Thomson cites as evidence the faulty inductive reasoning of the governess, although he does not analyze her inductions with anything like the detail of, say, Costello. Thomson directs our attention to "the recurrence throughout the governess's narrative of the metaphor of filling in a picture, and the consequent suggestion of fitting evidence into a different context," which parallels the progression of her psychoneurosis.
Thomson also, like many other critics--Wilson, Lydenberg, Katan, West, and Rubin come immediately to mind--is impressed by the similarities between the employer and Miles and by the governess's apparent erotic interest in Miles, as revealed, for example, in the bedroom scene in chapter seventeen and her suggestion in chapter twelve that she and Miles resembled "a young couple . . . on their wedding-journey." He also--like Collins, Rubin, Trachtenberg, and Holloway--is impressed by the striking similarities between Miles and Douglas. Combining these two sets of insights, Thomson suggests that the governess, because of her "resentment" of the employer's indifference, "transferred" her infatuation to Miles and then, years later, to Douglas. He suggests also that her revelations to Douglas possess
These carefully constructed suggestions of psychopathology lead Thomson to reject Wilson's theory
Nevertheless, Thomson finds two apparitionist arguments which Krook cites to be particularly compelling: the "identification scene" in chapter five and remarks in James's notebooks and letters and the Preface to the New York Edition which seem to suggest that the story is about supernatural occurrences.
Thomson explains these anomalies by postulating not an unconscious but a conscious and deliberate change of intention on the part of James as the construction of the work proceeded. The passages in notebooks, letters, and the Preface Thomson considers "inadmissible" because they concern
This change of intention also explains the
Thomson's essay is reminiscent of Kenton's phenomenological criticism in that both essays attempt to divine a message the author intended to express. Thomson, however, relies on rigorous, objective analysis of the text rather than on attempts to collaborate intuitively with the author. In the course of this objective analysis he has shed profound light on the psychology of the governess, thus demonstrating the impracticability of dividing psychoanalytic criticism into rigidly exclusive types; this essay about the author's intentions says much of value concerning the protagonist's psychology.
Thomson's approach is strikingly reminiscent of Oscar Cargill's 1956 essay, which we discussed in chapter four. Recall that Cargill explained the tale's apparent anomalies by suggesting a deliberate and conscious authorial plan to conceal the "private source" of the story--the illness and, particularly, the Journal of Alice James (complemented by the "actual technical knowledge" gleaned from the case history of Miss Lucy R. in Freud and Breuer's Studies in Hysteria). Thus, both critics search for the key to the story in the author's conscious intention. (Interestingly, Cargill would later define "Freudian literary criticism" as "a generic term for all types of analysis dealing with the creative psyche" (Pluralistic 9), which would seem to include conscious as well as unconscious processes.
Cargill published a revised version of this essay in PMLA in 1963. Willen says that, by virtue of the revision, Cargill "repudiated" the former essay (238)--but that is too strong a term; the changes are relatively minor and do not negate the main thesis of the former essay. The new essay is enriched with additional illuminating references to other literary works which may have influenced the author of The Turn of the Screw. He points out that a guest named Griffin--"a griffin, of course, is a fanciful beast"--tells "a supernatural story with a genuine apparition in it," the reality of which is questioned by Douglas, who refers to "'Griffin's ghost, or whatever it was.'" The challenger, Douglas, moreover, "is obviously named after that noble Scot in Henry IV, Part I, famous for his candor, so faithful in a bad cause, unmasking two pretenders before he discovers the King" (240). Similarly, he suggests that the governess's reference to "David playing to Saul" in chapter eighteen is a confession of her mental derangement (243). He suggests that the Archbishop Benson anecdote may have been a complete fabrication to deceive the reader (248-49). In the new essay, Cargill sees the governess as not merely sick, but possessed of a "befuddled heroism" (115) and suggests that "James may have got the inspiration for making the governess the heroine of his tale" from "the fortitude of Alice James facing her destiny" (248). He adds to his earlier non-apparitionist case by suggesting that Miles was dismissed from school because he was unusually young and by incorporating Silver's hypothetical trip to the village into his explanation of the identification scene. He fortunately deletes the earlier suggestion that the governess's confessions to Douglas amounted to a psychoanalytic purgation (fortunately, because "psychoanalysis does not work that way," as Thomas has pointed out (40))) and instead suggests, like Holloway, that the governess wrote the story as a way of warning him that a romantic relationship would be destructive to both of them, given her deeply imbedded neurosis.
B. Psychoanalytic and Related Criticism Focusing on the Governess and/or Other Fictional Characters
1. Cranfill and Clark
An Anatomy of The Turn of the Screw by Thomas Mabry Cranfill and Robert Lanier Clark, Jr. is a book length study which focuses on the psychopathology of the governess. Psychoanalytic criticism focusing on fictional characters may be divided into source studies tracing the influence of specific psychological writings on the narrative artist's work and readings which assume the author unconsciously apprehended deep truths of human psychology and caused them to be reflected in his work. Few if any psychoanalytic readings, however, can be fitted exclusively into either category. Cranfill and Clark specify their intention to combine the two approaches. After approvingly quoting Freud's statement that artists "have a way of knowing many of the things between heaven and earth which are not dreamed of in our philosophy," they praise Edel for "wisely [insisting] on making allowances for James's familiarity with the psychological knowledge of his time" and Cargill for his "impressive, illuminating, all but conclusive" argument that "The Case of Miss Lucy R." is a source for The Turn of the Screw. They then argue that Edmund Parish's Hallucinations and Illusions, published in 1897, "deserves reviewing as possibly a second source" (35-36).Cranfill and Clark agree with Goddard that the motive for the governess's hallucinations is a desire to perform some self-sacrificial feat for the employer toward whom she is infatuated. Like Goddard, they survey the text in New Critical fashion and find extensive evidence of her psychopathology and destructive effects on others, particularly Miles and Flora, as well as non-technical insights into her psychology. For example, they suggest that her emotional, intellectual, and material deprivation in her father's parsonage has predisposed her to "incomparable curiosity" (86) concerning sexual matters and "lust for martyrdom" (90) in the face of sexual repression. They suggest also that her predilection for seeing evil in other people is largely the result of the biases of her Calvinist upbringing. Like many other critics, Cranfill and Clark cite numerous instances when the governess doubts her own sanity, engages in obviously faulty inductive reasoning, and harasses the children.
Many of the observations Cranfill and Clark make have been made by other critics. They do, however, suggest several new and interesting possibilities. They suggest that the children and Mrs. Grose engage in a variety of "nursing techniques" (161) to bring the governess out of her "hideous introspection" (150)--for example, "urging her on to autobiographical recitations," suggesting that the uncle might unexpectedly come to Bly, and entertaining her with music and pantomime performances. They discuss at length the "less than perfect" lighting at the time of some of the visions and her frequently abnormal behavior during and after--for example, not reporting the first vision of Quint on the tower and going outside to meet Quint at the time of the second vision. They point out that some of the accompaniments of her visions--time disruptions, abnormal hushes, sensations of coldness--occur at other times when she only feels that the ghosts are present and in secret communication with the children. They suggest that Miles was out on the lawn after midnight in order to direct the governess's attention to himself and thus take some of the pressure off his sister. They suggest that Miles was not accepted for another term at school because of his extreme youth and that the letter to the guardian disappeared from the table in chapter twenty-one because the governess recovered it herself. Perhaps most interestingly, they detail the influences of the "English caste system" on the perceptions and interactions of the characters. They argue that Mrs. Grose was jealous of Quint's friendliness with Jessel and the children because the housekeeper considered Quint to be on the same social level as herself; consequently, he was "much too free" socially--not necessarily sexually--and this disregard of caste distinctions caused the housekeeper to give both servants a bad report. They also suggest that the governess and the housekeeper frequently misunderstand one another because of the latter's vocabulary deficiencies--she agrees that Miles "prevaricated," for example, without understanding what she is agreeing to. Although Cranfill and Clark do not integrate socio-economic realities into their psychoanalytic interpretation as thoroughly as do critics such as Spilka and Cole, it is significant that they include insights which Marxists emphasize.
Cranfill and Clark's discussion of the differences between the 1898 text and the version published in the New York Edition is one of the weaker elements in a generally outstanding study. They claim, citing a number of examples, that the revised version is a great improvement over the original and that Edel was correct in his assertion "that the changes betrayed James's determination `to alter the nature of the governess' testimony from that of a report of things observed, perceived, recalled, to things felt'" (18). Elizabeth A. Sheppard, in one of the appendices to her book, has, I think, convincingly shown that the revised version is not a clear improvement and that the pattern discerned by Edel and Cranfill and Clark is the result of selective examination of the evidence. Cranfill and Clark produce some impressive looking examples of a movement toward greater subjectivity in the second version, but Sheppard collated the two texts in their entirety and found numerous counter-examples. Sheppard concluded, correctly in my opinion, that no overall change in meaning was intended by the revisions.
Cranfill and Clark's argument for considering Edmund Parish's work to be a source of The Turn of the Screw is reminiscent of Cargill's argument for considering "The Case of Miss Lucy R." to be a source. Like Cargill, they consider such sources to have influenced James in conjunction with the influence of his sister's illness. They argue that James had ample opportunity to find out about and read Parish's work because of his "familiarity with the psychological knowledge of his time, with Charcot's work, and with his brother William's investigations" (35). Finally, they point out that the psychiatric work appeared shortly before the novella was written.
According to Cranfill and Clark, Parish "discusses the conditions, causes, and victims of hallucinations in terms that startlingly recall certain conditions, causes, actions, and mental processes at Bly" (36). For example,
Through numerous examples from the text, Cranfill and Clark demonstrate that the governess's experience at Bly fits the foregoing pattern. Her "morbid emotional states" are obvious almost from the beginning of the narrative and continue to the end--for instance, her unrequited passion for the uncle, her Calvinist predilection for suspecting sin in even the most innocent actions, and her continual mood changes which begin on the first page of her narrative. We can infer her "state of mental or physical exhaustion" from her record of sleepless nights, beginning with her first night at Bly. We see some kind of "vivid expectation" before each vision. For example, at the time of the first vision of Quint, the governess is daydreaming about unexpectedly encountering the employer; when she sees Jessel for the first time, she "knows" that some stranger is on the other side of the lake before raising her eyes from her knitting. She encounters Quint in the house in the dead of night while wandering through the hall expecting to see a ghost. The last two encounters are also examples of how "the hypnogenic tendency of prolonged reading" can facilitate hallucinations. In the former case, the governess is knitting (recall also that she had been repairing a pair of gloves shortly before the second appearance of Quint); in the latter case, she has been up till almost dawn reading Fielding's Amelia. "The eeriness of this recital," say Cranfill and Clark,
Cranfill and Clark are careful not to turn this literary work into a mere psychiatric case history. They assert categorically that "we should persist in regarding The Turn of the Screw as primarily a work of art" (35). This concern with literary values is reflected in two ways.
First, Cranfill and Clark's overriding concern is with the artistic experience of the reader. They defend their non-apparitionist interpretation on these grounds.
They also argue that the non-apparitionist interpretation adds poignancy to the story, as "the children suffer prolonged, helpless, lethally dangerous exposure to the mad governess" (169).
Secondly, from the governess's "shocking experience" (46) of psychopathology, Cranfill and Clark derive a theme of universal import concerning the nature of love. Not supernatural entities but her foolish infatuation for the uncle is "all that has been tormenting her, and through her, the others at Bly" (48). They find in her sufferings and the human destruction she causes "another warning against the perils of loving not wisely but too well. . . . She is suffering the retribution that lies in wait for all who love baselessly and excessively. . ." (46).
Cranfill and Clark's book length study is an outstanding example of psychoanalytic criticism, noteworthy for its profound analysis of the psychology of a fictional character in the light of literary values and its convincing delineation of another "public source" for The Turn of the Screw.
2. Paul N. Siegel
Paul N. Siegel, in a detailed analysis of the text, has demonstrated how "in each of the four appearances of the apparitional Miss Jessel, she faithfully and unfailingly mirrors the actions of the governess." Although he does not specifically mention Wilson, Siegel's main thesis--"that Miss Jessel is a projection of the governess herself, a shadowy portion of her personality which she does not wish to recognize" (30), appears identical to Wilson's 1938 Jungian reading in which the sexual relationship between Quint and Jessel mirrors the desired relationship between the governess and the employer.
Siegel points out that, throughout the first encounter at the lake, the governess has been staring at Flora, which she accuses Miss Jessel of doing. In relating these events to Mrs. Grose, she admits that her "own eyes" resembled the "awful eyes" of the spectral visitant. The paleness of the ghost is similar to the facial pallor which shocked Mrs. Grose when she saw the governess looking in the window following the second vision of Quint. The ensuing conversation highlights further similarities such as their youth and beauty.
A similar pattern appears in Miss Jessel's final appearance by the lake. Despite Mrs. Grose's protests, the governess has run outside hatless--like Quint and Jessel. When the governess points toward Miss Jessel, Flora instead stares at Miss Jessel's successor, and "the `expression of hard, still gravity' on Flora's face . . . mirrors the governess's hard, accusing look" (36). When Miss Jessel stands exactly where the governess has recently stood, we are reminded of her appearance in the schoolroom at the governess's desk and of the governess inadvertently sitting down on the same step where "the most horrible of women" had previously sat.
Similarly, Siegel points out how the apparition in the schoolroom seems to emanate from the governess's unconscious at an opportune moment to rescue her from her conscious decision to leave Bly. In a manner reminiscent of Wilson, Siegel points out how the relationship of the former servants can be seen as a reversal of the governess's social and economic inferiority to the man she loves. "Miss Jessel becomes the great lady of her dreams; indeed, in relation to a valet, a governess is a lady, as she is not to the master of the house." Leaving Bly, however, will shatter this fantasy, and her unconscious warns her of this by presenting her with an image of a defeated Miss Jessel.
Although Siegel's detailed analyses of these apparitions provide important insights into the governess's psychology, he does not turn the novella into a psychiatric case history. He does not even categorically assert that the ghosts are hallucinations. He maintains that his evidence constitutes "irrefutable proof" only "that the hallucinationist reading of The Turn of the Screw is no critical aberration or irresponsible fancy," but rather "a reading which the text itself is contrived to suggest." He immediately adds that his interpretation is not "the only reading which it is contrived to suggest: the apparitionist reading is as valid as the hallucinationist reading." His main purpose, accordingly, is not to support the non-apparitionist case per se, but rather to argue "that The Turn of the Screw is purposefully ambiguous on this matter and that this ambiguity is an essential part of its effect" (30).
The story's ambiguity, says Siegel, is "the ultimate terror of its evil. Which is shadow, which reality? This is the motif that runs through the tale" (31). Thus, Siegel's concern with literary values is preeminent. His purpose is not the psychoanalysis of a character for its own sake, but rather the high-lighting of the story's ambiguity in order to explain its effect of "ultimate terror" on so many readers.
Thomas J. Bontly also concentrates on the psychology of the fictional governess and, like Siegel, sees the ghosts as reflections or externalizations of her own unhealthy drives. Bontly is in striking agreement with Spilka (to be discussed shortly) on two counts: first, Bontly contends that the governess is "neither mad nor abnormal, but quite tragically typical" (721) in her self-deluded and destructive responses to her own sexuality and the children in her care (here Bontly parts company with critics such as Cranfill and Clark); secondly, when he categorizes the novella as "a ghost story in which the fantasy of one level of meaning ironically reveals the moral and psychological reality of another level of meaning" (724), Bontly unites himself with critics such as Spilka and Firebaugh who see the ghosts as real in the world of the story and consider the reader enjoined to accept them as the price of entering that world and disassociates himself from critics such as Wilson and Cranfill and Clark who see the ghosts as illusions. Like Lydenberg, Spilka, and Firebaugh--among others--Bontly sees the governess's psychopathology not in the fact that the governess sees the ghosts, but rather in the ways in which she chooses to react to them. Indeed, Bontly goes so far as to assert that the insane woman's main delusion concerns not the reality of the ghosts but rather the moral stature of the children:
Bontly differs from Spilka (and thus is discussed in a different part of this chapter) by being less sociological than Spilka in his analysis of the young woman's psychology. Spilka explains her problems in terms of the specific economic and social realities of Victorian Britain; Bontly, on the other hand, sees in her unhappy predicament illustrations of universal realities concerning sexuality, the family, and the process of socialization--in his words, "thus proving that the ghosts which haunt the governess, and which finally come to haunt the children, are the ghosts which--to some extent, at least--must haunt us all" (735).
Bontly criticizes both apparitionists and non-apparitionists for having "exceeded the boundaries of legitimate textual evidence in developing their theories"; this is proven, he suggests, by "their refutations of one another," which "seem too well established to need recapitulation" (722). He also argues that both positions do insufficient justice to the complexity of the Jamesian vision of evil as this vision is reflected in the novels of the "major phase." Bontly contends, on the one hand, that the non-apparitionist interpretations deny the reality of moral evil.
This seems to me to be a gross oversimplification. Interpretations such as those of Goddard and Cranfill and Clark seem convincingly to illustrate the widely accepted view that moral and psychological aberrations can coexist and that the former type--excessive sexual love, for example, or spiritual pride--can contribute to the development of the latter type. Bontly also derides the apparitionists for
These misapprehensions, he contends, result from reading "the tale as a moral and religious allegory in which evil is given the force of actuality in actual ghosts, and is explicitly associated with human sexuality" (722).
In Bontly's view, on the other hand, Jamesian evil is not
We are also wrong, Bontly suggests, to see "evil . . . intrinsically tied, in this story, to the flesh and human sexuality. That is the governess's aberration, not James's" (733). The governess becomes evil, according to Bontly, not because she is a sexual being, but rather because her hopelessly isolated situation leaves her natural needs unfulfilled:
Thus, Jamesian evil, says Bontly, is real--its origins, however, are not sexuality per se or evil forces existing independently of the human condition, but rather "fear and guilt" resulting from "failures in the individual's social and personal life--failures which, like original sin, are self-perpetuating as they pass from generation to generation" (734).
In associating these "failures in the individual's social and personal life" with the "absence of authority and strength," Bontly (like Feinstein, to be discussed shortly) seems to be offering what may be termed a "masculinist" interpretation of the story. Most interestingly, in this age of feminism with its frequent overvaluing of femininity and derogation of masculine vales, Bontly and Feinstein unapologetically assert the importance of the male principle and the insufficiency of a totally feminine world, such as the one dominated by the governess and Mrs. Grose.
The evil according to Bontly, adheres not in the ghosts themselves, but rather in the way the governess reacts to them. Bontly's discussion of the ghosts is reminiscent of Roellinger's--both critics emphasize the fact that the ghosts never say anything and do very little. Bontly, like Rees (to be discussed shortly), emphasizes how little we know about the moral stature of the ghosts and about their relationship to the children:
The story's all-pervasive adumbrations of sexual evil, according to Bontly, emanate from the obsessions of the governess, as she projects her own sexual problems onto the children and Quint and Jessel.
The governess's projections, according to Bontly, arise from problems derived from her own socialization: "Her horror must be seen as a result of her own intense vision of sexual evil" (728).
To support this interpretation, Bontly, like Siegel, cites instances in which "the governess . . . finds herself occupying the same position in which she has seen one of the ghosts, or recreating their movements and actions" (728-29). He also, in line with his "masculinist" approach, analyzes the visions of Quint to demonstrate that the governess fears Quint as
For example, his appearance on the tower "suggests . . . the dominance and power of the male set in station above the female." He is next seen looking in the window of the dining room--"an interloper challenging her authority in the home." The foregoing interpretation would seem applicable also to his final appearance at the story's end. He appears once, late at night, on the stairway which "leads to her bedroom" (729). Similarly, part of her conflict with Miles, suggests Bontly, results from her "maternal protectiveness" combined with "a notable lack of insight into the psychology of adolescent males" (725)--i.e., her failure to understand Miles's desire to return to a boys' boarding school.
