To Insanity In Pursuit Of Love.
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To Insanity in Pursuit of Love.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is usually read as a ghost story in which the central character, the governess, tries to save the souls of two children possessed by evil. However, the short-story can be also analyzed from many different perspectives, as we come upon a number of hints that lead to various understanding of certain scenes. One of the possible interpretations is the psychoanalytical one, in which we interpret the events either from the point of view of the governess or from the perspective of the two children. I will concentrate on the problem of the governess who, restricted by her own problems and moral dilemmas, projects her fears on her pupils and in this way harms the children. What causes her moral corruption and gradual maddening lies deep in her psyche. Both the Victorian upbringing and the social isolation of a poor village tell her to restrict her sexual desires evoked by the romance reading. The result is tragic. The governess becomes mad and the children psychologically destabilized and scared of the adults. The story ends with the governess strangling the boy in a hysteric fit. The Turn of the Screw is a very popular work of literature, with reach history of critical interpretations where not much can be added, therefore my essay is mostly based on The Turn of the Screw. A History of Its Critical Interpretations 1898 – 1979 by Edward J. Parkinson.

In the Victorian society, love, sex and desire were the unspeakable subjects, especially for a young, unmarried woman in care of two young children. The governess herself can not imagine thinking about or mentioning her sexual needs. Her desire for love is so strong that she immediately falls in love with the man she hardly knows. The main reason for accepting the job in Bly is her employer, a fine young man, whom she craves for. This is clearly stated by Douglas when he says about the offer: “The moral of which was of course the seduction exercised by the splendid young man. She succumbed to it” (James 13). As the love is not fulfilled, with no prospects for the future relationship with the master, the young woman starts to be overpowered by her romantic and sexual needs. The matter gets worse when her imagination starts to play tricks and then she projects a figure of a man during one of the walks. Later on, as her state of mind is far from normal and she becomes obsessed with love, the male ghost is paired with his female lover. Only in this unconscious way can the governess express her needs, which the cruel Victorian society, “with its restrictive code of sexual morality,”as Jane Nardin calls it, rejected and made her quench (qtd. in Parkinson, ch. 6).

Being the daughter of a poor parson, the governess has probably never tasted real love. Her whole knowledge about the romantic relationships is based on novels like Pamela where “a middle-class girl finds an upper class man,” Nardin points out (qtd. in Parkinson, ch. 6). On meeting her employer, she immediately recalls the scheme of one of the novels and imagines the future with the man. Also when walking alone the governess dreams about meeting the man of her life. When her psychological health deteriorates she can no longer distinguish the imagined from the real. The ghosts start to haunt her, she thinks she can hear their voices and insist on her pupils talking to them. She invents the story of them being in close contact with the ghost lovers, being possessed by them or even having some romantic relationship with them. She regards both the ghosts and the children as if they were characters in a romance novel, trying in this way to satisfy her desires for a real love. She experiments with the children putting them in different situations and checks their reactions. She spies on them and makes them confess to things they have no idea about. Being so deeply engrossed in the world of novels, she withdraws from reality and starts to live in the imagined world of love, ghosts and angelic-like children. Having such a big mental problem the governess poses a huge threat for her pupils. She harms their psyches, talking about her projections and making the children admit seeing them too, but also physically, which we clearly see in the last scene when Miles dies strangled by his governess.

The governess projects the couple of lovers, who can be read as the “representatives of erotic realities which Victorian society has repressed,” like David Mogen does it in his study of the work (qtd. in Parkinson, ch.6). She cannot express herself in any overt way; therefore she finds relief in the world of imagination, by means of the ghost couple. At first she makes the male appear to her, which may be read as an embodiment of her desire for a male lover. Although she meets the ghost several times, he belongs to a different dimension. The only way for her to make love to him is to project the figure of a female. By means of Miss Jessel she gets access to her lover and can fulfill her desire in this way. Unconsciously, she follows the ghosts in the places she had seen them. She goes to the tower after spotting Quint or sits on the very same step Miss Jessel used to sit. In this way the female ghost becomes her double and Miss Jessels lover, Quint, her sexual partner, whom she cannot find in her real life.

Shortly after appearing in Bly, the governess becomes mentally instable. Her condition worsens daily; she cannot sleep, hears voices or claims to see a couple of ghosts and imagines the children to be possessed. This state can be explained the best as the condition called “sexual hysteria,” which was a “psychosexual disorder” common in the Victorian times. The infirmity was “affecting primarily well-bred, intelligent women, as caused by the conflict between natural sex desires and the repression of Victorian social ideals” (Parkinson). Most of the problems which appear in Bly are the results of the hysteric fits of this mad woman. John Lynderberg characterizes the governess as:

Anxious, fearful, possessive, domineering, hysterical, and compulsive.In other terms, she is a compulsive neurotic who with her martyr complex and her need to dominate finally drives to destruction the children she wishes to possess. (qtd. in Parkinson, ch.4)

He also mentions that the governess “smothers” the children

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