“No, no–there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don’t know what I don’t see–what I don’t fear!”
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is such an underrated, under-appreciated autumnal read. This book always seems to slip my mind since I first read it years ago for a college course. Yet I flew through this reread, and all I could think of when I finished was: I want more.
The writing and story here are just so compelling. I love the uncertainty of the unreliable narrator, how we can’t really tell what Mrs. Grose thinks or whether she believes the governess because we only see the events through the governess’ eyes. I also love the themes of sight, knowledge, and fear that are all tied up together. The governess repeatedly claims that she’d rather see the ghosts and know what is out there than not see them at all–not know precisely what to fear. Yet it is ultimately the factor of the unknown, the not knowing itself, that drives her deeper and deeper into a state of panic.
Despite having been serially published in 1898, this short novel still feels strikingly relevant today. There is so much we fear, so much we see, so much we don’t know. And it’s all wrapped up together somehow. We scroll endlessly, search frantically, and keep skimming–and for what? To know what we should fear? To see the outline of the shadow following us? Or to do something about it?
I couldn’t put this book down. I read it fervently while eating breakfast before work each morning and eagerly before falling asleep each night. Ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there, and yet always in the back of my mind. This story haunts you, follows you–just like the governess’ ghosts.
This is the ideal classic for October.
Have you read this novella? I’d love to know.