Because the governess lacks insight into her own psychology, she misinterprets the psychology of the children and the nature and significance of the ghosts. These misinterpretations, in Bontly's view, explain
Bontly is particularly reminiscent of Costello in his emphasis on the contrast between the bare facts as they are narrated and the quite different story which emerges through the governess's unreliable deductions.
Bontly is reminiscent of Hoffmann, Lydenberg, and Firebaugh in his insistence that the ghosts harm the children through the governess. He is particularly reminiscent of Firebaugh in his emphasis on the governess's unwise and harmful attempts to shield the children from knowledge. Her tendency to equate evil with sexual knowledge, Bontly reminds us, is at the root of her all-pervasive suspicion of the children. She unhesitatingly assumes that, if the children are aware of the ghosts, they must have been corrupted by them (727). Furthermore, her desire to shield the children causes her to expose herself in their stead. This leads to an accentuation of her own sexual impulses--in particular, her attraction to Miles, exemplified in her entrance to his bedroom in chapter seventeen and her comparing of herself and Miles to a married couple in chapter twenty-two. In other words, "her treatment of the boy paradoxically combines her desire to keep him sexually ignorant and innocent and her impulse to act as if he were a mature and knowledgeable adult" (731). We see in her, suggests Bontly, a brilliant illustration of the psychology of the censor:
The children, Bontly suggests, finally come to see themselves, their sexuality, and the ghosts through the eyes of the governess. The horror of this vision causes Flora's psychological and Miles's physical destruction.
In so doing, she makes the ghosts evil. They "--whatever they were to the children before--become, through the governess's prodding, definite, frightening, corrupting realities" (732).
Bontly's essay is an outstanding example of psychoanalytic criticism focusing on a fictional character. Bontly offers profound insights into the psychology of the governess but does not turn the literary work into a psychiatric case history. Instead, he subordinates his perspicacious observations of her psychology to two larger purposes: the delineation of the story's thematic content and an explanation of its profound effect on so many readers.
We have seen how Bontly's psychoanalysis of the governess has suggested an important theme--evil is not to be viewed as emanating from the flesh per se (as Puritans might suggest) or as an eternal principle existing independently of the human condition (as Manichaeans might suggest), but rather as an inescapable consequence of human finitude. We have seen how Bontly derives other themes from his analysis of the governess's experience--for example, an explanation of the psychology of the censor and the deleterious effects of the censorial mindset.
Bontly's insights into the psychology of the governess are integrated into his discussion of the story's effects on the reader; thus, his article is secondarily an exercise in reader-response criticism. Bontly suggests that, because socialization requires repression of sexual impulses, the readers of the governess's narrative share in her
Consequently, says Bontly, James's plan to let the reader fill in the blanks from his own experience has been successful:
We have suggested that the psychoanalytic criticism can be divided into source studies which attempt to prove that an author drew upon writings such as those of Freud and interpretations which assume that authors unconsciously intuit deep truths which psychoanalysts have made explicit. Bontly's essay is explicitly of the latter type. "It is not necessary," Bontly tells us,
E. Duncan Aswell's approach is, in some ways, strikingly similar to P. N. Siegel's and Bontly's approaches. Like Siegel, Aswell considers the ghosts externalizations of the governess's repressed erotic drives and provides examples of behavior on her part which mirrors the behavior of the specters. Like Bontly, Aswell contends that the governess destroys the children by communicating to them her own corrupting, guilty, fearful visions. Aswell succinctly and eloquently sums up the process whereby the governess destroys the children:
Like Bontly, Aswell emphasizes the governess's all-pervasive sexual guilt and contends that this guilt partially explains her need of the specters. For the ghosts, according to Aswell, do not only represent the fulfillment of unconscious erotic fantasies concerning the employer and/or Miles. They also help "to explain her ambivalent and troubling fears about Miles and to justify her own role as a fierce and possessive protector of his and Flora's innocence" (53). These fears arise partly from the puritanism which accompanies her sexual guilt. Thus Aswell--like Firebaugh, Bontly, and others--sees in the governess a mistaken tendency to identify knowledge with evil. Her "incapacity to distinguish growth from corruption" (62), according to Aswell, leads her to "rescue Miles and Flora from the pains of growth and maturity by preserving them from experience of any sort" (54). This determination leads, with tragic necessity, to the spiritual death of Flora and the physical death of Miles. Aswell reminds us that the governess is enamored of a vision of Miles
This changelessness, says Aswell, is finally achieved by death:
Perhaps the most important of these "realities" is our "existence in a world . . . where the untainted and untainting choice is impossible." Like all fanatics, however,
Aswell, like all good psychoanalytic critics, does not turn the novella into a clinical case history. His analysis of the governess's psychology is undertaken to highlight a theme of universal significance--the spurious attractiveness of puritanism: "For all of us seek to preserve the innocent from corruption, though we must finally acknowledge that experience is not necessarily evil" (62). In analyzing the psychology of the governess, Aswell is attempting to explain the story's effect on so many readers. He suggests that the governess's psychology is a part of "most of us":
Finally, Aswell demonstrates his awareness of literary realities by placing The Turn of the Screw within the totality of the Jamesian canon. It is, he reminds us, "the first of many stories centering around the idea of the appaller appalled, the individual faced with the dark side of his own personality and forced to come to terms with it" (63)--i.e., "The Jolly Corner," The Sense of the Past, and the first volume of A Small Boy and Others.
Although he does not turn the tale into a psychiatric case history, Aswell does provide profound insights into the psychology of the governess. Perhaps his most distinctive contribution is his detailed analysis of the apparitions in chronological succession to demonstrate how the "clarity and control of the opening episodes gradually give way . . . to frenzy, confusion, and obscurity" as "the governess grows less, not more certain of reality . . . and her reporting of the events becomes increasingly fuzzy, ambiguous, and unreliable" (50).
Aswell divides the eight ghostly appearances into three subsets: the first three, which "establish beyond question the identity of the ghosts with the governess, but confirm her in her belief that they represent the children's corrupted past and corruptible future" (55); the second three, which "have nothing to do with the children . . . [and] impress upon her consciousness the ghosts' relation to herself" (55); and the last two, which
During the first apparition, according to Aswell, the governess has the most insight into and control over her own mental processes. Her references to The Mystery of Udolpho and Jane Eyre, according to Aswell, as well as her comparisons--"definite as a picture in a frame," for example, and "I saw him as I see the letters I form on this page"--suggest that "Quint is an artifact created by herself . . . and is as much under her control at this point as the narrative she is so beautifully constructing" (50-51).
When Quint appears for the second time, however, according to Aswell,
In this scene, suggests Aswell, "the exchange of looks between Quint and the governess" and the way the governess frightens Mrs. Grose indicate "a similarity in behavior" between the governess and the ghosts, which "will be emphasized more and more forcefully as the story goes on" (51).
The first appearance of Jessel, according to Aswell, epitomizes "the way in which she externalizes her own grasping appropriation of the children. . ." (54). Aswell points out how the governess stares at Flora, exactly what she is accusing Miss Jessel of doing. He also observes how, in the ensuing conversation, "Mrs. Grose reacts to her interlocutor as if the governess herself were the ghost"--i.e., how she "fell back a step" and "stared" at the governess's eyes "as if they might have resembled" the eyes of the fiendish spectre (53). Aswell also reminds us that this vision occurs after the governess has received the letter from Miles's school and discussed with Mrs. Grose the depravity of Quint and Jessel:
The next three apparitions, Aswell reminds us, concern only the governess, not the children. The governess encounters first Quint, then Jessel, in the dead of night when the children are not present. Aswell reminds us that these "appearances are not correlated with the behavior of the child each is supposed . . . to have returned to possess." Quint materializes when Flora is out of bed, and she sees Miss Jessel when she is hunting for Quint. "Furthermore, in her ensuing conversation with Mrs. Grose," says Aswell, "her omission of the fact that the demons have appeared inside the house is particularly striking" (56). Obviously, Miss Jessel's "sobbing figure is seen to represent the governess herself, bowed down by doubts about the justice of her cause and her sorrow for the evil she and the children must face." Later the governess finds herself sitting on the same step in the same posture. When she meets Quint, Aswell points out,
Then in the schoolroom, "she meets for the third and last time that other side of herself not in any way disguised as a representation of the children." This vision occurs, Aswell reminds us, immediately after she sinks down on the staircase and "imagines herself to be as reprehensible as her corrupted predecessor." She shrieks angrily at the apparition "in order to repudiate any resemblance between herself and her vision of the former governess." This repudiation is climactic, according to Aswell. "From now on the ghosts appear only outside and only in conjunction with the children" (57).
Finally, in the last two encounters the children identify the governess with Quint and Jessel. In a manner reminiscent of Muriel West, Aswell points out how the governess "conjures up" (60) Quint by her relentless questioning of Miles and how the child's final cry "is addressed to the governess and Quint inter-changeably, the two roles assumed for Miles by his mentor." Aswell also, like West, contends that the governess's
Interestingly, Aswell suggests that the governess deliberately entices Miles to commit wrongdoing by leaving her letter to the employer where Miles would be likely to see it and steal it. Her motive, suggests Aswell, is to "directly implicate Miles and Flora in the evil that threatens them, force them to acknowledge it explicitly, and so `save' them" (58). At this point, however, the governess has forgotten that
Similarly, the final appearance of Jessel confirms the identity between the governess and the ghosts:
The governess, suggests Aswell, is appalled at the success of her own work:
Aswell's essay is an outstanding example of psychoanalytic criticism focusing on a fictional character. His analysis of the psychodynamic significance of the chronological sequence of apparitions is original and profound. He has, like all good psychoanalytic critics, integrated these insights into explanations of the work's thematic content and its effects on the reader.
