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Old 10th Oct 2005, 22:38   #11
Colyngbourne
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Default Re: Henry James

That is a perfect example of why it took me so long to slog through The Turn of the Screw, even on a second reading. (Almost as long as Number9Dream!) I'm afraid it doesn't inspire me to read more James really.
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Old 4th Mar 2008, 9:06   #12
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Default Re: Henry James

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The homage of which they were so lavish succeeded, in truth, for my nerves, quite as well as if I never appeared to myself, as I may say, literally to catch them at a purpose in it.
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Originally Posted by John Self View Post
Can someone unpack this sentence for me? What the hell is he on about?
Having just read the book and going back to this sentence, I think he (or she - the governess) is saying that the children's extravagant and preternatural fondness of her (from the previous sentence) was taken as true and natural. They did not let on that they were scheming and she did not suspect it.

Now, were they scheming or weren't they? I think not. I think she was mad as a hatter.
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Old 4th Mar 2008, 12:44   #13
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Default Re: Henry James

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I think she was mad as a hatter.
Me too, Ang! And it's giving me chills just thinking about it, so much fun. Do you think, in this story, James is playing with the reader?
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Old 4th Mar 2008, 13:00   #14
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Default Re: Henry James

It's bad writing. Everyone slips up from time to time, including Henry. If intelligent people like us fail to parse the sentence even after stopping and trying, "the speaker is nuts" is not a satisfactory conclusion to draw. If that's what he meant, he could have said it more comprehensibly. The conclusion I reach is "the writer is gabbling, and his editor didn't dare tell him, and no-one else wants to point it out, in case, in so doing, they appear ignorant".
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Old 4th Mar 2008, 14:25   #15
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Default Re: Henry James

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Originally Posted by gil View Post
It's bad writing. Everyone slips up from time to time, including Henry. If intelligent people like us fail to parse the sentence even after stopping and trying, "the speaker is nuts" is not a satisfactory conclusion to draw. If that's what he meant, he could have said it more comprehensibly. The conclusion I reach is "the writer is gabbling, and his editor didn't dare tell him, and no-one else wants to point it out, in case, in so doing, they appear ignorant".
"The speaker is nuts" is not my conclusion from this sentence, gil. It is my conclusion about the book. There are two main schools of thought on this - it's a ghost story or it's a story about a neurotic governess.

My thought is she is psychotic rather than neurotic, but it has nothing to do with that sentence.

Edit: I agree with everyone that the sentence is difficult and I would prefer an easier one! It is merely an example which HP offered a few years ago. I'm sure we could find more.

The other example she offered, which is:
Quote:
I could only get on at all by taking 'nature' into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.
... I still don't get. I pondered it at length when I came across it, because it has the title of the book within it. It also made me think of Zola's preface to the 2nd edition of Therese Raquin, about how everything is the book is natural. Probably no connection though...
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Old 4th Mar 2008, 14:30   #16
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Default Re: Henry James

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Do you think, in this story, James is playing with the reader?
Oh yeah, just as Douglas, who is reading the story, is playing with his listeners. I have a theory that Douglas wrote the book himself and there is no governess, no ghosts, no children - just someone (Douglas) devising a way to out-tell the other story tellers. It certainly adds to a ghost story for the audience to think that it is real, so he pretends to read a true record.

Could be way off base though!
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Old 14th Mar 2008, 9:54   #17
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Default The Turn of the Screw

Well, Beth asked, so my main theory of The Turn of the Screw:

The notion of a split personality would explain a lot of what happens in the story: the governess seeming to contradict herself from one thought to the next in places; sometimes she seems to be genuine, seeing ghosts, and sometimes she seems to be consciously manipulating Mrs Grose.

In the governess' case, I would put it down to only two personalities (not like Sybil's 16 or so), but one being dominant and being aware of both personalities, the other only aware of seeing the ghosts. If this were the case though, I'd want to look for instances where the governess ends up somewhere and doesn't know how she got there, or doesn't remember periods of time (similar to fugue states). There's one reference I can think of - where she realizes she must have walked three miles... it didn't seem like she was completely herself there (I could be forcing my theory into that and it was just daydreaming?)

