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The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers…

The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers (Penguin Classics) (edition 2003)

by Henry James

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Title:The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers (Penguin Classics)
Authors:Henry James
Info:Penguin Classics (2003), Paperback, 272 pages
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The Turn of the Screw, and The Aspern Papers by Henry James


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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 |
The Aspern Papers I read first, and it wasn't the kind of storytelling style I enjoy. The writing was choppy and a little hard for me to follow. I felt the same as I read The Turn ( although the psychological aspects of The Turn are rather fascinating). Many years ago I read Daisy Miller and remember that I wasn't fond of James's style at that time as well.

Outside of the writing, some of the trouble I had with The Aspern Papers is that the main character is rather loathsome and sneaky. His quest for Aspern the poet's lost papers has him seek out the former lover and muse of Aspern, Juliana Bordereau. This nameless young man talks Juliana into renting him rooms in her home in Venice. From there he woos the niece and only companion of Juliana with the purpose of gaining access to those valuable papers. To the end, I hoped that he would not be successful in this quest. Where James does well is in bringing Venice to life; as a reader I could feel the heat, smell the flowers and see the canals.

The battle of the wills between this nameless young man and Juliana is intense. Will he or won't he get his hands on those oh so valuable papers?

This was my second reading of The Turn of the Screw and it is completely rich with hysteria and creepiness. Again we have another nameless narrator relating the story of a governess and her experiences with two children in a remote country home. The governess from the beginning was dramatic and totally convinced that evil was surrounding the pupils in her care and in their home. The two children she is responsible for, Miles and Flora, seem innocent enough but the governess seems to always be on the hunt for evil influences. It is like watching a guilty person pointing the finger at everyone else. When she discovers that the former governess, Miss Jessel and the former manservant of the estate,Quint, were lovers and the primary caretakers of Miles and Flora, all hell breaks lose. There is the implication that these two were inappropriate with the children and it it is all left up to the reader to interpret. By the end I felt like a little bit of crazy turned into a lot of crazy.
( )
1 vote MichelleCH | Apr 5, 2013 |
Kids are so creepy! You want to protect them, but then god knows what they know already. They are cute, at least, but so cute that you just want to hold them, and keep them safe, and close, so close to you forever. And ever. Uh oh! Who is creepy now?

Some people say this is really about Alice James, but I pretty much believe it when Henry James says he just wants to write a potboiler. Still a really good potboiler! ( )
  LizaHa | Mar 31, 2013 |
Two short stories by Henry James. Not bad, all things considered, but his writing style is notoriously dense, and may dissuade a lot of potential readers. His endings were pretty shocking, though, and actually building up suspense despite his flowery style is a worthy achievement. ( )
  HadriantheBlind | Mar 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Curtis, Anthonysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Curtis, AnthonyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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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)

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The classic ghost story about a high-strung governess and the two young children who may--or may not--be plotting with the diabolical Peter Quint.

(summary from another edition)

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