C. Psychoanalytic Criticism Focusing on the Reader: Willen
We have seen that all good psychoanalytic literary criticism at some point addresses the effect of the work on the reader. However, all of the psychoanalytic studies during this period--with the exception of Willen and Spilka (who, because of his sociological orientation will be discussed in the next section of this chapter) --focused primarily on either the author or one or more fictional characters. Gerald Willen was an exception. His preface to A Casebook on Henry James's The Turn of the Screw is concerned primarily with the psychodynamics of the reader's response.
Willen's preface is not, like Norman Holland's essay on "The Purloined Letter," a detailed analysis of the psychology of one particular reader; it is, instead, a reflection on how the structures of the novella-- particularly its Kermodean lacunae--profoundly affect so many readers.
The terror of the children, according to Willen, "evokes--subconsciously in all probability--the love and terror [the reader] felt as a child." The maternal characteristics of the governess, Willen suggests, further this regression by reproducing the reader's childhood relationship to his mother. Hence, we have such a variety of readings--pro-governess and anti-governess and positions in between; for every
The reader is led to fill in the blanks--as James hoped he would be--by the Kermodean lacunae, or, in Willen's words, "the ambiguity of the writing" (vii). Furthermore,
This "receptiveness" is protected, Willen suggests, by devices which cushion the reader's contact with disturbing memories. Thus, the central narrator is a governess rather than a mother. The narrative frame-- whereby the reader receives the story only after it has passed through three narrators is, says Willen, a deliberate "device" which "removes the reader from direct and possibly inhibiting contact with his own childhood fantasies, thus freeing him for an apparently objective analysis of the story" (vii).
Willen, therefore, has sought not to argue for one interpretation as opposed to others, but instead to explain the plethora of readings and the equally profound effects seemingly diverse interpretations have had on so many readers. The many readings, Willen suggests,
D.Criticism Synthesizing Psychoanalytic and Related Approaches with Marxist and Related Approaches
During this period a number of interpretations appeared which synthesized psychoanalytic and sociological insights.
Mark Spilka's interpretation bore striking resemblance to the interpretations of Lydenberg and Bontly. In an acknowledgment of a debt to Lydenberg, Spilka maintained "that the ghosts are somehow real, that they symbolize some `generalized evil' which the governess exacerbates for neurotic ends" (105). Spilka then, in a manner reminiscent of Bontly, qualifies his agreement with Lydenberg by maintaining that the "generalized evil" is specifically sexual--the governess "is not merely . . . sensitive . . . she is sensitive to sex ghosts, especially those who appear to children. . ." (105). In formulations reminiscent of Bontly, Spilka defines the governess's "neurosis" as a culturally induced rejection of adult sexuality, which, because sexuality can never be repressed with complete success, leads to prurience, all-pervasive sexual guilt, and intolerance. "Prurience is the condition which [this] tale records," says Spilka, "especially as it relates to saintliness, for which combination his governess becomes the perfect medium" (105). "In other words," he later asserts,
Spilka, of course, agrees with Wilson that the sexual relationship between Quint and Jessel mirrors the governess's longed for sexual relationship with the employer.
Spilka praises Lydenberg for the latter's willingness "to discuss the story's cultural implications" (107). He questions, however, Lydenberg's assumption that the governess's psychological problems arise from "that New England Puritanism with which James was most familiar" (107), noting that the story takes place in Victorian England. He then goes beyond Lydenberg and the other psychoanalytic critics we have discussed by grounding the story not only in a particular culture--that of Victorian England--but, more importantly, in what Marxists would term the "economic substructure" of that culture--its particular divisions of labor and distribution of resources and the consequent conflicts between classes at that point in history. Spilka theorizes as to how that economic substructure gave rise to an ideological superstructure influencing the mindset of James and many other contemporary authors. He is thus able to relate the story to James's other works--thus, his criticism is authorial--and to broad trends in Victorian literature. He sees the governess as a victim of "those conflicting cultural attitudes which James was then exploring" (105). In the course of developing this interpretation Spilka offers an explanation of the psychodynamics of the reader's response to the story.
According to Spilka, the "sexual neurosis" (109) of the governess--and of James himself--was engendered by "the intense domesticity of Victorian times," which was an offshoot of the industrial revolution and early capitalism:
Among these "exaggerated values" were excessive affection tinged with prurience and puritanism combined with all-pervasive feelings of sexual guilt. Such puritanism, according to Spilka, arose as a natural defense against the threat which "the alarming spread of prostitution, promiscuity, free-love cults, and salacious novels" posed to the cohesiveness of the highly valued nuclear family structure.
The resulting combination of "extreme affection and repression," suggests Spilka, created a situation which was
This all-pervasive sexual guilt, moreover, existed in conjunction with a "religious vacuum in society" spawned by "the triumphant rise of science and materialism" (108). The result, suggests Spilka, was a cult-like adulation of middle-class women and children, combined with patriarchal authoritarianism.
Such values, according to Spilka, produced many neurotics, including James and his fictional governess. Thus, Spilka's economically grounded analysis of Victorian culture leads to an interrelated psychoanalysis of the author and his fictional characters.
Spilka locates James squarely within the "cult of childhood innocence" which the aforementioned sexual repressions and overvaluations of familial affection
spawned. He points to the obvious biographical details to which so many critics and biographers--Freudian and otherwise--have called attention:
Spilka sees these psychological problems clearly reflected in James's work:. . . a body of fiction in which sex is often identified with evil and affection with the whole of love . . . his nubile maidens and pubescent boys tend to die when faced with sexual evil . . . his heroines often renounce marriage altogether or enter sexless compacts . . . they show exceptional concern with sheer perception of adult sexuality (109).
Like Edel and other psychoanalytic critics I have considered in the fourth and fifth chapters of this study, Spilka reads The Turn of the Screw as a product of a transitional stage in James's psychological history. The governess's failure successfully to shield the children from their sex ghosts can be seen, Spilka maintains, as
This psychological journey, Spilka contends, would be completed when James could write
That James's psychological problems were not idiosyncratic but culturally endemic Spilka establishes by noting similar elements in the lives and writings of James's literary contemporaries:
Spilka suggests that the tale affects the reader through its unconscious invitations to
The screw is turned, Spilka suggests, as "we experience those conflicting cultural attitudes which James was then exploring" (105). The deficiencies of Victorian culture which we experience with the governess allow no escape from this turning and consequently entrap us in terror and horror. We are not meant to find a solution to the dreadful situation at Bly--"we are meant, rather, to grasp the cultural impasse of which Miles and Flora, and the governess herself, are victims" (107).
Spilka strongly criticizes Freudians who see the children as innocent victims, accusing such critics of not being "sufficiently Freudian" (105) for two reasons: they have failed to appreciate "infantile sexuality" and "civilization and its discontents" (110). Spilka has taken account of these central Freudian concerns in a brilliant reading which integrates Marxist insights concerning Victorian culture with interrelated psychoanalyses of James, his fictional characters, and the Victorian and contemporary readers of the story.
Lydenberg commented briefly on Spilka's article, praising Spilka's insights concerning elements of Victorian culture reflected in the tale but concluding with this reservation:
Spilka, in reply, insisted implausibly
This is implausible because many other interpretations --for example, Goddard's--are just as defensible as
Spilka's admittedly brilliant reading. Moreover, critics have raised questions about many aspects of the story--i.e., the character of Mrs. Grose, the motives of the employer, the children's parents, etc. Spilka would be on firmer ground if he did not claim that his interpretation is exclusively correct; part of the greatness of the story is its ability to yield such a rich variety of readings. Incredibly, Lydenberg in his statement asserts in passing that "the Marxist would find slim pickings" (7) in interpreting the story--apparently oblivious to Spilka's brilliant grounding of the governess's psychology in the class conflicts of Victorian England.
Richard Rees, like Nardin (to be discussed in the next chapter), sees Quint and Jessel as good people in love but tragically constricted by the economic realities of Victorian Britain. Their love, transcending class differences, was the "crime" which angered Mrs. Grose, "a prejudiced witness," bitter because she "was not offered the same temptations as Miss Jessel" by the sexually attractive Peter Quint ("we have it on Mrs. Grose's own word that to everyone except herself he was irresistible") (118). Rees also, like Nardin, suggests that Quint and Jessel had a loving relationship with the two servants and that Miles was dismissed from school for speaking openly about this cross-caste relationship. The governess is correct in her perception that the children are "haunted," according to Rees; they are haunted, however, not by evil influences, but by "memories of the warmth and vitality and kindness of their `infamous' friends" (123). Thus, suggests Rees, the governess, although well intentioned, is destructive, and Quint and Jessel are revolutionary heroes:
While Rees's interpretation accounts for Miles's expulsion from school, the children's strange silence about Quint and Jessel, and Mrs. Grose's negative--though vague--evaluation of the two dead servants, it does not explain why the governess sees the specters. Rees merely remarks in passing that "even if the ghosts were a figment of [the governess's] imagination . . . . the children were in some way obsessed with Miss Jessel and Peter Quint. . ." (121). This is a major weakness in his criticism.
On the other hand, Rees has combined Marxist insights concerning class conflicts with a theological approach which allows us to read the tale as a story about good and evil.
