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The Turn of the Screw, and The Aspern Papers…

The Turn of the Screw, and The Aspern Papers

by Henry James

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
James wrote some of the best dark fiction of his day, and these two are, for me, his standouts. Elegant, twisted, chilling--this is rich stuff, and like a rich dessert, it forces you to slow down and savor every bite. ( )
  MichaelBarsa | Dec 17, 2017 |
Two very different stories, but I enjoyed each for its own reasons, though I haven't read much if any Henry James before. I kept hearing that "The Turn of the Screw" was a good ghost story, so I had to give it a try. I didn't enjoy it as much as I do those of M.R. James and others, but it was fine. "The Aspern Papers" was good and creepy too, but I don't know that I'll go out in search of more Henry James to read. ( )
  JBD1 | Feb 16, 2017 |
The first novella in this thin volume containing two of Henry James's works is regarded as a so-called classic, the story of a young governess engaged to look after two orphaned children in a country house in England. When she first meets the children, Miles, aged 10, and Flora, aged 8, she is very much taken with them, and she is bewildered to learn that Miles has been expelled from his school. Events take a supernatural turn when she sees a man on the top of the tower who answers to the description of the former valet of the master of the house, Peter Quint, who has since died; not only that, but she also catches glimpses of a lady in a black dress, whom the housekeeper Mrs Grose, based on her description, identifies as the former governess Miss Jessel, who has also since passed on. The governess becomes convinced that the spirits are in secret communication with the children and have an unholy influence over them.

Years ago I saw the 1961 film The Innocents, based on The Turn of the Screw, and was always curious what the story was like in its original literary form. While the film as I recall it is very unambiguous in its interpretation that the children are indeed possessed by the spirits of the deceased valet and governess, the book is much more so, something I did not expect. Told in the style of a frame narrative, the first-person account penned by the governess is read out to an assembly of guests years later, and what emerges for me was the narrative of someone who was mentally unbalanced, and we only have the governess's word for it that the children were able to see and communicate with the spirits, as the writing itself is ambiguous on this point and the children never admit to seeing or hearing anything out of the ordinary, thus turning the story into an account by an unreliable narrator for me and elevating it from a boring and rather tame ghost story to something more interesting and deserving of reflection.

I did not get on with the character of the unnamed governess at all: I thought her conceited, needy, paranoid and hysterical, and the laboriousness and convolutedness of the prose in which the account is written as an outward sign of her disturbed mental state. At no stage did the narrative become more than mildly tense, and the interest is more in the psychological deportment of the governess and the children than in any horror attributed to it since the novella's publication. The ending, though anticipated by my having watched the film, is sudden and unexpected, and leaves the reader with unanswered questions as to what really happened.

The second novella is set in Venice, Italy, and tells of the frustrated attempts of an American editor to gain access to the private papers of Juliana Bordereau, former muse to the famous poet Jeffrey Aspern, in the hope of publishing previously unknown correspondence by the poet. Also written in the first person, the editor gains access under false pretences to the villa where Miss Bordereau lives in seclusion with only her middle-aged niece for company. On the very few occasions that the editor lays eyes on her, Juliana appeared to me like a shadow of Dickens's Miss Havisham, but that is really the only interesting thing that can be said of the story. I was repeatedly astonished how 80 pages could be spent without saying anything at all, as nothing of any significance takes place until the last 20 or so pages.

Reading the narrative felt like wading through treacle and I more than once toyed with the idea of giving up, and only the thought that there might be a twist at the end stopped me; there is a twist of sorts, not unexpected, and resembling the one in The Turn of the Screw – though written ten years earlier – in that the pursuit of the truth is abruptly cut short. Not once did I feel engaged with the unnamed narrator as he belittles the younger Miss Bordereau and compliments himself on his perceived cleverness, and I thought he deserved what he got at the end.

With a rating of three stars for The Turn of the Screw and one star for The Aspern Papers, this volume scores a measly two stars in my opinion. ( )
  passion4reading | Dec 22, 2016 |
Published in 1898, The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story in novella length. A young governess is hired to look after the niece and nephew of a man who seems not to be interested in raising the children himself after the death of their parents. Soon after the governess has arrived at Bly she meets the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, and Miles and Flora, the children. Miles was expelled from a boarding school, the reasons of which remain unclear until the end of the novella. The governess, however, is set on finding out the truth about Miles and why he was expelled. Exploring the grounds of her new temporary home, the governess sees a strange man, first far away in a tower of the country house, then much closer, looking through a window into her room. Soon, she starts seeing a second figure, a woman. When the governess relates these strange encounters to Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper identifies the two figures as Miss Jessel and Mr. Quint, former employees who are already dead. The governess now strives to protect the children and find out about the strange apparitions.

