Read The Turn of the Screw & the Aspern Papers by Henry James Free Online
Book Title: The Turn of the Screw & the Aspern Papers|
The size of the: 573 KB
Edition: Pomona Press
Date of issue: January 24th 2007
The author of the book: Henry James
Format files: PDF
ISBN 13: 9781406790207
Read full description of the books The Turn of the Screw & the Aspern Papers:For the second time, I have had the misfortune of choosing to reading Henry James alongside another difficult author. The first time it was Proust; this time, Joyce. So, instead of getting the desired relief from literary headache, I get an extension of it. But, of course, the fault is mine, not Henry’s.
When reading Henry James’s work, I am reminded of a remark Stephen King made about Stanley Kubrick: that “he thinks too much and feels too little.” One gets the impression that, as Henry wrote, he did not vicariously experience the feelings and perspectives of his characters; instead he manipulates them at a far distance in the service of his aesthetic goal. This makes reading his work a peculiarly cerebral experience. Instead of identifying with James’s protagonists, the reader gazes upon them from far-away—like watching pedestrians from a tall building.
Maddening, frustrating, and exasperating as he writing-style is, I am always impressed by the end of it. James has mastered the art of using the structure of language to mirror the structure of his plots. Instead of merely relaying information, James’s sentences show the reader what is going on in their very composition. As the protagonist tries and fails to guess at a mystery, the sentences try and fail to reach their objects—like a snake coiling around itself. Annoying as this sometimes is to read, I am so amazed by the end that I can give James nothing but kudos.
The Turn of the Screw is famous for its use of ambiguity. Is the governess crazy? Or are there really ghosts? Or do the ghosts make her crazy? Or does her craziness somehow reify the ghosts? I’ve heard it argued, and with good reason, that this ambiguity is what makes the story so endlessly intriguing—the implication being that those who try to definitely answer the story’s riddle are doing it a disservice. But what’s the point of a riddle you don’t try to answer? In fact, if you don’t try to answer it, is it even a riddle? So, in the spirit of literary puzzles, here’s my attempt.
I am for the mad governess theory. One obstacle to this is that she was able to describe people she never met with enough precision that the housekeeper immediately recognized them. However, it’s reasonable to suppose that she might have overheard or otherwise been told something about the two deceased former inhabitants. What’s more, her descriptions of the ghosts contain some odd features: she describes Quinn as wearing borrowed clothes, and knows that he isn’t a gentleman; and she describes Miss Jessel as “infamous.” Now, how could you tell any of those things merely by looking at someone? Her descriptions contain more information than could be plausibly gathered through a glance, which is why I think she was parroting something she’d been told.
Another obvious clue is that nobody else can see these ghosts. But what’s even more compelling is how creepily fond the governess is of the children. Her feelings towards them are unhealthy in the extreme. She idolizes them, and then comes to distrust and suspect them in their every action. Her ‘ghosts’ could then be a kind of manifestation of her extraordinary possessiveness. She fears so keenly that somebody or something would take her away from these children she so adores that her mind produces villains who aim to do just that. Her feelings are similar to that of a hyper-jealous lover who sees signs of infidelity lurking in every shadow and hiding in every word.
At this point, one is forced to think about how much the narrator may have omitted from her tale. For all we know, she may have mistreated—even abused—the children. This would explain why Flora comes to hate her so passionately. And it may also explain Miles’s death. I will admit, however, that Miles’s death is particularly hard to account for within the governess-is-mad theory. Did she poison him? Smother him in her arms? It seems a bit far-fetched, but certainly still possible.
The Aspern Papers was less perplexing and more readable. The prose, less gnarled; the characters, more life-like. I suspect this is because it was written earlier in James’s career, when his own distinct style was yet imperfectly developed. That being said, it was certainly masterfully done. The main character, even though he is something of a scoundrel, is endearing because of his dorkiness. And the description of the pent-up women lingering in their large Venetian house is nearly Dickensian.
So now, after finishing these two little gems, I am left wanting to read more of good ol' Henry. He may indeed “think too much and feel too little,” but that’s only a flaw when you’re not as smart as he was.
Read information about the authorHenry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the encounter of America with Europe. His plots centered on personal relationships, the proper exercise of power in such relationships, and other moral questions. His method of writing from the point of view of a character within a tale allowed him to explore the phenomena of consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting.
James insisted that writers in Great Britain and America should be allowed the greatest freedom possible in presenting their view of the world, as French authors were. His imaginative use of point of view, interior monologue and unreliable narrators in his own novels and tales brought a new depth and interest to realistic fiction, and foreshadowed the modernist work of the twentieth century. An extraordinarily productive writer, in addition to his voluminous works of fiction he published articles and books of travel writing, biography, autobiography, and criticism,and wrote plays, some of which were performed during his lifetime with moderate success. His theatrical work is thought to have profoundly influenced his later novels and tales.
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