For, to pursue "a detailed and objective examination of our own and other people's economic behavior," says Rees, is to recognize the implausibility of "the belief that anything remotely resembling the kingdom of heaven exists or ever will exist around us in this world" (17). Thus, we see in The Turn of the Screw how people act when money and class interests are involved, and such a vision can be a "corrective of any such fallacy" as human perfectibility. Rees terms his approach
Albert F. Stone, Jr. also synthesizes Freudian and Marxist insights, reading the tale as a story
Stone suggests that "victimization" would be "almost inevitable for children in the situation of Miles and Flora" because of the Victorian social structure portrayed in the story and symbolized by Bly itself. The indifference of the uncle, Stone reminds us, was typical in upper class families and is reflected in numerous situations throughout James's canon. In this canon such indifference frequently leads to reliance on "one devoted person, a tutor (like Morgan's Pemberton), a nurse (like Maisie's Mrs. Wix), or a governess, who remains true to a trust that all too often goes unappreciated and unpaid" (91). In this story the "tragic limitation" is a mindset which is a natural consequence of the social and economic situation in which the governess finds herself. On the one hand, her hopeless situation has led to an understandable infatuation for the employer; on the other hand, the limited opportunities of her poverty stricken rural environment and the severe emotional and behavioral repressions which Victorian society imposed on middle class people--particularly, unmarried women--have bred in her a lack of sophistication which makes it impossible for her to understand the situation and a rigidity which makes it impossible for her to be tolerant of the inextricable mixture of good and evil which exists in all people. Thus, the children are victimized by psychological realities which are socially engendered. Moreover, the evil represented by Quint and Jessel is sociologically colored, if not sociologically engendered. "We gradually learn," says Stone, "how Peter Quint, when he was alive, manipulated the class situation to his licentious ends" (94). Consequently, while Stone is careful to deny that "the story can be reduced to this dimension," he insists that "the ghosts are in one sense . . . personifications of past and present social iniquity at Bly" (95-96).
Stone--like other critics, such as Bontly and Spilka--contends that the ghosts must be accepted as real in the tale's imaginary world.
He maintains, however--alluding to James's distinction in the Preface between the events themselves and "her interpretation of them"--that the ghosts are not the only source of evil; evil has other dimensions--among them, sociological ones--which this vicar's daughter cannot see. Accordingly,
The governess's failure to appreciate these realities, Stone suggests, is, in part, the cause of the children's victimization.
The governess destroys the children, Stone suggests, through the application of "a shallow and dangerous Christianity that by turns sentimentalizes and derogates the innocence of youth" (98).
Stone, like Firebaugh, sees in the governess a false savior whose "salvation" consists of imprisonment in perpetual inexperience and ignorance. He reminds us of how, in their confrontation on the way to church, the governess has "unconsciously" become "the sexual aggressor," denying Miles's "valid" desire to leave Bly and his possessive governess (94). He also recalls that, in the story's final scene, Quint is described as
Her desire to deny knowledge to others, of course, is complemented by a desire to know everything herself. Stone likens her to Oedipus for her "dreadful boldness of mind" which "urges her to uncover every secret." This insatiable hounding finally destroys the children, driving Flora to physical and emotional prostration and Miles to death. Furthermore, like Lydenberg, Stone suggests that part of this passion for knowledge is a desire to witness the destruction of others. Perhaps evil comes to full flowering in Miles and Flora because the governess wants it to be there.
This hubris and suspiciousness of others are linked to a naive and unsophisticated view of good and evil. The governess can see both herself and others only as completely good or utterly evil.
In her naivete, the governess, like Mrs. Grose, is something of a child herself, according to Stone. Thus, "four children . . . are left alone to confront the ghosts at Bly" (86). So the entire story is about childhood--specifically, "childish innocence and its involvement with corruption" (86).
The choice of childhood as subject, Stone reminds us, places the novella squarely within
Furthermore, Stone finds in Bly's children "three recognizable juvenile roles" endemic to nineteenth century American fiction--"the precocious infant (Hawthorne's Pearl or Elsie), the Bad Boy (Aldrich's Tom Bailey, Tom Sawyer), and the virginal maiden (Phoebe
Pyncheon or Crane's Maggie)" (87). Stone reminds us that Flora appears sophisticated beyond her years, while the governess appears more childlike and naive than her age would suggest. Miles, of course, is at least sometimes the Bad Boy--i.e., in his misconduct at school and his nocturnal escapade on the lawn. However, says Stone, while James has followed nineteenth century American conventions in his construction of these "three recognizable roles," his resolution of the typical "plot pattern" in such stories sets him apart from other American writers. The "ironic, even tragic denouement" of James's story
Such an interpretation of the story's theme is, of course, totally consistent with Stone's sociological approach which sees the story as an indictment of the Victorian caste system. For this society, on the one hand, overvalued innocence--particularly in middle class women such as the governess--and, on the other hand, condoned selfishness and negligence in upper class parents, which, in turn, frequently led to violent dispossessions of innocence. The story, Stone suggests, indicts this social order and invites the reader to consider alternatives:
Stone's article is an outstanding example of social psychological criticism. Stone's analysis of the story shows a clear pattern of psychological devastation caused by unjust and unhealthy social structures. Although Stone does not, like Spilka, offer a detailed analysis as to how economic realities engendered rigid puritanism in middle class people such as the governess, the governess's father, and Mrs. Grose, he does, like Cole, point out how the lack of communication between classes exacerbates the disastrous situation at Bly. "Communication between classes at Bly," Stone reminds us, is always "strained, formal, incomplete. Even the governess's love cannot make it otherwise" (94).
Stone never loses sight of literary realities; he never reduces the novella to a social psychological case history or, worse, a Marxist tract. He relates The Turn of the Screw to the rest of James's canon and to both nineteenth and twentieth century American literature --pointing out how James's story originated in the context of a pervasive American preoccupation with childhood innocence in the nineteenth century and
Stone is careful, also, to emphasize that sociological and psychological analyses cannot exhaust the story's meaning. Stone reiterates Douglas's warning that "we are not necessarily to expect clear answers to queries" about the story and emphasizes the "inescapably mysterious quality of the events narrated" (89). Stone terms the novella "the most shadowy and elusive short story of modern literature" (92) and specifically denies "that the story can be reduced to this [social psychological] dimension" (95).
Moreover, Stone is always concerned with the story's effect on the reader. Here he offers a novel twist or "turn" by suggesting a sociologically based reader-response criticism. In arguing for his sociological interpretation of the story, Stone contends that such a reading offers a richer experience to today's readers because historical realities have lessened the terror of the supernatural. Thus,
Stone's suggestion that a sociological grounding is necessary for the story to be believable is reminiscent of Goddard's suggestion that a psychological grounding is necessary for the story to be believable ". . . for us to regard the tale as anything more than simply a scary story," Stone says,
One example is particularly telling. Stone points out that an
Thus, the `ghostly effect' which the reader experiences is at least partly a result of sociological realities.
4. Fraser: A Non-Marxist Sociological Approach to the Governess's Psychological Crisis
John Fraser's interpretation grounds an analysis of the governess's psychology in historical and sociological realities other than economic conflicts between classes. Although the governess is English, Fraser focuses on
Thus, Fraser sees the story as a parable. The governess's psychological crisis and its eventual resolution, he suggests, are representative of the
experience of many protestants--particularly Calvinists--in responding to the New World. In arguing that her experience is representative, Fraser compares The Turn to other works by James and other American authors; his comparison of The Turn to The Red Badge of Courage is particularly illustrative. In the process he provides an interesting apparitionist variation on Wilson's 1938 suggestion that Jessel is the governess's Jungian shadow.
Fraser briefly surveys the apparitionist vs. non-apparitionist debate and places himself squarely in the apparitionist camp. He holds that the ghosts are real supernatural entities, not hallucinations. His psychological study, accordingly, is not an attempt to elucidate unconscious motivations for hallucinations, but rather an analysis of the governess's psychological processes as she confronts an objectively threatening situation.
Fraser begins his analysis by noting an apparent anomaly in need of explanation--the abrupt change in the governess following the appearance of Miss Jessel in the schoolroom in chapter fifteen. At this point, according to Fraser, the governess exchanges her "over-scrupulousness" and "sheer inability to come to terms with the problems" for "an almost jaunty forthrightness and decisiveness that result very quickly in the sending away of Flora and the saving of Miles" (331). Fraser compares this metamorphosis to
Fraser finds the latter example particularly relevant to a discussion of the transformation in the governess:
Each crisis is precipitated, Fraser suggests, by a "clash between . . . neo-pagan and Christian dispositions" (332), rather than by "obvious primary and secondary sources of disturbances," which are
Instead, Fraser says, the governess is
It is easy, of course, to see in the governess's crisis a microcosm of the crisis of the "nineteenth- century post-Protestant American consciousness" (330). Puritan views of man as innately and totally depraved appeared to give way to the equally extreme optimism of movements such as Transcendentalism--with its utopian experiments--largely due to the influence of the apparently boundless possibilities of the New World. Such unreasonable optimism, of course, would be challenged by realities such as slavery, the Civil War, and urban slums--although Fraser does not go into these historical particulars. He does, however, note the "immense disparity" between these poles of human experience, concretized in The Turn of the Screw by "the immense disparity between the children's appearance and the actuality that all the circumstances seem to be insisting that she attribute to them" (332).
The governess, like all religious fanatics and other intolerant people, cannot accept the complex mixture of good and evil which permeates the human world. Seeing no alternative to rigidly classifying people and events as either totally good or totally evil, the sight of the angelic children in communion with the evil ghosts throws her into a cognitive quandary.
This "impasse" is resolved, Fraser suggests, when the governess identifies with her "vile predecessor" upon encountering her in the schoolroom. Fraser notes--as have Wilson, Bontly, and others--the ways in which Miss Jessel "mirrors" the governess. Miss Jessel is sitting at the governess's table "in an attitude of woe" and struggling with a letter to a man at the very time when the governess is tormented by the increasingly urgent necessity of contacting the man she loves.
This identification, says Fraser, leads her to "come to terms with the full facts of the children's natures and conduct" (333), as she perceives evil, along with good, to be an inextricable part of herself and others rather than something absolute and alien.
Fraser's interpretation of the similarity between the governess and Miss Jessel is an interesting variation of Wilson's 1938 interpretation of Miss Jessel as the governess's Jungian shadow. Unlike Wilson, Fraser does not cite these similarities to argue that the ghosts are unconsciously motivated pathological hallucinations, but rather to suggest that the objective evil of Miss Jessel exists also in the governess and that the governess's recognition of this reality is psychologically salutary.
