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The Turn of the Screw, and The Lesson of the…
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The Turn of the Screw, and The Lesson of the Master

by Henry James

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421. The Turn of the Screw - The Lesson of the Master, by Henry James (read 23 Mar 1952) What a story is The Turn of the Screw. Fundamentally it is a ghost story and I at times found myself reading it as such. But a 'pure' ghost story is a naturally dissatisfying thing, and thus this is more than a ghost story. It is a study of the power of evil over two beauteous English kids--Miles of 10 and Flora of 8--and the effort of their governess to save them. I trust I am not mistaken, though I sometimes felt I was, in coming to the ludicrous conclusion that the evil luring the kids was sexual--but at 8 and 10! Yet why was Miles. an angel and bright, etc., dismissed from school so as not to corrupt the others? Possibly the type of evil is not important--the concept of evil is. The apparitions of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are just ghosts enough to seem ghosts, but at times it seems they are more intended to suggest devils. While not living up to the blurbsas to super-horror I must recognize its author as a master craftsman, indulating as finely as he the waves of horror. He is not overly easy to read, of course, but I liked the style for its prosey, 19th century perfection and worth--probably an insincere attitude on my part.

These words from The Lesson of the Master struck me with the same unreasonableness that I felt from the line from Shakespeare "how sleep the moonlight over this sweet bank" when quoted by Vincent Sheean in his Personal History: "...and the brightness of the end of June peeped through the misty railings of the Green Park and glittered in the varnish of the rolling carriages as he had seen it in other, more cursory, Junes..." I liked the story very much. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Jan 11, 2011 |
This is actually two short stories in one volume. Both are quite good but run in completely different veins. ( )
  chevydevil | Aug 9, 2009 |
The Turn of the Screw is a classic, first published in 1891; a ghost story, told by a governess who takes a job at an old family estate in a remote location in Essex, England.

A young handsome bachelor is living the glamorous life in London and suddenly his brother dies and he becomes the guardian of his niece and nephew, Flora and Miles. He has no intention of giving up his freedom or the good life so he sends the children to the family estate in the country, to be dealt with by hired servants.

A 20 year old, naïve, young woman responds to an ad in the London Newspaper, meets with the bachelor and is immediately infatuated. She takes the job as governess in spite of the suspicious circumstances. In the recent past the bachelor’s valet, Mr. Quint, who lived at the estate, met with an accidental death, and the first governess employed by the bachelor, Miss Jessel, has also mysteriously died.

Everything starts out wonderfully. The children are perfect; beautiful, angelic creatures. But, it doesn’t take long for the new governess to realize that the deceased Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel are haunting the estate. And the governess is horrified to realize that Miles and Flora seem to be aware of it and may even be possessed by the demons. Or does the governess just imagine that the children know? Some critics even question if the ghosts even existed. Could the governess have been mentally unstable?

The story is ambiguous. The language used by Henry James was convoluted and difficult, at times, to follow. The stunning, abrupt ending leaves a lot of unanswered questions, and it is presumably one of the reasons this book is a classic. I’m glad I read the book, but it was disappointing. At no time, even in the most life-threatening intense moments of the drama, did I ever feel even a remote sense of fear or anxiety. It is a clever plot, but does not live up to the 21st century (Steven King) standards of the horror genre.

The Lesson of the Master is a story about a young author, Paul Overt, who is in the early stages of his career with several published books and a bright future ahead of him. In the opening scene he arrives at an English country estate week-end party where he meets two guests who play a significant role in his life. The first is a beautiful charming young woman. She is everything Paul ever looked for in a life companion, and as the story unfolds he finds himself falling in love with her.

The second important guest is a world famous author Henry St. George. St. George is a married man who seems to have everything; the successful writing career, a beautiful sophisticated socialite wife, two intelligent children who are attending prestigious schools, a lovely home, good health, and a great social life. Everything! Paul is hoping to get some time alone with St. George, and possibly some career advice from the distinguished writer.

Paul does succeed in getting St. George’s attention, and eventually he gets the advice he is seeking. They have a very private, confidential, heart-to-heart talk about sacrificing for perfection and greatness versus the temptation of instant gratification to sell out for the mediocre, commercial, mass market. I don’t want to give away the plot but just be prepared for a surprise twist of events at the end. Apparently, The Lesson of the Master never got much recognition because it is a short novella. I don’t know if it was ever even published on its own. Henry James writes with his usual brilliance and insight of human nature and personal motivation. There is an interesting philosophical message in this book; strong characters and a great story ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Jul 7, 2009 |
32: [Turn of the Screw] by Henry James - this book had been staring at me for ages. After reading the intro, I was really excited to get to reading. Besides Gift of the Magi, I don't recall reading any other James. The writing I felt was superb but the story wasn't particularly scary and I actually was kind of annoyed by the protagonist. There was a second story, "Lesson of the Master," I liked this much better...it was a bit predictable, but the final resolution was still interesting. ( )
  Sean191 | May 22, 2009 |
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