Monday, May 28, 2012

"The turn of the screw" by Henry James

Victorian Memento Mori

Henry James’ famous ghost story has that peculiar effect, that whether you believe in Ghosts or not, it is scary, really scary.

Indeed, the story of the governess who tries to protect two innocent children against demonic ghouls is so ambiguous that it can be read in two mutual excluding ways. Either you accept the governess as a trustworthy narrator and you believe her story of how she stands up against the Ghosts who haunt the children or you conclude that the governess is a seriously disturbed woman and then you can only shudder at the realization of the sheer hell the kids are going through.

I have been reading James most famous of short stories in the Peter G. Beidler edition, and I strongly recommend it. Besides the complete authoritative text, which  makes up no more than 100 pages of the total 425, this edition comes with a complete information on the biographical, the historical and the cultural context from which the “Turn of the screw” was created. The Beidler’s edition is part of the series “Case studies in contemporary criticism”, organized and edited in cooperation with the Southern Methodist University. It includes a very interesting critical history of how people understood “The turn of the screw” over the last decades and includes five essays from different contemporary critical perspectives: Reader Response criticism with an example by Wayne C. Booth; Psycho analytic criticism with an example by Greg W. Zacharias;
Gender criticism with an example by Priscilla L. Walton; Marxist criticism with an example by Bruce Robbins and finally a combination of perspectives as shown by Sheila Teahan 

It is especially the critical part of this edition that I found most interesting. It depicts criticism “in action” so to say, explaining what it means to “understand” a novel, what your role is as a reader and even why a lifetime of studying books and reading criticism in the end makes you a better person.