Fraser's article is an original and thought provoking synthesis of psychoanalysis and intellectual history, whereby the psychological problems of the
governess are shown to exemplify problems widely shared in a particular historical milieu and occasioned by definite historical realities. His interpretation suggests that the governess undergoes a recovery which exemplifies a possible solution to these problems. Unfortunately, however, Fraser too cursorily and cavalierly dismisses the many arguments against the objective reality of the ghosts. Furthermore, Fraser may be too complimentary in his appraisal of the governess; his opinion that she "saves" Miles, rather than harries him to death, is certainly questionable. Furthermore, implicit in Fraser's criticism is the germ of a promising idea which he unfortunately fails to develop. Fraser reminds us that the governess
Fraser interprets this as
Other critics (such as Briggs and Voegelin, to be discussed in the next chapter) have made similar observations but found her prayerless and Godless approach unsuccessful, noting at the story's end the serious illness of the implacably hostile Flora and the death of Miles with a curse on his lips. These critics have seen the story as an indictment of Pelagianism; and Pelagian Fraser's "nineteenth-century post-Protestant American consciousness" certainly seems to be.
E. Criticism Using The Turn of the Screw as a Focal Point for Reflection on the Relationship Between Psychoanalysis and Literature
Herbert Feinstein compares glove symbolism in James's The Turn of the Screw and Twain's Innocents Abroad. He finds in both cases "that the gloves symbolize the phallus in both the male and female unconscious mind" (352).
In Innocents Abroad American boys--"innocents"--are sold defective gloves by "a very handsome" woman in Gibraltar, which Feinstein reminds us,
The narrator pays for gloves from "the seductive Spanish wench" (358), who assured him his hand is "a most comely member" (359). The boys are "awkward" in trying the gloves on and "embarrassed" to be doing so in the presence of one another. The narrator feels pressured to "deserve" the "compliments" of the woman, who remarks that "some gentlemen are . . . awkward about putting . . . on" gloves (359). Later, "Twain's gloves are in dissolution: all ten phalli need to be discarded. The wages of sexual anxiety is the fantasy of castration" (364).
In The Turn of the Screw, Feinstein reminds us, the governess sees Quint looking in the dining room window when she comes into the room to retrieve her gloves which have been temporarily forgotten. The fact that the gloves have been forgotten, says Feinstein, indicates repression. In reflecting on "the governess . . . seeking those forgotten, guilty gloves, which, we recall, had been repaired `with a publicity perhaps not edifying,'" Feinstein reminds us that
That the "something" is sexual in this case is evident, Feinstein says, given the context of the "lapse":
The overall context of her "forgetting," of course, also includes her seeing Quint only from the waist up--a fact which may indicate fear of sexuality. Also, Feinstein reminds us of how Quint appears for the first time while the governess is daydreaming about the employer and how the governess, near the story's end, compares herself and Miles to a newly married bride and groom. Feinstein reminds us of the frequent use of words such as intercourse and known. To cite two representative instances out of many possible examples, the governess refers to the apparition in the parlor as "a forward stride in our intercourse" and to Miles as a "small helpless creature who had been for me a reevaluation of the possibilities of beautiful intercourse." This language, says Feinstein, points unmistakably to repressed sexuality:
Feinstein considers this shared symbolic import in "these two divergent writers" (351) to be a powerful argument for the validity of psychoanalytic criticism. This shared symbolic import, Feinstein maintains, "[makes] these two novelists secret sharers, or more properly, unconscious users, of a funded `analogical matrix'" (350) which springs from "the same thing in the `collective unconscious'--if I may borrow a phrase from Jung--of two American writers as different as Mark Twain and Henry James" (374).
We have divided psychoanalytic criticism into that which focuses on the writer, the fictional characters, or the reader and emphasized that, in all quality psychoanalytic criticism, these distinctions represent different emphases, not mutually exclusive types--since all good psychoanalytic criticism to some extent addresses all three concerns. Feinstein's theory of psychoanalytic criticism focuses primarily on the author but integrates the other two approaches as well.
The critic's task, as Feinstein sees it, is to elucidate the author's intended meaning--part or most of which may be unconsciously intended. His approach differs from the phenomenological criticism of Kenton in that his method of discovery is discursive reasoning about the text--its situations, omissions, the language of the narrator and his characters, etc.--in the light of psychoanalytic theory and biographical information about the author rather than intuitive identification with the author. Thus, the psychoanalytic critic is a detective rather than a mystic.
We find out, however, "what, in one important way or another, is the writer's unconscious mind" by studying the fictional works themselves, and this includes the fictional characters. Feinstein quotes approvingly Ernest Jones's "analysis of Hamlet as a living man" and explanation of how the critic "uses the imagined Hamlet to achieve insight into the historical Shakespeare":
Feinstein, however, is interested in understanding the author in a special way. He is not seeking to understand the author as an historical personage per se, but rather to understand the author's intended communication to the reader, part of which intention is unconscious. And to understand this intention more fully is to understand the reader's response more fully, for the reader is apprehending--consciously and unconsciously--universally understood realities, if Feinstein's understanding is correct. Just as the writer--because of repressions--may not consciously understand his own message, so the reader--because of repressions--may misunderstand.
Thus, Feinstein's theory integrates analyses of the author, the fictional characters, and the reader.
While Feinstein argues strongly for the validity of psychoanalytic criticism, he argues just as strongly against simplistic applications of psychoanalytic theory. "Only a fool or a fanatic--at times one and the same--might seek to construct any glib one-to-one relationship, or equation, between the glove and the phallus," according to Feinstein. In illustration he points to the "many things" which a rose "may signify": . . . purity, sexual passion, even the thorns which attend it. William Blake's `sick rose' may harbor disease. To those politically oriented, the rose may summon up mid-fifteenth century English dynastic wars. . . . And Gertrude Stein, no literalist she, maintains that a rose is, after all, only a rose (354).
Similarly, says Feinstein, in determining the significance of a symbol, the critic--often with incomplete success--
Consequently, in determining the significance of the governess's gloves, Feinstein echoes "Harry Levin's caveat about overly close reading" which ignores context (368) and includes a painstakingly thorough analysis of the context.
Feinstein does not offer a complete interpretation of The Turn of the Screw, but such an interpretation is not his intention. "My plan," he says, "is to explore the use of symbols in literature together with case studies of Twain and James" (35). This he has done very well.
Glen Ray Thomas began by observing that "psychoanalytic literary criticism raises problems both in psychology and in its assessment of literature as literature." His stated intention was that
He concluded that "some of the major problems presented by this criticism in America raises [sic] out of misunderstanding or disagreement as to what Freud's concepts of literature and the creative process really are" (1). To make the point Thomas chose what he considered to be the six major psychoanalytic interpretations of The Turn of the Screw and, in reviewing them, attempted "to show specifically how they succeed and how they fail as literary criticism, and how they illustrate some major aesthetic problems" in order
Thomas was only partially successful in carrying out these ambitious undertakings. In the first place, his choice of interpretations is too incomplete to be representative. He discusses Wilson, Geismar, Cargill, Goddard, Feinstein, and Cranfill and Clark--whose readings he terms "the six major interpretations" (6). The list includes Geismar,2 whose interpretation I consider relatively insubstantial, and excludes such outstanding essays as those of Bontly, Aswell, Aldrich, Katan, Edel, Stone, Rees, and Spilka. This incompletely representative list gives a distorted picture of psychoanalytic criticism. For example, his generalization that psychoanalytic critics "characteristically stress that the governess is mentally ill" would not apply to the sociologically grounded essays of Spilka, Bontly, Stone, or Rees. These critics assert that the governess is normal. Secondly, Thomas fails to do justice to some of the critics he does discuss.
For example, Thomas accuses Wilson of basing his interpretation solely on two symbols--
As I demonstrated, convincingly I hope, in the third chapter of this dissertation, Wilson's 1934 article relied on argumentation of three kinds: internal evidence from the story, including but not limited to the two above symbols; James's statements about the story in the Preface to Volume 12 of the New York Edition and his decision to include the tale in the same volume with The Aspern Papers, The Liar, and The Two Faces; and a consideration of broad patterns of personality and conduct which seem to permeate the entire Jamesian canon. Far from failing to "unify the work as a whole and support its thematic development," Wilson's brilliant work of authorial criticism, by locating at least some of James's problems in his particular historical and sociological milieu and demonstrating how the Jamesian pattern is mirrored in the sociologically influenced psychological problems of the governess and other Jamesian characters, opened the door to a fusion of Freudian and Marxist insights. Also, by his discussion of the reasons for the Victorian public's rejection of The Bostonians and lukewarm reception of much of James's other fiction, Wilson opened the door to a greater awareness of sociological considerations when evaluating reader responses. Wilson's suggestion of how the public reaction to the subject matter of The Bostonians may have inhibited a frank treatment of sexual material in The Turn of the Screw is an important insight into the ways in which literary works can be partly shaped by the anticipated response of a particular public. Wilson's 1938 essay suggested that Quint and Jessel's sexual relationship represented an unconsciously desired sexual relationship between the governess and the employer. This explanation, as we have pointed out, opened Jungian doors and shed additional light on a number of important scenes in the story. It also opened the door to Cole's social psychological reading which sees the governess possessed by "hysteria caused by her repression of her awareness that social inequities will frustrate her love for her employer" (Cole 1).
As I hope I have shown in my discussion of Feinstein, his main point is that the gloves are a phallic symbol. The other "symbols" are mentioned in passing in one paragraph of Feinstein's long article. Far from engaging in such ridiculously simplistic symbolic inreading, Feinstein takes great pains to insist that the entire context must be considered in the interpretation of any symbol. In the course of the one paragraph to which Thomas so misrepresentingly alludes, Feinstein throws down this caveat:
Thomas also ignores Feinstein's stated purpose in this article, which is to discuss the validity of psychoanalytic literary criticism, not to construct an "interpretation" of The Turn of the Screw, "coherent" or otherwise.
Thomas's discussion of Cargill's essay is little more than a listing of differences between the experiences of James's fictional governess and those of the governess in Freud's case history. We are reminded, for example, that James's governess, unlike Miss Lucy R., saw her employer only once and told that "Miss Lucy's mild conversions are paltry affairs in comparison to the governess's hallucinating state" (40). Thomas is apparently forgetting that a work of fiction cannot resemble a literary source in every respect without becoming merely a transcription of the source.