The second novella in this volume is The Aspern Papers, published in 1888. It is set in Venice, Italy, and the protagonist is an editor who wants to acquire documents by Jeffrey Aspern, a poet who had a relationship with Miss Bordereau before he died. Miss Bordereau and her niece live a secluded life in a palazzo in Venice and the old lady prefers not to talk about her relationship with Jeffrey Aspern. She is in possession of the documents, letters to her written by Jeffrey Aspern, that the protagonist wants to have. The editor rents rooms in the Bordereau palazzo and tries to establish communications to Juliana Bordereau, which, however, fails. When the editor tries to work his way to Jeffrey Aspern's former lover by talking to her niece and taking her out to see Venice, the conversation finally turns to the Aspern papers. The protagonist finds out where they had been kept and tries to find them, but he is discovered by Juliana Bordereau who dies soon after. Her niece, Tina, now owns the Aspern papers and the protagonist is still dead set on possessing them. When Tina Bordereau implies that the only way he could own them is if he were part of the family, the protagonist despairs and leaves the palazzo for a while. On his return, he learns that the papers have been burnt by Tina Bordereau.

There are certain aspects both novellas have in common. First, there is the narrator. In both cases the narrator of the story is the protagonist, relating events from a first person perspective. The governess in The Turn of the Screw as well as the editor in The Aspern Papers remain nameless. Their credibility is doubtful as they contradict themselves in their narration or appear to see things that are not there. As a reader, you find yourself questioning everything you are told and constantly trying to figure out the truth. This, however, is impossible as certain details in both stories are never revealed. Both stories leave a lot open to interpretation.

Second, there is the matter of truth. As already mentioned, the reader has a hard time finding out the truth because of the narrative perspective chosen for the stories. The protagonists of both stories, however, also strive to reveal the truth. In The Turn of the Screw, the governess wants to find out the reason for Miles' being expelled from boarding school. In The Aspern Papers, the editor wants to find out more about the mysterious relationship between Juliana Bordereau and Jeffrey Aspern. Eventually, the 'truth' is lost when, respectively, Miles dies or the letters are burnt and cannot be recovered anymore.

In light of those two aspects, narrative perspective and the quest for truth, I found both novellas very interesting. They made me rethink matters of composition in literary works, especially the trustworthiness of narrators. On the whole, I liked The Aspern Papers a little better than The Turn of the Screw as the story was more to my liking. 4 stars for the former and 3 stars for the latter leave me with a combined rating of 3.5 stars for this volume. ( )
1 vote OscarWilde87 | Jul 20, 2016 |
As with every tale of horror “The Turn of the Screw” isolates the primary character, in this case the governess of two young children. It also isolates those around her as it takes place in a country home to which “The Master” never visits and from whence he wants no news or communications.

Within the residence the governess is the highest authority, followed by the housekeeper with the other servants being a social level further down in the pecking order.

The children in the care of the governess are, of course, the focus of the entire household.

There are several levels of isolation. As mentioned above, The Master minimised his contact with the household. The governess, while spending most of her time with the children is cautious of them and, as the substance of the story emerges she begins to distrust their manner and hence isolates herself from them.

The governess does, however, feel a level of affinity with the housekeeper but a difference in intellectual level is clearly identified and this, along with the expectations of their different positions in the household, limits the degree of association between the two women. For the climax of the story the housekeeper is removed from the scene entirely, along with one of the children. This serves to further isolate the governess.

Of course, the governess will have no social association with the other servants apart from being the recipient of the services provided by them within the remit of their function.

When Henry James organised his stories into categories he did not put “The Turn of the Screw” with his ghostly tales, but rather with his psychological stories. I can understand this. It was only the governess who observed the ghostly appearances. The story was a narration based on the writings of the governess. I questioned the alacrity of her story and believe we are dealing with an unreliable narrator.

I enjoyed this story as a ghost story, but also as a tale that can be interpreted as something else; a psychological tale of a person’s self delusion and her slow descent into paranoia. ( )
1 vote pgmcc | Dec 9, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Curtis, AnthonyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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First words
The Turn of the Screw
THE STORY HAD HELD US, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as on Christmas Eve in an old house a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to note it as the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child.
The Aspern Papers
I had taken Mrs. Prest into my conficence; without her intruce I should have made but little advance, for the fruitful idea in the whole business dropped from her friendly lips.
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This work consists of both The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers; do not combine it with either individual work.
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Book description
Haiku summary
Such lovely little
children – but hark!, I think they
commune with spirits!
An American
in Venice tries to obtain
dead poet's papers.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0141439904, Paperback)

In these two chilling stories, Henry James shows himself to be a master of haunting atmosphere and unbearable tension. The Turn of the Screw tells of a young governess sent to a country home to take charge of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Unsettled by a sense of intense evil within the house, she soon becomes obsessed with the belief that malevolent forces are stalking the children in her care. Obsession of a more worldly variety lies at the heart of The Aspern Papers, the tale of a literary historian determined to get his hands on some letters written by a great poet-and prepared to use trickery and deception to achieve his aims.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:54 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

The story unfolds with the arrival of a new governess at a remote country estate. She has been hired by the uncle of two young orphans to take complete charge of the children's lives and upbringing. Her first peaceful weeks are disturbed by the apparition of the ghosts of two evil servants who once served in the house.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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