November 30, 2023

#08-362: The Turn of the Screw

The governess sees a man--Peter Quint?--on a high tower (Wikipedia)

Note: The "unreliable narrator" is a fairly recent storytelling technique, coming into its own in the 19th century. This is an excellent example.

Get Ready: Have you ever sworn something strange was happening--but no one else would agree, or admit they saw anything unusual?

The best horror stories, in my opinion, are those that don't at first seem to be horror stories at all. Henry James's The Turn of the Screw is one such story. For years after its publication, the question was asked: is it truly horrible, or does its horror exist only in the mind of the protagonist?

A group of friends gather on Christmas Eve, and one of them reads from a manuscript written over two decades earlier by the late governess of his sister. The document tells the alleged experience of the unnamed governess at a previous employer's.

She has full charge of that man's niece and nephew, who were left in his care after their parents died. Ten-year-old Miles, the boy, is at boarding school; Flora, two years younger, lives at the employer's country estate, where the governess cares for her. The employer specifically instructs her not to bother him at his place in London.

Miles comes home at the start of summer break, after the governess receives a letter saying that he has been kicked out of school. The kid is a charmer, and she doesn't want to spoil things by asking him why he had been expelled.

Over time, the governess begins to notice a man and woman on the grounds of the estate; no one else mentions them, and she feels there is something otherworldly about them. She learns from the housekeeper that the previous governess, Miss Jessel, had had an inappropriate relationship with another employee, Peter Quint, before they both died (she of illness, he of a drunken accident). The governess begins to believe she is seeing ghosts--ghosts who are negatively influencing the children.

The new governess thinks Flora has been conversing with Miss Jessel, but she denies it. In fact, the governess is the only person to claim to see the old governess. When the girl falls ill, she is sent to her uncle in London to remove her from "the ghost's" influence.

Miles at last confesses why he was removed from school: he is accused of using bad words, which the governess assumes he had learned from Quint. As he is telling his story, the governess sees Quint at the window, and tries to shield the boy from the apparition. As she does so, Miles falls dead in her arms.

Practice: Match the term to its definition:

Term Definition
  1. alleged
  2. apparition
  3. confesses
  4. expelled
  5. governess
  6. inappropriate
  7. manuscript
  8. otherworldly
  9. shield
  10. spoil
  1. ghostly appearance
  2. protect
  3. ruin; make awkward
  4. a hand-written document
  5. removed (for wrongdoing)
  6. supposed; reported but not proven
  7. admits
  8. supernatural
  9. immoral; not right
  10. a female private teacher and caregiver

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 30, 2023

1 comment:

  1. MOVE TO COMMENTS - Answers to the Practice: 1. f; 2. a; 3. g; 4. e; 5. j; 6. i; 7. d; 8. h; 9. b; 10. c