Saturday, October 9, 2010

Book Review + Rant: The Turn of the Screw

In anticipation of the Halloween season (which has been shoved in our faces since August, incidently) I read Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, known as one of the best written ghost stories out there. A young woman is engaged as governess to two young children who are, apparently, being stalked by the ghosts of two former servants. I found it creepy, though a bit confusing. There's a lot of vague sentences where we can only guess what someone was going to say, even vague thoughts where we're really not sure what the heroine is really thinking. I suppose it was his intention to give the reader the same confusion as the heroine, but it actually detached me from the story. The ending is a great deal of depressing drivel, with no real resolution beyond "rocks fall". We don't really get the "everyone dies" part so we don't really know what happened. I know many people enjoy that sort of thing but it just left me feeling abruptly disappointed. Overall I would give this story a 2.5 out of 5. Creepy but not effective as a narrative, I think.

What really got me, though, was all the literary criticism (I could only find a book filled with critics' drivel as well, which is also depressing). Ah, yes, literary criticism, that horrible maze turned more horrible thanks to Freud. Many believe that this story showed only a young woman going insane thinking she was seeing ghosts. Oh yes, they acknowledge James had intended it to be a real ghost story, not one of those silly Scooby-Doo endings where the sheet is pulled off the ghost and police captain Todd is revealed as the villain. Yes, they acknowledge this, but point out James was self-deceived.

Wait wait wait.....So some critic, who has no knowledge of what went through the author's head when writing this story, knows better than the author himself? Since when? I honestly have trouble understanding this mindset in literary criticism. Why should an author know less than the reader? The author wrote the damn thing! You'd think they know how the story should go, unless you adhere to that weird "collective consciousness" drivel (drivel being the word of the day, by the way).

The only other explanation is that literary critics are telepathic and psychic. That would explain a lot.

Anyways, beyond the arrogance displayed, one particular critic does something stupid. He acknowledges that the heroine, being able to describe two people she had never seen before, poses a problem to his "she's insane" theory, but then he completely skips over it, ignoring this issue for the rest of his essay, and in fact then pointing out she must have led the housekeeper on when the housekeeper realizes the identity of the ghost that had frightened the heroine. Well, it doesn't matter. Because Freud is always right.

That's right. The critic comes up with a fool-proof explanation of why the poor governess is suddenly hallucinating.

Sexual repression.

You heard that. Sexual repression causes someone to hallucinate "ghosts" that look identical to people she has never seen before.


Dear critic, sometimes a ghost is just a ghost.

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