"The Turn of the Screw" and other unsettling tales

henryThere are various ways to interpret the classic Henry James novella, The Turn of the Screw. Many consider it a ghost story because there are, in fact, two characters whom the governess claims to see but who are dead. What makes The Turn of the Screw so compelling, though, is that it's not necessarily the ghosts that cause the true creepy nature of the story. It's the governess who accomplishes that. I know that The Turn of the Screw was a book that I had trouble reading at night. It unnerved me too much. So only daylight hours for reading is what I recommend for this wonderful ghostly story. 

Local ghost story author J. Elliott comments, "Modern horror, particularly in American films of late, seems to depend on gruesome computer graphics and jump scares. I delight in the ghost story authors of the turn of the previous century like M. R. James, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Algernon Blackwood etc. who crafted tales built on atmosphere and mounting apprehension. These stories were often infused with subtleties picking at social injustice or gender inequality. The Turn of the Screw is a classic example of the slow-building dread that creeps like damp into the reader's psyche.

“Yes, ghost stories are, on the surface, for the spooky factor. However, the underlying reason that they work is that they are about power. I'd postulate that most ghost stories are either about men haunted by women or by  supernatural entities. Why? Traditionally, women had nothing that wasn’t contingent on a husband or father: money, social status and protection. Women were traditionally considered weak, irrational, prone to fancy, hysterical. If they got troublesome, it was fairly simple to cart them away to an asylum. When a man is confronted with the supernatural, he can't send the ghost away to an asylum. The theme is the rational, scientific, educated man is brought down by that which he cannot control. The unknown. 

“Yet with Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw there is a wicked twist: a young governess is haunted by children who are possessed by adult ghosts. She should at least have control over children, but she doesn't. For a lower-class woman to be haunted by children is a double hit—she’s powerless and haunted by children below her status.”  

 J. Elliott has written three collections of chilling stories following the classic ghost story tradition: Ghost Lite, Tales from Kensington & Other Macabre & Unsettling Offerings and Uncanny Stout.      

You might also wish to check out Ruth Ware's The Turn of the Key, which is a modern reworking of the Henry James classic. In Ware's 2019 novel, the imprisoned nanny claims she is innocent of the murder of one of her charges. 

Not only that, but a 2020 film based on The Turn of the Screw came out called The Turning. And there is a new Netlfix adaptation of the book called The Haunting of Bly Manor, which brings the story to the 1980s. 

We have ghost stories in our library collection, and please see our library eSource NoveList Plus for more deliciously fear-inducing books just in time for Halloween. 

Posted by FionaL on October 9, 2020