Turn of the Screw
Chapter Three - Apparitionists vs. Non-apparitionists: 1934-1948
1. Wilson, 1934
Edmund Wilson's famous essay "The Ambiguity of Henry James," which appeared in the April-June, 1934 issue of Hound and Horn, begins a new chapter in the history of the criticism of The Turn of the Screw. Wilson's assertion that "the young governess who tells the story is a neurotic case of sex repression, and the ghosts are not real ghosts at all but merely the governess's hallucinations" (385) produced much more of an impact than Kenton's published non-apparitionist arguments ten years earlier or Goddard's unpublished lectures at Swarthmore College, because of Wilson's overwhelming stature as a literary scholar and critic. Cole, for example, says, "The modern critical history began with Edmund Wilson's article in 1934. Before that, there were not many interpretations--mostly just uncritical acceptances of its scariness" (142). Sidney E. Lind, in his brief survey of the criticism, compliments Kenton for her "startlingly new interpretation," but then adds, "This psychological interpretation received little attention until 1934, when Edmund Wilson, branching off from the Kenton thesis, studied the governess as `a neurotic case of sex repression', with the ghosts as her hallucinations" (226). Oscar Cargill in these words summed up a good deal of the critical history:
In a similar vein, Cranfill and Clark consider Wilson's essay to be "by all odds the most widely read, replied-to, or agreed-with of commentaries on the story, if not on James himself" (6). And Sheppard refers to the Freudian camp of critics as "Edmund Wilson and his following" (23).
Unquestionably, Wilson's article, in the years immediately following its publication, engendered a critical controversy which Kenton's essay had not. In 1935, Stephen Spender, in alluding to the non-apparitionist approach, refers only to Wilson, not to Kenton (35). Ivor Winters, in 1937, discusses "Mr. Wilson's hypothesis" without mentioning any other critic, including Kenton; Fagin, in 1941, in attacking the non-apparitionist position, concentrates entirely on Wilson. In 1947, Robert Liddell opens his discussion of the apparitionist/non-apparitionist debate by observing, "The `hallucination' theory of The Turn of the Screw is best known in the discussion of it by Mr. Edmund Wilson . . . though he disclaims having originated it" (138). In the same year, Heilman, in "The Freudian Reading of The Turn of the Screw," concentrated almost his entire fire on Wilson's article, which he termed "the scholarly foundation for the airy castle of Miss Kenton's intuitions" (434). And, finally, Waldock, in 1947, in attacking the non-apparitionist position, devoted his entire attention to Wilson.
In presenting his interpretation, Wilson relies on argumentation of three kinds: internal evidence from the story itself; James's statements about the story in the Preface to Volume 12 of the New York Edition and his decision to include the tale in the same volume with The Aspern Papers, The Liar, and The Two Faces; and a consideration of fictional characters in other works by James.
Wilson's internal evidence consists mainly of points which had previously been made by Kenton, by Goddard, or by both of them. Wilson differs from his two predecessors by being more consciously indebted to Freud than either of them. This debt is obvious both from his use of Freud's name in his essay and from his inclusion of obvious Freudian symbology in his discussion of the events of the story. "Observe also," he says,
His other observations, however, have been made before.
Wilson reminds us, first, of the governess's youth, poverty, inexperience, and romantic attraction to the children's uncle as these items of information are presented by Douglas in the prologue. He then cites three examples of her proclivity for jumping to conclusions:
Wilson also points out, as do both Goddard and Kenton, that the first appearance of Quint interrupts her romantic daydreams about the employer. Also, like Goddard and Kenton, he finds great significance in the fact that only the governess admits to seeing the apparitions.
Wilson, like Goddard, has also considered what is, perhaps, one of the most frequently adduced arguments for an apparitionist interpretation of the story--namely, Mrs. Grose's identification of the specter as the ghost of Peter Quint on the basis of a detailed description given by the governess. Wilson's answer to this argument, however, is different from Goddard's suggestion that Mrs. Grose has been inattentive to most of the description and has jumped to a hasty conclusion after hearing that the apparition is hatless and dressed in another man's clothes. Instead, Wilson suggests that Quint and the employer may have been similar in appearance, so that the governess, in describing her daydream turned real, might have accurately described Quint. Wilson also reminds us that Mrs. Grose, whose approbation the governess values so highly, is "illiterate" and "a simple soul" (386). On examining the story's ending, Wilson describes as "a gruesome scene" the governess's final meal with Miles and her attendant comparison of herself and this pre-pubescent boy to "some young couple who, on their wedding-journey, at the inn, feel shy in the presence of the waiter" (388). Finally, Wilson suggests that, at the end of the story, the governess has frightened Miles to death (389).
