I chose to read this novel for the R.I.P challenge. It quickly became one of my favorite ghost stories. Set in the country estate of Bly, we follow a governess who begins the care for two young children, Flora and Miles. As the governess settles in at Bly she starts to see ghosts around the estate and soon discovers that they are the spirts of the former governess, Miss Jessel, and her dead lover, Peter Quint. The governess is convinced the ghosts are appearing to the children and communicating to them in an evil way, persuading them to do terrible things. She decides that she was there to "protect and defend the little creatures" as they were all "united in danger".
What makes The Turn of the Screw so captivating is that James never tells us if the ghosts are real or if the governess is simply going crazy. The governess is our narrator throughout the story, and she proves herself to be very unreliable, constantly overcome by emotion and suspicion. Also, she is the only character in the novel who admits to seeing the ghosts. It's almost as if she is driving herself crazy, slowly developing an obsession with the children and protecting them from the ghosts.
James does a fantastic job setting the scene of the ghost story, as the estate gets bleaker as the novel progresses. We are first introduced to Bly as a place of exquisite charm, filled with "beauty and dignity". Later in the novel the estate seems to change :
The summer had turned, the summer had gone; the autumn had dropped upon Bly and had blown out half our lights. The place, with its gray sky and withered garlands, its bared spaces and scattered dead leaves, was like a theater after the performance - all strewn with crumpled playbills.
My take? This is an account of a young woman's decent into madness as a result of isolation and loneliness. The ghosts become a part of her imagination as she begins to find demonic qualities in everything around her, including the seemingly angelic children. The question of whether or not The Turn of the Screw is an actual ghost story or the story of a woman going mad is open to interpretation, as there is no concrete answer. Did the ghosts of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint haunt Bly? Did the children keep a dark secret hidden from their governess? I don't have answers to these questions, but I do know that this story will stay with me for quite sometime. Highly recommended for a Halloween read!
Publisher: Dover, 1898