The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

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‘At this, with one of the quick turns of simple folk, she suddenly flamed up. “Master Miles! HIM an injury?”’ – This indicates that Mrs Grose is as devoted to Miles as to Flora. Neither of them can do wrong in her eyes.

‘my very fears made me jump to the absurdity of the idea.’ – This is an odd phrase, and therefore interesting in what it reveals. The narrator has, understandably, been concerned regarding Miles since she learnt the news of his expulsion from school. Less understandable are her ‘fears’ and her sleepless night. There is a degree of overreaction being signalled here by James – and this phrase illustrates how her fears are so powerful that, quite irrationally, she ‘jumps’ to negate them, as if she would do anything to escape from them, including joining Mrs Grose in a state of what popular psychology calls ‘denial’ about Miles’ behaviour – a boy she has never even met.

‘ “Yes, yes; it would be incredible.”’ – Ten year olds can be capable of all sorts of mischief, something both the narrator and Mrs Grose seem oblivious to.

‘a curiosity that, for all the next hours, was to deepen almost to pain.’ – Miles, upon whom the narrator’s strangely obsessive behaviour will eventually focus, has already been invested with an extraordinary importance for her.

‘She expressed in her little way an extraordinary detachment from disagreeable duties, looking to me, however, with a great childish light that seemed to offer it as a mere result of the affection she had conceived for my person, which had rendered it necessary that she should follow me.’ – Long Jamesian sentences often conceal an irony. Mrs Grose has just expressed her absolute faith in Flora’s angelic goodness, and yet the little girl has wandered out of the schoolroom after having managed only ten minutes of work. But that doesn’t matter, because she hasn’t sought out her governess out of naughtiness, but ‘as a mere result of the affection she [has] conceived for’ her. The narrator is so besotted with her that she allows herself to be wound around Flora’s little finger.

‘I […] catching my pupil in my arms, covered her with kisses in which there was a sob of atonement.’ – The ‘sob of atonement’ is the narrator’s for having thought ill of Flora’s brother – something the child knows nothing of. Flora is being rewarded here for bad behaviour, and while James’s era was nothing like as sensitive as we are now to inappropriate relationships between adults and young children, all the same to cover a child ‘with kisses’ is surely not normal behaviour for a governess.

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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