Catch up with past entries:
- “The Turn of the Screw” — Introduction through Chapter 2
- Steve’s Response: “The Turn of the Screw” — Introduction through Chapter 2
Hey, guess what! My Norton has the serialization notations, so I’m going to try to get us in line with each official segment. Chapter 5, according to Norton, is the end of the fourth installment.
On with my notes.
“He was incredibly beautiful.” — One of the points you’ve often made, and with which I agree, is that a particular horror James wants to deal with is the defiling of the innocence of these children. The Victorians created this Cult of the Child, and perpetrated/perpetuated this idea of “beauty = innocence,” and this is the second instance in this novel where the children’s beauty is mentioned. (Earlier, the governess says of Flora, “She was the most beautiful child I had ever seen.“) However, the governess goes further about this beauty and innocence just a couple of moments after that initial quote: “What I then and there took him to my heart for was something divine that I have never found to the same degree in any child—his indescribable little air of knowing nothing in the world but love.”
She’s known Miles and Flora for approximately 17 minutes (Editor’s note: The exact time that the governess has known the children has been adjusted for exasperation). She’s madly in love with both of them. This seems…excessive. And it seems intentionally excessive. Like, James is trying to give us a hint: white lady be tripping. (Editor’s note: The subtitle Henry James suggested to Edith Wharton for her novel The House of Mirth was “Bitches be Shopping.”) (Editor’s editor’s note: No.) However, one could also say, because of the complicated narrative structure of this book, that, since the governess is writing this account down at some point after the fact, she might be conflating or misrepresenting the emotional timeline. After the fact, of course, the governess knows how much she loved both children, and so that makes it too early into her account when, more likely, at the time, she actually didn’t know much of the alleged innocence of either child.
She held me there a moment, then whisked up her apron again with her detached hand. “Would you mind, miss, if I used the freedom—”
“To kiss me? No!” I took the good creature in my arms and, after we had embraced like sisters, felt still more fortified and indignant. — Speaking of “excessive” and “white lady be tripping” — are we sure that’s what Mrs Grose was going to ask the governess? Isn’t it just as likely Mrs Grose was going to finish her “if I used the freedom” with “to suggest that you need a nap?” or “to suggest you need some perspective?” or “to suggest that you might want to seek out a different line of work?”
Again: I think James is doing this intentionally. And it answers, a little, one of your initial points where you say, “James wouldn’t want the reader to figure out that the governess is mad until the very end, or near the end. Presumably he would plant clues so that, at the moment of realization, the reader would have the pleasure of remembering the hints that had been dropped.” We get clues pretty regularly that the governess is willing to jump to conclusions and make assumptions that might not necessarily be correct or intended.
I was giving pleasure—if he ever thought of it!—to the person to whose pressure I had responded. — The governess is describing her thoughts and feelings while going on her dusk walk through the gardens. She’s about to see Peter Quint for the first time and let me just attend to this right now: Yes. I wrote that “she’s about to see Peter Quint for the first time” while maintaining that actually no, she doesn’t really see Peter Quint at any time. That’s just the limitations of English, since we don’t have a tense or verb or construction or whatever to help me out here. I’m just noting again, even though you and I already agree on this point, that if one were to argue Sexual Repression or Frigidity for the governess, they’d have a tough time of it because she’s just sexy all over the place, this governess, thinking about the Master and seeing guys on towers (He did stand there!—but high up, beyond the lawn and at the very top of the tower) that are probably, let’s just say this, penises. (Thomas Hardy wrote a book called Two on a Tower and I scrawled across the title page in all-caps: WE GET IT, TOM. THE TOWER’S A PHALLUS. CAN WE GO NOW?)
it would be as charming as a charming story suddenly to meet someone. — More of James making meta allusions, using a character in a novel musing about being in a story.
The shock I had suffered must have sharpened all my senses. — “Not dulled them, not destroyed them.” Yeah. We saw how well that worked out for that guy. (Oh, and yeah! YEAH! SUCK IT STEVE: Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” is just one continual unreliable narrative. Published in 1843! IN YOUR FACE!) (Editor’s note: At one point, during the beach vacation, during a tense luncheon where our two correspondents were arguing about The Turn of the Screw, Steve had asked Mike about the likelihood of unreliable narrators in Victorian fiction. I offered some, but Steve wasn’t necessarily convinced and if Mike were being honest, one of his suggestions — Esther Summerson from Bleak House — wasn’t a very compelling example at all.)
We expect of a small child a scant one, but there was in this beautiful little boy something extraordinarily sensitive, yet extraordinarily happy, that, more than in any creature of his age I have seen, struck me as beginning anew each day. He had never for a second suffered. I took this as a direct disproof of his having really been chastised. If he had been wicked he would have “caught” it, and I should have caught it by the rebound—I should have found the trace, should have felt the wound and dishonour. — See my point above. Seventeen minutes. Or, at any rate, maybe a week. She’s known these kids maybe a week and she has developed an entire catalog of their innocence that seems out of place.
