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The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers (Penguin Classics)
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57 of 60 people found the following review helpful
One of the most seductive of all ghost stories, Turn of the Screw is not a tale for people inured to Halloween I and II or Tales from the Crypt. It is a sophisticated and subtle literary exercise in which the author creates a dense, suggestive, and highly ambiguous story, its suspense and horror generated primarily by what the author does NOT say and does not describe. Compelled to fill in the blanks from his/her own store of personal fears, the reader ultimately conjures up a more horrifying set of images and circumstances than anything an author could impose from without.
Written in 1898, this is superficially the tale of a governess who accepts the job of teaching two beautiful, young children whose uncle-guardian wants nothing to do with them. On a symbolic level, however, it is a study of the mores and prejudices of the times and, ultimately, of the nature of Evil. The governess fears that ghosts of the former governess Miss Jessel and her lover, valet Peter Quint, have corrupted the souls of little Flora and Miles and have won them to the side of Evil. The children deny any knowledge of ghosts, and, in fact, only the governess actually sees them. Were it not for the fact that the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, can identify them from the governess's descriptions, one might be tempted to think that the governess is hallucinating.
Though the governess is certainly neurotic and repressed, this novel was published ten years before Freud, suggesting that the story should be taken at face value, as a suspenseful but enigmatic Victorian version of a Faustian struggle for the souls of these children. The ending, which comes as a shock to the reader, is a sign that such struggles should never be underestimated. As is always the case with James, the formal syntax, complex sentence structure, and elaborately constructed narrative are a pleasure to read for anyone who loves language, formality, and intricate psychological labyrinths. Mary whipple
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Unlike some of the other reviewers here I still think this is the creepiest book I've ever read, and all the more terrifying for the fact that James never articulates what's going on - he simply leaves your imagination to float free and conjure up all your worse nightmares. Yes, he's never an easy read (though this is far more accessible than Wings of the Dove, The Golden Bowl etc) but I think his very stately, mannered sentences and diction actually add to the horror of the story. Don't read this if you're expecting Stephen King or The Exorcist - James expects his readers to make the effort to read properly. Someone called this (possibly James himself?)'the most poisonous little tale I could imagine' and I think that's a perfect description - when I re-read it, it was on the tube with bright lights and lots of people around as I couldn't face reading it at home alone!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 18 May 2008
It's been over a hundred years since Henry James' novella was published. I'm sure readers at the time were spooked by its tale of ghosts threatening the innocence of two children, and the attempts of a quasi-hysterical governess to save them. It was that period of the Victorian era when séances and ghosts were popular, when spiritists promised to bridge the road between the living and the dead. People enjoyed sitting around a fire and sharing ghost stories, specially during Christmas time.

But times have changed and this novella is now more interesting as a controversial piece of lit crit rather than a frightening ghost story. Did the ghosts in the story really exist? Or was it all part of the governess' imagination? You are never given the answers. One interesting question which resonates with today's world is what kind of "evil" was inflicted on the children. It's suggested that a deceased governess and her lover did "depraved" things to the children, only to later return as ghosts in order to continue their evil influence. But what kind of evil exactly?

If you enjoy puzzles and hard-to-read English writing, this novella is for you; if you are after an easy page-turner, you are better off looking elsewhere.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2010
These stories are samplers in two senses. They serve as relatively accessible introductions to James's writing, but they are also samplers in the embroidery sense - they are James showing off what he could do in genre writing. "The Aspern Papers" is an amusing story of an attempted "hustle", but of course, this being James, it is still quite consciously "literary" in parts. "The Turn of the Screw" is more intriguing. Critics have argued whether it is a ghost story or a psychological portrait, and James, as ambiguous as ever, was quite capable of intending it to be both. But while not discounting either of these possibilities, I've a third suggestion that I prefer: it could be a fragment of an unfinished, powerful murder mystery novel, worthy of Wilkie Collins. I'll try not to spoil the story, but when you have read it (and you should) consider the following. There are three deaths to account for (all occurring under suspicious circumstances), a shadowy uncle whose motives for absenting himself are unclear, and a very dubious and uncorroborated explanation of her actions by the heroine. It would be a good exercise for a would-be crime writer to try to complete it by introducing a detective!
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 2005
‘TTOTS’ is a classic chilling tale from Henry James. It would not be fair to describe it as horror, because there is no gore, or as a ghost story, because it is far subtler than that. The story concerns a nanny looking after the children of a rich widower with whom she has fallen in love. Her desire to protect the children is tested when she begins to see two nefarious (and long-dead) former employees of the house, apparently threatening her charges. As the nanny’s sanity is called into question, we begin to wonder who represents the real danger in the house.
‘TTOTS’ is an excellent example of ambiguous writing. Even at the shocking conclusion, it is not clear if we have just read a ghost story or an example of psychological fiction. It is difficult to say too much without giving too much away about the story, but every event, or encounter with the ghostly figures, has two interpretations. It is very cleverly written, and all the more spooky because of it.
Having said all that, I am not a fan of James’ writing style. The only other book of his that I have read (‘The Ambassadors’) has tortuously constructed sentences that are painful to read. This is also true of ‘TTOTS’. Fortunately, the story of the title is easily gripping enough for this not to be a problem, but the rest of this collection is instantly forgettable because of it. Nevertheless, it is well-worth a read as one of the greatest spooky stories ever told.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
After watching the latest adaptation of this timeless classic Turn of the Screw [DVD] [2009] I realised that although I have read it many many times I have not actually ever reviewed it. If Henry James had only ever written this, and nothing else he would still be remembered as this is pure brilliance. Who knows - after reading this novella you may start to read other works by 'The Master'.

