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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
Collections:Your library

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The Turn of the Screw, and The Aspern Papers by Henry James


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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 |
It's been decades since I read any Henry James, and I was inspired to read these two novellas by a review here on LT and by the approach of Halloween. While I found them both though-provoking, I found them a little cold as well.

The Turn of the Screw, as is well known, tells the tale of a young, naive, parson's daughter who becomes the governess to the orphaned nephew and niece of a young rich man who wants nothing to do with the children and ships them off to his country home. The children seem unbelievably angelic to the governess, who has developed a crush, based on two meetings, with the uncle, but soon she starts seeing ghosts who, upon descriptions given to the housekeeper, turn out to be the ghosts of the previous governess and a male servant, both now, obviously, dead. The governess, who tells the tale in the first person (it is her written report on the events, which has fallen into the hands of a now elderly man who reads it at a gathering), believes the ghosts are set on harming the children.

Ah, but are there really ghosts? Or are they the figments of the governess's imagination? Can the children possibly be that angelic and, if so, why did the boy get expelled from his school? Or was he? We only have the governess's word for that. And if what seems to happen at the end really happens, how did the governess go on to find future employment? I did find this story thoroughly creepy, probably especially because it left so many questions unanswered, but I also found the portrait of the governess a little over-the-top unpleasant.

The Aspern Papers are the obsession of the narrator of the second novella; he is a literary critic and devoted admirer of the long dead poet Jeffrey Aspern. Finding that his muse and possible lover, Juliana, is still alive, although aged and decrepit, and living with an elderly niece, Miss Tina, in an ancient Venice building, he schemes to become a lodger there under an assumed name, and even to try to gain the confidence of the niece (who is under the thumb of her aunt), so he can somehow acquire the papers. Everyone in this story comes off seeming exceedingly unpleasant, from the obsessed and unprincipled narrator to the vindictive and controlling Juliana to the terrified and naive Miss Tina. Of course, I wanted to find out what happened, but I can't say I enjoyed the story.

Based on the limited evidence of these two novellas, I have a distinct feeling that James did not particularly like women, but it's so long since I read anything else by him I could be completely wrong about this.
3 vote rebeccanyc | Oct 28, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Henry Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Curtis, Anthonysecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Curtis, AnthonyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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 Turn of the Screw)
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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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