I was in receipt in these days of disturbing letters from home, where things were not going well. — I think this speaks to the general state of the governess’s mind. She…’s not well. Things are not well at home. She’s in a strange place where she’s all alone and having a LOT of sexy feelings about her boss and you know what? We’ve all been there. Again: I think James is dropping hints about the governess’s state of mind and her mental wellness. And that hint is: DANGER!
but to become aware of a person on the other side of the window and looking straight in. — This is just a straight-up terrifying image. I’m not including it because it helps either of our cases. Just: ::shudder:: This continues to be a fear of mine, in some degree, when I’m home alone. Like, if I’m reading on the couch and Zach is working late or rescuing shelter cats and I look up from my book and I see a face in one of the windows? Dead. I’d just be dead. But not before a LOT of peeing and crying.
On the spot there came to me the added shock of a certitude that it was not for me he had come there. He had come for someone else. — Okay, but what? How? Why?
I don’t know that this moment works for either of us. For you to convince me that this is proof of the supernatural in this story, you’d also have to convince me that the governess, up to this point, has proven herself to be reliable — and she just hasn’t. She reads as flighty and young and impressionable and alone and scared. Maybe if she were one or two of those things, I’d accept her as reliable. But she’s all those things and I just don’t get a sense that she’s going to read any situation correctly. And, much like when she began making out with Mrs Grose at the drop of a hat earlier, this seems like a conclusion she jumped to that she (a) shouldn’t have; and (b) missed.
I remained where I was, and while I waited I thought of more things than one. But there’s only one I take space to mention. I wondered why she should be scared. — Well, it might be because she saw you having your Own Personal Freakout ™. But the governess, as per her damage, has totally read more into this than is necessary.
Her hand tightened. “What was it?”
“An extraordinary man. Looking in.”
“What extraordinary man?”
“I haven’t the least idea.”
Mrs. Grose gazed round us in vain. “Then where is he gone?”
“I know still less.”
“Have you seen him before?”
“Yes—once. On the old tower.”
She could only look at me harder. “Do you mean he’s a stranger?”
“Oh, very much!”
“Yet you didn’t tell me?”
“No—for reasons. But now that you’ve guessed—”
Mrs. Grose’s round eyes encountered this charge. “Ah, I haven’t guessed!” she said very simply. “How can I if you don’t imagine?” — How much do we trust Mrs Grose? Because here’s the governess, again, earning frequent flier miles with her conclusion-jumping. She says, “But now that you’ve guessed–“ and Mrs Grose says, “Hold up.” The governess starts with her conclusion, and then manipulates evidence and events to fit. (Oh, hey: she’s a Republican!) ([Comedy!]) (Who knew The Turn of the Screw was so political?) (Editor’s note: It isn’t.)
Mrs. Grose’s large face showed me, at this, for the first time, the faraway faint glimmer of a consciousness more acute: I somehow made out in it the delayed dawn of an idea I myself had not given her and that was as yet quite obscure to me. It comes back to me that I thought instantly of this as something I could get from her; and I felt it to be connected with the desire she presently showed to know more. — First off, me-ow! “Large face.” But also: the governess is at it again. We don’t have any confirmation from Mrs Grose that this is true. We only have the governess’s word for it. And she’s not proven herself at all trustworthy to me as a reader. And I think James is well aware of that fact.
“He has no hat.” Then seeing in her face that she already, in this, with a deeper dismay, found a touch of picture, I quickly added stroke to stroke. “He has red hair, very red, close-curling, and a pale face, long in shape, with straight, good features and little, rather queer whiskers that are as red as his hair. His eyebrows are, somehow, darker; they look particularly arched and as if they might move a good deal. His eyes are sharp, strange—awfully; but I only know clearly that they’re rather small and very fixed. His mouth’s wide, and his lips are thin, and except for his little whiskers he’s quite clean-shaven. He gives me a sort of sense of looking like an actor.” — So. This is pretty strong evidence for your side. It’s “a step/On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,/For in my way it lies.” The governess has described in pretty sharp detail the gentleman on the tower. (It’s not vague in the way she’ll describe Miss Jessel later.) (Editor’s note: Mike Bevel is cheating by jumping ahead.) And the text has not suggested that the governess has had any pre-knowledge of Quint. The Master didn’t mention it. There’s no scene of the governess coming across an old photograph or painting or whatever with Peter Quint in it. I don’t have a ready response for this. This passage could be my Waterloo.
My companion’s face had blanched as I went on; her round eyes started and her mild mouth gaped. “A gentleman?” she gasped, confounded, stupefied: “a gentleman he?”
“You know him then?”
She visibly tried to hold herself. “But he is handsome?”
I saw the way to help her. “Remarkably!”
“In somebody’s clothes.” “They’re smart, but they’re not his own.”
She broke into a breathless affirmative groan: “They’re the master’s!”
I caught it up. “You do know him?”
She faltered but a second. “Quint!” she cried.
“Peter Quint—his own man, his valet, when he was here!” — This is weasily of me, but notice how it’s the handsomeness that Mrs Grose grabs hold of? That’s her connection. It isn’t the detail that the governess gives; it’s his handsomeness and his looking like a gentleman. So, we don’t really no, maybe, that the governess has described Peter Quint. She’s simply aided Mrs Grose in jumping to a conclusion.
They were both here—last year. — I found this interesting. And maddening. How long have the ghosts been haunting the manor? Have they always been haunting? Or is it the appearance of the governess that has started it? When the governess starts going on to everyone about all the ghosts she’s seeing, there isn’t a point where Mrs Grose or a housemaid says, “Hm, you know, that makes sense, what with all the other weird things that have been happening.” The governess mentioning hauntings seems to be the first time hauntings have been mentioned at Bly.