This tale crossed genres and has continued to be avidly studied and written about up until the present time, and if the human race lasts that long, for centuries to come. I always envy someone who is reading this for the first time, as it will beguile you and lead you into one way of thinking, and then take you onto another path.

When our hapless governess is put into charge of a little girl in a secluded and quiet mansion things look like they are going well. However when the girl's brother is expelled from school the governess finds she may have bitten off more than she can chew. Although loving both children, what exactly was the boy expelled for? And then our governess claims to see apparitions, which turn out to be former servants at the house she is working. Could the servants have come back from the dead to take the children? Or could our governess be going mad with hysteria and unattended sexual feelings? Only you can decide, and you will probably spend a lifetime trying to work it out, it is that ambiguous. Nowadays when I read it I either read it as a supernatural tale, or a psychological thriller, depending how the mood takes me.

Henry James really turned the screw here with his power of suspense, and this tale will grip you from start to finish. If you only ever read one thing by Henry James, then this is it. This is a definite must have book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2008
* Henry James's The Turn of the Screw has inspired a divided critical debate, the likes of which the literary world has rarely seen. When the short novel was first published in 1898, it was published in three different versions, as a serial in Collier's Weekly and in book form with another tale, in both American and English editions. James later revised the story and published it in 1908 in the twelfth volume of the New York Edition of The Novels and Tales of Henry James. It is the 1908 version that the author preferred and to which most modern critics refer. However, no matter what version readers encounter, they may find themselves falling into one of two camps supported by critics to this day. Either the story is an excellent example of the type of ghost story that was popular at the end of the nineteenth century or it is a psychoanalytic study of the hallucinations of a madwoman.
* As a ghost story, then the tale details the classic struggle between good and evil and dealings with the supernatural. If one takes it as a psychoanalytic study, then the story emphasizes sexual repression and the sources of insanity. In either case, The Turn of the Screw has delighted readers for more than a century and continues to serve as one of the many examples of James's literary artistry, among such other notable works as The American, The Ambassadors, and The Portrait of a Lady.
* Adaptations:
1. The Innocents, 1961, Deborah Kerr
2. The Nightcomers [1972] director Michael Winner: When their parents die in an accident, Flora and Miles are cared for by Miss Jessel (Beacham) the governess and Mrs Grose (Hird) the housekeeper. But it is really Quint (Brando), the Irish servant, who really runs the house and particularly Miss Jessel who submits herself totally to him. The children see Quint as a fascinating source of knowledge and believe everything he says is true, however skewed his vision on life may be. It is this influence on Flora and Miles that leads to Quint's ultimate demise...
3. Benjamin Britten's interpretation of the 1898 Henry James tale performed at Fulbeck Hall in Lincolnshire. Richard Hickox conducts.
4. A Jealous Ghost ~A.N. Wilson
5. * 1959, with Ingrid Bergman
6. * 1974, with Lynn Redgrave
7. * 1982, with Helen Donath
8. * The Haunting of Helen Walker (1985, Valerie Bertinelli)
9. * Otra vuelta de tuerca (1985)
10. * 1990, with Amy Irving
11. * 1990, with Helen Field
12. * 1992, with Patsy Kensit
13. * Presence of Mind [1990] starring: SADIE FROST, HARVEY KIETEL, LAUREN BACALL: Henry James' classic tale of terror "Turn of the Screw" receives its most stunning screen adaptation to date in this 19th Century period thriller. Upon the death of her incestuous father, a young woman is called on to serve as a Governess for two children, Miles and Flora. Their Uncle, the master, became the guardian of the youngsters after the loss of their parents. Seduced by the charm of their Uncle, she accepts his one condition: to take sole responsibility for them and never trouble him. Although happy with the location and nature of her job, the Governess soon encounters problems with the two children and the estate housekeeper. When she stumbles upon a secret room, the Governess discovers dark secrets and begins to understand the reason behind the children's eerie behaviour.
14. * 1999, with Jodhi May
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on 31 December 1999
Outwardly the novella appears to be a straightforward ghost story, narrated by the governess the 'victim' of this story A governess is offered the position of taking under her care two small charges - brother and sister - whose parents have passed away. Their uncle whom is their legal guardian assigns them to the care and protection of a young governess twenty years of age.
