Monday, 31 December 2018

A few uncertain points in The Turn of the Screw

I know, I’ve written 6 posts about Henry James’s book, but here’s a 7th. 
There are a few points I’m uncertain about: 
1/ From chapter 5: 
“Oh, she let me know as soon as, round the corner of the house, she loomed again into view. “What in the name of goodness is the matter—?” She was now flushed and out of breath.
I said nothing till she came quite near. “With me?” I must have made a wonderful face. “Do I show it?”
“You’re as white as a sheet. You look awful.”
I considered; I could meet on this, without scruple, any innocence. My need to respect the bloom of Mrs. Grose’s had dropped, without a rustle, from my shoulders, and if I wavered for the instant it was not with what I kept back. I put out my hand to her and she took it; I held her hard a little, liking to feel her close to me. There was a kind of support in the shy heave of her surprise. “You came for me for church, of course, but I can’t go.”
“Has anything happened?”
“Yes. You must know now. Did I look very queer?”
“Through this window? Dreadful!”
“Well,” I said, “I’ve been frightened.” Mrs. Grose’s eyes expressed plainly that she had no wish to be, yet also that she knew too well her place not to be ready to share with me any marked inconvenience. Oh, it was quite settled that she must share! “Just what you saw from the dining room a minute ago was the effect of that. What I saw—just before—was much worse.”
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?”
“I don’t in the very least.”
“You’ve seen him nowhere but on the tower?”
“And on this spot just now.”
Mrs. Grose looked round again. “What was he doing on the tower?”
“Only standing there and looking down at me.”
She thought a minute. “Was he a gentleman?”
I found I had no need to think. “No.” She gazed in deeper wonder. “No.”
“Then nobody about the place? Nobody from the village?”
“Nobody—nobody. I didn’t tell you, but I made sure.
She breathed a vague relief: this was, oddly, so much to the good. It only went indeed a little way. “But if he isn’t a gentleman—”
“What is he? He’s a horror.”
“A horror?”
“He’s—God help me if I know what he is!”” 
(my emphasis) 
Then blah blah blah, blah blah blah, and the governess describes what he looks like, which fits the looks of Peter Quint.  
Because of the film, I forgot that it was not right after seeing the figure on the tower, but after the 2nd time, through the window, that the governess told Mrs Grose. 
What does that line in bold mean? Doesn’t it mean that she has asked somebody from the village? Doesn’t it mean, then, that she can have the information about, and descriptions of, Quint from someone else before talking to Mrs Grose? 
In that case, that would solve my question from earlier. 
Note that the governess never properly describes Miss Jessel. 

2/ In Jack Clayton’s film, Miss Jessel gets depressed after Quint’s death, and drowns herself in a lake. In the book, she doesn’t. 
From chapter 7:
“Mrs. Grose considered as if it were perhaps a little a case for a sense of shades. “I’ve never seen one like him. He did what he wished.”
“With her?”
“With them all.”
It was as if now in my friend’s own eyes Miss Jessel had again appeared. I seemed at any rate, for an instant, to see their evocation of her as distinctly as I had seen her by the pond; and I brought out with decision: “It must have been also what she wished!”
Mrs. Grose’s face signified that it had been indeed, but she said at the same time: “Poor woman—she paid for it!”
“Then you do know what she died of?” I asked.
“No—I know nothing. I wanted not to know; I was glad enough I didn’t; and I thanked heaven she was well out of this!”
“Yet you had, then, your idea—”
“Of her real reason for leaving? Oh, yes—as to that. She couldn’t have stayed. Fancy it here—for a governess! And afterward I imagined—and I still imagine. And what I imagine is dreadful.”” 
(my emphasis) 
I never read much into that, and then came across this line from Ned Lukacher’s essay: 
“From Mrs Grose she learns that Miss Jessel became pregnant with Quint’s child and was sent home, where she presumably died, as the result of either a miscarriage or an abortion.” 
Is that what happens? Why did I not see that? 
Let’s go back to chapter 2: 
“I had a scruple, but I overcame it. “Was she careful—particular?”
Mrs. Grose appeared to try to be conscientious. “About some things—yes.”
“But not about all?”
Again she considered. “Well, miss—she’s gone. I won’t tell tales.”
“I quite understand your feeling,” I hastened to reply; but I thought it, after an instant, not opposed to this concession to pursue: “Did she die here?”
“No—she went off.”
I don’t know what there was in this brevity of Mrs. Grose’s that struck me as ambiguous. “Went off to die?” Mrs. Grose looked straight out of the window, but I felt that, hypothetically, I had a right to know what young persons engaged for Bly were expected to do. “She was taken ill, you mean, and went home?”
She was not taken ill, so far as appeared, in this house. She left it, at the end of the year, to go home, as she said, for a short holiday, to which the time she had put in had certainly given her a right. We had then a young woman—a nursemaid who had stayed on and who was a good girl and clever; and she took the children altogether for the interval. But our young lady never came back, and at the very moment I was expecting her I heard from the master that she was dead.”
I turned this over. “But of what?”
He never told me! But please, miss,” said Mrs. Grose, “I must get to my work.”” 
(my emphasis) 
Never obvious—that’s how annoying James is. But now that someone has pointed it out, it makes sense. Miss Jessel can be involved with Quint, someone socially inferior, and nobody can do anything as Quint’s given power at Bly—only a pregnancy can force her to leave. 
Jack Clayton’s film lets her drown in the lake instead, which adds to the idea of them both dying in the area and haunting the house. In the book, she dies elsewhere. 

