The Turn Of the Screw By Henry James – A Book Review

Pictured above is my actual copy of The Turn Of the Screw by Henry James. I bought it in the early 1990s at my local Walmart when they had a 2 for $1 special going on. Yes, even in high school, I loved books and read them for the pure joy of it.

This book has sat on my shelves decade after decade ever since. Finally, after watching The Haunting Of Bly Manor, a show supposedly based on The Turn Of the Screw, I decided to read the source material.

I have to tell you, even though this is a short read, I found it to be quite a chore. Henry James, like so many others of his era, delivered complex sentence that, while carefully constructed, tended to take a while to say anything. That fact, coupled with very little actual information being conveyed by the narrator, proved frustrating.

In fact, I found the premise of this novel rather unbelievable in that no governess would write in such a complicated, intricate manner. This style of writing seemed very specific to authors such as Henry James from that particular moment in time. The idea that a governess would write so similarly bothered me. Or, perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe all governesses wrote like world-renowned authors.

I also felt bothered by the fact that, by book’s end, we have no solid answers as to what exactly took place in The Turn Of the Screw. I’ve read some of the analyses regarding this novel, and I think they are all being quite gracious to Henry James.

Is it a ghost story? Is it a psychological story? Is it a story about induced hallucinations? Take your pick. All could be argued.

I must comment on one specific thing about the governess, though. Her infatuation with ten-year-old Miles troubled me to no end. Perhaps it was just me, but I picked up on some overt sexual overtones in The Turn Of the Screw. For example, the governess commented that, at one point, she kissed Miles. That was it. Not on the head. Not on the cheek. Just kissed. She also often described him as beautiful, charming, and perfect. She frequently held him, alone, when it was just the two of them. This coupled with the fact that the ten-year-old Miles spoke as though he was twenty-five, alarmed me. Remember, the governess is the narrator, so all information is flowing through her, including the depiction of Miles. By the book’s end, I was fairly sure our narrator was the story’s true villain. Maybe this is too modern of a reading … or maybe this kind of thing has always existed and it’s now more recognizable, even in books over a century old.

While I recognize that Henry James has been studied across the world for a very long time by some of our brightest minds, I honestly cannot claim to have enjoyed The Turn Of the Screw.

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