The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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‘I should have her as a matter of course at night’ – Apparently Flora is too young to sleep by herself. The reader may feel that such an arrangement is likely to exacerbate the narrator’s already overcharged feelings concerning the child.

‘the pleasure I could see her feel in my admiration and wonder’ – Ironically perhaps, Mrs Grose warms to the narrator because of her obvious veneration of Flora. She too dotes on the child, and both characters will, together, unwittingly encourage each other in greater and greater feats of devotion to both Flora and Miles. The narrator has earlier stated that she was sure Flora ‘would presently like me’, and this is simply a reflection of the narrator’s own, perhaps excessive, admiration for Flora. All young children like to be treated as the centre of attention.

‘One wouldn’t flatter a child.’ – and yet this comment occurs in a context where Flora is, quite clearly, being flattered, albeit indirectly. Children are very quick at picking up this sort of thing.

‘placid heavenly eyes that contained nothing to check us.’ – Flora can be imagined as lapping this sort of thing up.

‘to be carried away’ – A governess’s job is to educate and ‘form’ children, not to be ‘carried away’ by the rewards of an emotional attachment to her charges – though admittedly there will always be a strong emotional element in the care of very young children, and the narrator is effectively a substitute mother for Flora and Miles.

‘I was carried away in London!’ – This is, presumably, to be taken as a jest, but it reminds the reader that the narrator has taken this job largely because she has becoming infatuated with the master of Bly. She does not appear to be a very emotionally balanced individual.

‘a kind of comforting pledge […] that we should on every question be quite at one.’ – Mrs Grose follows the narrator’s lead in nearly everything and tends always to defer to her judgement. This effectively puts the narrator ‘at the helm’ (see below) when she is far from ready for such responsibility.

‘it should be she, she only, who might show me the place’ – This is a good strategy to win Flora’s confidence, but it also puts the child in charge of the adult.

‘crooked staircases that made me pause’ – The narrator has a recognisably ‘gothic’ psychology – almost as though she expects Bly to have its ghosts. Flora’s equanimity is used to puncture these expectations for the reader, implying that there is nothing to fear in the place.

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Henry James
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

Available HERE where you can read the opening chapters.

The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul