I finished Turn of the Screw last night and started reading some of the essays that follow the story. Seems that critics since publication have been in one of two camps--either it was a straight ghost story, or the governess is crazy.
I'm firmly with the governess-is-crazy crowd. This occurred to me midway through and became increasingly obvious that either she (nameless, just like the heroine of Rebecca!) was crazy or James was.
This was truly one of the least satisfying books I've had the pleasure of reading...yes, pleasure, because despite the obtuseness of James's style, there is a fluency and competency in his writing that still gives some pleasure. I generally don't have a problem with ambiguity but Turn of the Screw does try my patience. I ended up being frustrated with the lack of information the author shared with me. I can live with arguing about whether the governess really saw ghosts or was simply nuts, but I want to know how and why Quint and Jessel died, what Miles did that was so horrific at school that he was expelled (somehow I can't swallow that it was simply swearing), if he truly was expelled or if that was a figment of the governess's madness, and what Mrs. Grose really thought of the governess and where she and Flora fled to. Finally, of course, is the question as to whether Miles is really dead at the end, and if so, whether the governess killed him.
Frustration aside, one of the themes I was thinking about whilst reading this book is the 70's slogan "The Devil Made Me Do It!" If you take the story at face value and accept that the children were possessed by the ghosts of Quint and Jessel, then it's pretty clear that their "bad" behavior is exonerated because they are possessed. I put the word bad in quotes because the story doesn't show them doing much beyond excelling at their schoolwork and lessons, looking out windows, wandering about outside, using swear words (which they allegedly learned from Quint and Jessel) and being at first first confused and then alarmed at the behavior of their governess.
I wonder how true the Benjamin Britten operatic version is to the original story. Anyone seen it?