3/ Look again at the ending: 
“My sternness was all for his judge, his executioner; yet it made him avert himself again, and that movement made me, with a single bound and an irrepressible cry, spring straight upon him. For there again, against the glass, as if to blight his confession and stay his answer, was the hideous author of our woe—the white face of damnation. I felt a sick swim at the drop of my victory and all the return of my battle, so that the wildness of my veritable leap only served as a great betrayal. I saw him, from the midst of my act, meet it with a divination, and on the perception that even now he only guessed, and that the window was still to his own eyes free, I let the impulse flame up to convert the climax of his dismay into the very proof of his liberation. “No more, no more, no more!” I shrieked, as I tried to press him against me, to my visitant.
“Is she here?” Miles panted as he caught with his sealed eyes the direction of my words. Then as his strange “she” staggered me and, with a gasp, I echoed it, “Miss Jessel, Miss Jessel!” he with a sudden fury gave me back.
I seized, stupefied, his supposition—some sequel to what we had done to Flora, but this made me only want to show him that it was better still than that. “It’s not Miss Jessel! But it’s at the window—straight before us. It’s there—the coward horror, there for the last time!”
At this, after a second in which his head made the movement of a baffled dog’s on a scent and then gave a frantic little shake for air and light, he was at me in a white rage, bewildered, glaring vainly over the place and missing wholly, though it now, to my sense, filled the room like the taste of poison, the wide, overwhelming presence. “It’s he?”
I was so determined to have all my proof that I flashed into ice to challenge him. “Whom do you mean by ‘he’?”
“Peter Quint—you devil!” His face gave again, round the room, its convulsed supplication. “Where?”
They are in my ears still, his supreme surrender of the name and his tribute to my devotion. “What does he matter now, my own?—what will he ever matter? I have you,” I launched at the beast, “but he has lost you forever!” Then, for the demonstration of my work, “There, there!” I said to Miles. 
But he had already jerked straight round, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day. With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that of catching him in his fall. I caught him, yes, I held him—it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held. We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.” 
That’s how it ends—Miles is frightened to death.
Readers in the ghost camp (as opposed to the mad governess camp) argue that Miles himself mentions the name of Peter Quint before the governess does. 
That’s a good point. 
At the same time, what if Miles was involved in Quint’s death? 
After all, I have written before that his death might not have been an accident: 
“…on the dawn of a winter’s morning, Peter Quint was found, by a laborer going to early work, stone dead on the road from the village: a catastrophe explained—superficially at least—by a visible wound to his head; such a wound as might have been produced—and as, on the final evidence, had been—by a fatal slip, in the dark and after leaving the public house, on the steepish icy slope, a wrong path altogether, at the bottom of which he lay. The icy slope, the turn mistaken at night and in liquor, accounted for much—practically, in the end and after the inquest and boundless chatter, for everything; but there had been matters in his life—strange passages and perils, secret disorders, vices more than suspected—that would have accounted for a good deal more.” 
(my emphasis)
We never know. Discussion of The Turn of the Screw would just lead to endless debate, and we can never be certain about anything.

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