Thomas is also unfair when he says that "Thomas Cranfill and Robert Clark approach `The Turn of the Screw' as if it were a psychiatric case study rather than a work of fiction" (19-20). As I hope I have shown in my discussion of Cranfill and Clark, their "psychiatric" data was largely material--Parish's work, for example --which James could reasonably be expected to have read. One can hardly construct a literary source study of a fictional character while pretending to be considering a real person. Also, Cranfill and Clark specifically state that "we should persist in regarding The Turn of the Screw as primarily a work of art" (35) rather than a psychiatric case history. They defend their non-apparitionist interpretation by arguing that such a reading provides a richer artistic experience--i.e., the events are more horrifying and the destruction of the children more poignant. Secondly, they derive from the story a theme of universal import concerning the hazards of excessive sexual love--"another warning against the perils of loving not wisely but too well. . . . She is suffering the retribution that lies in wait for all who love baselessly and excessively. . ." (46).
Thomas rightly praises Goddard for sensitivity to literary values; however, in offering his own interpretation of The Turn of the Screw, Thomas, it seems to me, fails sufficiently to credit Goddard's influence. Indeed, Thomas's interpretation of The Turn of the Screw, which he presents in the penultimate chapter of his dissertation, seems to me, in its essential outline, to be similar to Goddard's. Thomas maintains, like Goddard, that the governess unconsciously manufactures the supernatural threat to the children so that she can perform some heroic service for the employer, the man she loves. He also, like Goddard, contends that she constructs this psychodrama out of the "germ" of hint Mrs. Grose has dropped about some handsome man who liked women "young and pretty" and about her predecessor who came to some undefined bad end.
This is not to say, however, that Thomas's interpretation does not contain original elements. Although the essential outline of the interpretation appears to have been borrowed from Goddard, Thomas, in developing his thesis, adds at least five original and very valuable elements of his own.
In the first place, Thomas provides a discussion of evil in the Jamesian canon as an argument for the plausibility of a psychoanalytic approach to The Turn of the Screw. Thomas surveys the following novels, "taken from different periods of James's creative life" (122): The American, The Bostonians, The Portrait of a Lady, The Aspern Papers, The Tragic Muse, What Maisie Knew, The Awkward Age, and The Ambassadors. "These novels," Thomas concludes,
For example, "What Maisie Knew and The Awkward Age . . . deal with children who are victims of degenerate families involved in obsessive, adulterous intrigues." Similarly,
This view of Jamesian evil, Thomas contends, is consistent with James's statements about fiction in correspondence and in sources such as Hawthorne and The Art of the Novel. Thomas reminds us that James deprecated allegory as "one of the lighter exercises of the imagination" and that, in James's own fiction,
Turning to James's ghost stories, Thomas reminds us that, of those stories which James chose to preserve, "only six . . . including The Turn of the Screw, involve the appearance of ghosts." Thomas surveys the five excluding The Turn of the Screw and concludes that their ghosts
We find a similar pattern in "The Real Right Thing": "There is a ghost in this story but the emphasis is not upon ghostliness in the usual sense. Here, as in `The Aspern Papers,' James is questioning anyone's right to invade the privacy of another's life" (125). And, finally,
This survey of the Jamesian canon leads Thomas to conclude that Peter Quint and Miss Jessel "are to be interpreted . . . as dramatic conceits intended to communicate some notion of the natural and social rather than the supernatural and Christian world" (126). Upon surveying James's canon, Thomas maintains,
Thomas further reminds us "that James's fiction previous to The Turn of the Screw frequently concerned itself with the destructive, sometimes fatal, consequences of self-deceived females" (128). In this connection Thomas cites not only Olive Chancellor in The Bostonians, but also Mrs. Ambient in "The Author Beltraffio," the unidentified narrator in "The Path of Duty," and Adela Chart in "The Marriages" (128-30).
The governess's unconsciously motivated destruction of the children is also suggested, Thomas contends, by
Similarly, "Maisie Farange . . . is not victimized by one but a series of unconscionable adults" (132); and "Nana Broookenham . . . is sacrificed to her mother's monumental ego" (133).
Thomas is certainly to be commended for his thorough and insightful survey of the Jamesian canon. While he ought, in my opinion, to credit the influence of Wilson and other psychoanalytic critics--Edel, for example--who have viewed The Turn of the Screw within the context of the Jamesian canon, Thomas has not simply repeated points made by Wilson or any other critic. Though he has not discussed individual works in as much detail as did Wilson, he has considered a greater number of works. Also, his purpose has been different from Wilson's. He has not sought to psychoanalyze James the author, but rather to argue that a psychoanalytic interpretation of The Turn of the Screw is consistent with broad patterns in James's fiction: realism, a non-supernatural conception of evil, and children and others victimized by unconsciously motivated and self-deluded persons.
If this insightful survey of the Jamesian canon is Thomas's first original contribution to The Turn of the Screw criticism, his second is an application of Freud's essay "The Uncanny." In this essay, Freud suggested that all people are unconsciously "under the sway of various primitive modes of thinking," believing in
Thomas finds a "striking" number of these "uncanny situations" in The Turn of the Screw, noting, for example, that
Thomas notes also that "Peter Quint makes his first appearance at the moment the governess is ardently wishing to encounter her employer, as though her very thoughts were omnipotent" and that "Miss Jessel . . . may be seen as a psychological double in the sense that she represents the governess's own projected desires and fears" (138).
Thomas with some justice accuses the psychoanalytic critics of overemphasizing the sexual elements in the story and underemphasizing the aforementioned "uncanny" elements.
Thomas's third major contribution to The Turn of the Screw criticism is a much fuller discussion of the tower symbolism than Wilson had provided. While admitting that the erect tower is a phallic symbol, Thomas finds many other uses which this symbol serves. It represents, for example, "a romantic revival of a respectable past, standing against the sky in the grandeur of its battlements." It represents also
The tower has its place also in the class conflicts with which the story is partly concerned. Its height "suggests the uncle's distance and his exalted position in comparison to the governess." Furthermore, "the grandeur of its battlements" suggests "the moral struggle with the ghosts for the souls of the children, as well as her own moral struggle and her fight for sanity." Finally, the tower "is a place where an insane person might be confined" (142)--consequently, it reminds her of Jane Eyre and The Mystery of Udolpho.
Fourthly, Thomas has tied together Goddard's idea that the governess is constructing a psychodrama with herself as heroine in order to impress the employer with Wilson's notion of the sexual relationship between Quint and Jessel mirroring and symbolizing the governess's unconsciously desired sexual relationship between herself and the employer. The governess begins by constructing the aforementioned psychodrama, Thomas suggests, so that she can view herself as providing some heroic service for the uncle, and then,
Finally, Thomas has added a novel twist to Goddard's suggestion that the governess unconsciously begins to construct her psychodrama out of the hints Mrs. Grose has thrown out about some unidentified man who liked women "young and pretty." The governess's initial delusions, Thomas suggests, do not involve the supernatural. She first assumes that this man is still alive. After the second vision, when Mrs. Grose tells her that Quint is dead, "she has no choice but to stick to her story, even though it commits her to visions of the dead" (145).
In addition to critiquing the critics we have discussed and offering his own interpretation of The Turn of the Screw, Thomas has made constructive and thoughtful suggestions for psychoanalytic literary criticism in general and castigated psychoanalytic critics of The Turn of the Screw for not implementing them. While his suggestions for psychoanalytic literary criticisms are sound, his broadsides aimed at psychoanalytic critics of The Turn of the Screw are undeserved. His conclusions are based on too small and unrepresentative a sample of criticism; furthermore, Thomas frequently does not do justice to the critics he does discuss.
Thomas rightly urges psychoanalytic critics to consider the whole of Freud's work, not just early specimens such as Studies in Hysteria and Hamlet, which perhaps overemphasize genital sexuality and simplify artistic creation--sometimes even appearing to reduce it to neurotic manifestations. A chronological survey of the Freudian canon, Thomas points out, shows that
Freud did not look for isolated "symbols" in works of literature, says Thomas, nor treat authors and fictional characters as case histories. Instead,
Thomas also points out that, in his essay on Lear, Freud specifically disavows an identity between art and neurosis and cautions that "`one is hardly entitled to expect from a poet a clinically correct description of mental illness.'" Thomas also points out "that in neither this essay on King Lear nor in those on Macbeth and Richard III does Freud find sex to be either a primary or secondary theme" (46). Thomas emphasizes that Freud "never said that a writer is necessarily neurotic, or that creativity and neurosis are inextricably bound together" (62).
The above points are well taken. Thomas is unfair, however, when he says that "the promising beginning which Freud gave to psychoanalytic literary criticism is nowhere reflected in the interpretations of The Turn of the Screw" (47).
The suggestion to interpret individual works and parts thereof in the light of the author's entire canon has been followed by many psychoanalytically oriented critics--of whom Wilson, Edel Rosenzweig, Sharp, Leavis, and Aswell are a few representative examples. The overemphasis on genital sexuality which Thomas assumes to be characteristic of all psychoanalytic criticism of this story would come as a surprise to critics such as Cole, Spilka, Rees, and Stone--who see the story primarily as a tale about divisions between social and economic classes--and Fraser who sees the governess's problem as primarily theological in nature. None of the psychoanalytic critics we have discussed in this chapter can justly be accused of reducing the governess to a
psychiatric case history--nor can others, such as Wilson, Edel, or Goddard. Thomas is wrong also to indiscriminately accuse psychoanalytically oriented critics of reducing art to a manifestation of neurosis. Psychiatrists Katan and Aldrich, for example, specifically disavow this notion. And critics such as Bontly, Spilka, Rees, Fraser, and Aswell--among others--consider the governess herself to be normal. The above critics also--with their all-pervasive interest in the relationships among the characters--do not "[dismiss] the critical task by removing the governess from the total setting and from the context of characters" (32). Furthermore, authorial critics such as Wilson and Aswell, who find universally applicable meanings and profound social criticism in the story, can hardly be justly accused of "[reducing] literature to its unconscious origins" (154). Critics such as Lydenberg and Fraser, who have fused psychoanalytic and theological approaches, can hardly be accused of ignoring the non-psychoanalytic intellectual disciplines which Thomas urges be acknowledged.