Placed in supreme authority of the big ramnbling country house over the children and servants - the young governess becomes aware of malevolent presences within and around the house. She sees the ghosts of the previous valet and governess both of whom passed away a while back. Convinced the two ghosts are after the souls of her two young charges, she resorts to desperate measures and round the clock care to keep the children safe and solve the mystery of the relationship between the previous inhabitants and her dependants.
However a disturbing relationship develops between her and that of her sole charges - most noticably Miles, the young boy. It is this eerie theme of sexual and social unrest that makes the novel so disturbing. Much of the novel is told through the viewpoint of the governess. It is only by studying the dialogues between her and her charges that the truth, her behaviour, her ulterior motives, finally becomes apparent.
Henry James does a fine job of creating an eerie atmosphere, keeping the reader in suspense. His delicate allusions to the strange forces of evil keep the plot from becoming obvious. A second reading of the novel is essential in order to realise fully the truth that is constantly hinted at throughout the novel.
The Turn of the Screw succeeds due to its ambiguity and projection of mental imbalance, all the more powerful as events are told from the governess' viewpoint. The reader has to sift and judge the account on an objective basis in order to be able to perceive the truth.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2013
Henry James was, we are told, a lifelong celibate and, probably because of that, these brilliant stories are obsessed with sex but don't, of course, have any actual sex in them, which inevitably would have posed the author problems. The Aspern Papers is related from the viewpoint of a literary collector (HJ loved his collectors, such as Gilbert Osmond in The Portrait of a Lady), conspicuously unattached to a partner, who wants the precious papers of his poet idol from a pair of old dears living like hermits in a crumbling Venetian palazzo. In his efforts to get his hands on the spoils (and his "heart beats faster" and "pulses race" when he thinks of this consummation) he manages inadvertently to cause the younger of the women to fall in love with him and propose marriage in a roundabout way. Not in the plan, Dan, and HJ expresses his squeamish horror well. On to the Screw and again the bulk of the tale is told from a first-person stance, this time a neurotic governess, another character untroubled by an actual adult relationship but certainly harrowed by the lack of one. A critical industry has grown up around whether the "ghosts" here are real or not, with various camps churning out conveyor belts of waffle to try to convince us, and themselves, that they are right. But it doesn't matter as the phantoms are real enough to the narrator and hence to us. This is a genuinely spooky tale and a warning not to employ a vicar's daughter to look after your children. Two stories; two gems. Henry James - you devil!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
As with other books in the series some of the proceeds from the sale of this will go to charity to help eradicate AIDS in Africa.

After being taken to Rye earlier this week I paid my own little pilgrimage to Lamb House, where Henry James lived from 1897 onwards. When my dad had found that I wanted to see this house he asked why, and then I found out that he didn't know who Henry James was. Since then I have asked around this week only to be astounded at the number of people who don't know who he is. Poor old Mr James, 'The Master', must be spinning in his grave if he knows about this. I am a James fan and think he is truly great, but I will be the first to admit that he wrote some great tales, and others that just aren't so good, but anyone who has ever read this novella has to agree that it is absolutely amazing. If Henry James had only ever written this he would still be considered a genius.

A governess is employed to look after two children in a country house, apart from the servants and firstly a little girl, there is no one else there, and the local village is some way off. At first the job looks quite easy, but when the boy appears after being expelled from school, things start to take a more sinister turn. With the governess believing that there are a strange couple around after the children she finds out about a tale of her predecessor and another servant, and thus comes to the conclusion that they are ghosts.

As the tale unfolds you begin to wonder if this is a supernatural tale, or a psychological work, with the governess going slightly batty due to repressed sexual feelings. Depending on what mood I'm in I will read this either way, and that is one of the true geniuses of this tale, it is so ambiguous. This has inspired tv adaptations, films and even works by others, including The Little Stranger.

Being a novella this is a short read, but it will stay with you long after you have finished it, and should have you soon coming back to read it all other again.
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