This theory would work best if Henry James was aware of the notion of a split personality, and his brother certainly was - in fact, it seems he may have come up with the concept. This is taken from http://www.des.emory.edu/mfp/hunt.html :

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[William] James was well aware of the role of the unconscious in particular phenomena of abnormal psychology, citing, among other examples, cases of hysterical blindness reported by the French psychologist Alfred Binet: "M. Binet has found the hand of his patients unconsciously writing down words which their eyes were vainly endeavoring to 'see.' But with his focus on conscious mental life, James could not conceive of knowledge as ever being entirely unconscious; he felt that somehow, somewhere, all knowledge was conscious. He followed another French contemporary, Pierre Janet, in holding that such seemingly unconscious knowledge was the result of a split personality; what the primary personality was unconscious of was "consciously" known to the split-off secondary personality.

James explained certain aspects of the hypnotic state the same way, in particular post-hypnotic suggestion, in which the patient, given an instruction during the trance, carries it out after being awakened but remains completely unaware of having been told to do sots. The split-personality hypothesis was awkward, limited, and unverified by empirical evidence, but in presenting it, James was at least recognizing, well before the unconscious was generally accepted as a reality, that certain mental states occur outside primary consciousness.
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Old 15th Mar 2008, 1:13   #18
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Default Re: Henry James

Well, Ang, I've thought a bit on this all day and, darn, it makes sense. Especially now that you mention her walking episode. Hmmm. I've always approached The Turn of the Screw as a story about control. The only thing I can compare it with is an early Roth, When She Was Good, whose main character becomes mad when the world won't fit into the square peg she's alloted it. But, rather than a split personality, I'm thinking more garden variety psychosis, especially towards the end. Miss Giddens is so controlling of the children, so desirous of their well being, to utterly scary extent. She almost reminds me of the over motherly mother, someone who never utters a word to besmirch her darling, but maintains the power to shape and even to destroy her child.

But all this is without taking William's scholarship into consideration. I don't know too much about him. Were he and Henry close as adults? If so, that could explain some of James' style. But, ack, at the end of the day, I prefer to think of Henry James as the ultimate observer whose seeming lack of activities on the outside freed his introversion to run wild with imagination and creativity.

Repression is also mentioned as a factor in the story. It's possible she was mad with desire for the boy and that the intimations of his naughty behavior in school were something she felt compelled to explore, while at the same time attempting to control him and make him her own. I'm a James admirer, of course, not so much for the immediacy of the stories as they demand rigorous attention and calisthenic reading, but for the afterwash, the kapowie that comes around when the story is closed and the time spent was truly inside his characters' heads.
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Old 15th Mar 2008, 12:03   #19
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Default Re: Henry James

Sounds like you've seen the film, Beth. The governess' name is not mentioned in the book, but a quick google of "Miss Giddens" revealed the film The Innocents.

This is the first James I've read. I agree there's an afterwash! I have read the prologue 4 or 5 times now. There's something going on there. Douglas and the narrator (who I call PN - prologue narrator, not to be confused the governess, who is the narrator of the story that Douglas is reading) have some sort of rivalry going on. I think there's a message there from Henry to William. I am not sure how close they were but it sounds like they corresponded a lot. They were very close in age, Henry Jr being the younger of the two (was it common to name the second child after the father?). They had a younger sister (Alice) who was mentally ill and Henry was reportedly her favourite brother. She died a few years before Henry took on this serialised ghost story.

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Originally Posted by Beth
I prefer to think of Henry James as the ultimate observer whose seeming lack of activities on the outside freed his introversion to run wild with imagination and creativity.
That still holds true for me, even with this theory that he may have gotten ideas from William's work.
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Old 15th Mar 2008, 14:26   #20
Beth
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Default Re: Henry James

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Sounds like you've seen the film, Beth. The governess' name is not mentioned in the book, but a quick google of "Miss Giddens" revealed the film The Innocents.
Yes, The Innocents is just fab. The novella and the film have apparently merged as one in my thinking. So much so that I'm actually surprised to read that Miss Giddens wasn't named by James! I hope you'll see the film; it adds a richness to the story while remaining true to James.
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