Let us recapitulate. Thomas's interpretation of The Turn of the Screw contains original and valuable elements--he should, however, in presenting this interpretation, have acknowledged a debt to critics such as Goddard and Wilson. He is right to reject a simplistic psychoanalytic approach which equates art with neurosis, reducing the literary product to its psychological origins, and treats fictional characters as if they were psychiatric case histories. In so doing, however, he is "preaching to the converted," if we may be permitted to "turn the screw" with a cliche. His recommendations are well taken, but they have been taken by critics both without and within his unrepresentative and unfairly castigated sampling.
The period from 1958 through 1969 was very rich in Turn of the Screw criticism. The discussion continued to be dominated by the apparitionist/non-apparitionist controversy, but with important modifications. Partly because of the influence of structuralism, critics tended to concentrate more on technique and less on content in their critical analyses of the story: following the lead broached by Edel in his discussion of the novella in The Psychological Novel, they concentrated less on deriving philosophical themes which would integrate the psychoanalytic and theological readings and more on studying the ways in which the ambiguity had been produced by the author--through a study of his narrative techniques--and the effects of such ambiguity on the reader's experience of the text.
Thus, Jones emphasized the three-narrator frame and its lessening of the story's incredibility, as well as its tendency to draw the reader into the fictional world; West emphasized in "The Death of Miles" the numerous syntactical and other ambiguities purposely placed to engender doubt as to what is happening in the final scene; West in A Stormy Night delineated a rich plethora of literary sources and found them adhering in no coherent thematic patterns, but rather falling into the pattern of a "nightmare"; Rubin, following Collins, emphasized the possible identity of Miles and Douglas, not to "interpret" the story, but rather to show how James, the consummate entertainer, "has led us along first one trail and then another, until finally we have doubled back upon ourselves and are just where we started" ("One More Turn" 326); Costello considered the apparitionist vs. non-apparitionist debate to be the product of an irreducible ambiguity and, instead of attempting to resolve the question, sought to show how it is engendered by the juxtaposition of factual "representations"--including accurate statements of what the governess sees--and dubious "interpretations" of these data--statements, for example, that her visions are supernatural rather than hallucinatory; Enck developed these ideas further, pointing out how the author leads readers along a certain path "until, suddenly, the obviously objective dissolves in misstatements" (263); Krook lists numerous elements in the plot which can be read in more than one sense and other elements which appear to support one side of the controversy but are complemented by elements which support the other side.
Other critics derived philosophical, theological, or psychological themes not from an apparitionist or non-apparitionist reading, but rather from an all-pervasive ambiguity which they held to be deliberately engendered and insoluble.
Thus, Enck suggests that the story's refusal to yield a definitive reading--the intractability of its ambiguity--highlights
Trachtenberg sees in the ambiguous fusing of the identities of Miles and Douglas a message about the dreadfulness of secret sin and the overwhelming need for confession. Clair sees in James's utilization of "dramatic irony" a "thematic irony"--the view that life is never what it seems, on the surface, to be. Sharp reads in the story's all-pervasive ambiguity the lesson that evil is so profound as to elude rational understanding. Wright maintains that the insoluble ambiguity is there to reflect an important truth about the human condition--that we can never know the whole truth and yet must act in contexts where mistaken action can bury us in guilt. Shine sees in the ambiguity lessons about the ethical problems of acting in the light of incomplete knowledge--specifically lessons about the disastrous effects of attempting to achieve, or assuming one has achieved, certain knowledge in situations where certainty is impossible. Ward finds in this ambiguity the suggestion that people who appear to be good can, in reality, be tainted by evil. Krook contends that the all-pervasive ambiguity yields at least three philosophical themes: "`the mystery of iniquity' and `the mystery of godliness' . . . the final inexplicability, both in its nature and origin, of absolute evil and good in the human soul" (131); and, finally, the theme of "epistemological incapacity" in human nature (133)--the ambiguous situation which confronts the governess at Bly is paradigmatic of the ambiguities which confront all people.
We see the influence of structuralism also in the view of literature as an isolated and self-referential world. We find this view reflected in Turn of the Screw criticism which attempts to contextualize the novella in the world of literature rather than to seek a "meaning" external to the world of literature. Thus, Enck understands the work in the context of similar works at the beginning of the twentieth century. They help to explain The Turn, and The Turn, (in turn?) helps to illuminate them. The meaning which Enck finds in these works is precisely the refusal to yield a definitive meaning. Similarly, Heilman, Feuerlicht, and Fraser see the work as part of a body of literature and contend that fictional works which are not sources can nevertheless aid in understanding The Turn of the Screw. Booth explains how other literary works necessarily predispose critics to read The Turn of the Screw in certain ways. Muriel West in A Stormy Night sees The Turn of the Screw as a literary work made up of bits and pieces of many other literary works. Also, West's A Stormy Night, like Solomon's study, is itself a literary work. West combines literary criticism and fiction to produce a hybrid form--her book is both a critical study and a novella with a fictional and largely unreliable narrator commenting on both real and imaginary authors and literary works--while Solomon hybridizes literary criticism and satirizing of other literary critics. Many critics during this period insisted that the work cannot be understood except in the context of the entire Jamesian canon--for example, Rubin, West, Vaid, Sharp, Shine, Ward, Krook, Spilka, Stone, Fraser, and Thomas. Thus, each author's canon is considered, in some sense, to be a distinct world with its own rules and criteria of meaning.
The influence of structuralism is also apparent in the recurrent suggestions as to how the structure of the work forces the reader to become a participant in the story. Thus, Jones showed how the narrative frame tends to make the reader a participant auditor around Douglas's fire. Costello showed how the reader is lured into accepting the "interpretations" of the governess because of the veracity of her "representations." Enck, Wright, Shine, Ward, and Krook see the reader--in attempting to unravel the unfathomable mysteries of Bly--repeating the mental processes of the governess. Katan sees the reader unconsciously re-enacting the governess's oedipal nightmare. Siegel, Willen, and Bontly see the reader forced to terrify himself as he unconsciously fills in the ambiguous lacunae with material from his own experience. Aswell sees the reader forced to confront within himself the spurious attractiveness of puritanism. Spilka and Stone see the reader forced desperately to seek a solution to problems which Victorian social structures have made insoluble.
The period under discussion also produced a rich array of psychoanalytic criticism. All of the critics we have discussed, in one way or another, explicitly or implicitly, synthesized analyses of the author, the fictional characters, and the reader. Moreover, Spilka, Rees, Stone, and Fraser produced masterful syntheses of psychoanalytic and sociological insights. In so doing, all, in one way or another, enriched our understanding of the theological dimensions of the novella--morality, after all, can never be divorced from its social context. This increased awareness of the sociological substratum was an important development in the history of the criticism of the work.
1 Accordingly, Heilman presents a detailed comparison between The Turn of the Screw and The Pledge by the twentieth century Swiss novelist Friedrich Duerrenmatt, emphasizing that he is "not concerned with sources or parallels interesting for their own sake, but with Duerrenmatt's sense of human reality and its corroboration of a central James insight" (348). (This is a spelling used by Pichard and Clara Winslow whose translation from the German I am using; I will use this spelling in my references to the novelist. Heilman spells the name Duerrenmatt, so I will retain this spelling when I quote Heilman. The difference is an example of the differences between German and Swiss orthography.
2 Although Geismar's Henry James and the Jacobites is, on the whole, a substantial work of Jamesian scholarship, I did not consider his remarks on The Turn of the Screw substantial enough to merit a section in this already long chapter (Geismar's book was published in 1963). Geismar considers the tale an insubstantial ghost story which the critics have overrated. Since Geismar holds that the ghosts are real ghosts which have corrupted the children through sexual activity, his psychoanalytic criticism focuses on James himself rather than the governess. The governess, says Geismar, represents James the prurient child in pursuit of sexual knowledge--while the children represent sexually active parent figures. The story is thus a "childhood fantasy or ego-rationalization" in which "these Jamesian children, moving more and more closely to the dark, hidden core of adult sexuality, always `knowing' more and more about it (in their own, or in James's devouring need) should finally know it all...they not only come to `know' and to dominate the parents--but...they themselves become the parents. But then, also, if they are the parents, it is inevitable that the `guilty father' (Miles) should be condemned to death for his mysterious and corrupt pleasures; while the guilty mother (Flora), more tenderly treated, is only sent off, in the midst of a complete nervous breakdown, to some infantile-oedipal netherland ....this explanation of the `mystery' of `The Turn of the Screw' is the reason for this little tale's abiding fascination..." (182)--among, presumably, the countless critics, scholars, artists, philosophers, theologians, psychoanalysts, etc. who "overvalue" the novella. The above ideas appear on one page of Geismar's 483 page book. His ten-page discussion of The Turn of the Screw consists mainly of prolix summarizing of the plot and unsupported assertions that the Freudian critics are wrong in seeing the tale as other than a straightforward ghost story and the apparitionist critics such as Heilman are wrong to overvalue what is only a commercial potboiler. The above insights as to the possible sources of the story in the author's unconscious and the dynamics of the reader's response have been made much more thoroughly and convincingly by Aldrich and Katan--and, in so doing, these psychiatrists have not reduced this masterpiece to the pathological outpouring of a neurotic for the unhealthy satisfaction of other neurotics. Geismar also suggests that the nineties, which produced The Turn of the Screw, were a decade of regression to preoccupation with unresolved childhood problems after the collapse of James's theatrical career. This point, however, has been made much more convincingly and thoroughly by critics such as Rosenzweig, Leavis, and Edel.