Next, Wilson turns his attention to James's statements about the story in the Preface to Volume 12 of the New York Edition, reminding us of the following points: (1) having designated the story "a fairy tale," James "adds that the apparitions are of the order of those involved in witchcraft cases rather than of those in cases of psychic research," suggesting, in Wilson's view, that the governess is to be seen as an inquisitor or witch hunter; (2) commenting on the charge that the governess is insufficiently characterized, James states that his "ironic heart shook for the instant almost to breaking" (italics are Wilson's) and makes a distinction between "her record of so many intense anomalies and obscurities" and "her explanation of them; a different matter"; (3) James remarks that the governess has "authority, which is a good deal to have given her," which Wilson interprets to mean "the relentless English `authority' which enables her to put over on inferiors even purposes which are totally mistaken and not at all to the other people's best interests"; (4) "in the collected edition . . . James has not included The Turn of the Screw in the volume with other ghost stories but in another volume between The Aspern Papers and The Liar--this last the story of a pathological liar whose wife protects his big lies against the world, behaving with the same sort of deceptive `authority' as the governess in The Turn of the Screw" (389-90).
Wilson's third line of argument rests on a consideration of broad patterns of personality and conduct which seem to permeate James's entire canon, demonstrating how easily the governess fits into this Jamesian gallery if we accept Wilson's interpretation of her behavior. "We see now," suggests Wilson,
Wilson provides an impressive list of examples of such women: Olive Chancellor of The Bostonians whose "Lesbian passion" which is so successfully disguised as "a zeal to advance the cause of Feminism" that "the strong-willed spinster is herself entirely in the dark" leads her to discourage Verena Tarrant from marrying; the "unmarriageable" heroine of The Marriages who, "much attracted to an attractive father and obsessed by the memory of a dead mother," breaks up her father's marriage and then "remains serene in the conviction that, by ruining the happiness of her father, she has been loyal to her duty to her mother"; "the amusing Francie Dosson of The Reverberator, who, though men are always falling madly in love with her, seems never really to understand what courtship and marriage mean and is apparently quite content to go on all her life eating marrons glaces with her father and sister in the parlor of the Paris hotel"; and, finally, "the pathetic Milly Theale of The Wings of the Dove, who wastes away in Venice and whose doctor recommends a lover" (391-3). These women, moreover, have their counterparts among James's male characters who "have a way of missing out on emotional experience, either through timidity and caution or through heroic renunciation"; for example, "the hero of The Beast in the Jungle, who is finally crushed by the realization that his fate is to be the man in the whole world to whom nothing at all is to happen"; "the cagy Mr. Wentworth of The Europeans, so smug and secure in his neat little house, deciding not to marry the agreeable baroness who has proved such an upsetting element in the community"; or "the weary Lambert Strether, of The Ambassadors, who comes to Paris too late in life" (393).
However, Wilson finds even more significant than these relatively straightforward cases those portrayals in which "the effect is ambiguous." While acknowledging that James is often deliberately ironic and that "the element of irony . . . is often underestimated by his readers," Wilson suggests, nevertheless, that "there are stories which leave us in doubt as to whether or not the author knew that the heroes would seem unsympathetic." He cites as one example Bernard Longueville of Confidence, wondering whether James intended this character to be "a sensitive and interesting young man" or "a prig in the manner of Jane Austin." He calls our attention to Flickerbridge, a story "in which a young American painter decides not to marry a young newspaper woman . . . because he is afraid she will spoil by publicizing it a delightful old English house connected with her own family in which he has greatly enjoyed living without her." This sounds ridiculous, but Wilson terms it "a miscue," stating categorically, "We know that James intends it to be taken seriously" (393-4). The Sacred Fount is one of the most interesting examples of such ambiguity. While Wilson does not doubt James's disapproval of the protagonist, he discerns "an ambiguity in James' own mind" as to the precise nature of this narrator's shortcoming:
The narrator's problem, suggests Wilson, is an inability to understand and accept his own sexuality. Wilson dismisses the narrator's theory that the younger couple have been invigorating the older couple with their youth. "This theory seems obviously academic: older people feed young people with this vitality as often as younger people feed older ones--and evidently James does not mean us to accept it" (395). Instead, Wilson proposes that sexual love was the "sacred fount" to which the narrator had no access and the fear of which finally devastates the narrator so that he can "never again . . . quite hang together," as he puts it, after his rebuff at the novel's end. The lesson, according to Wilson, is
Wilson considers The Sacred Fount to be "a sort of companion-piece" to The Turn of the Screw, pointing out that the former work was written shortly after the latter and suggesting that, in the former, "the speculations of the narrator are supposed to characterize the narrator as the apparitions characterize the governess" (394-5). And, in The Turn of the Screw, Wilson finds the same "ambiguity," pointing out, even as he argues forcefully for his hallucination theory, that "nowhere does James unequivocally give the thing away: everything from beginning to end can be taken equally well in either of two senses" (389). This last observation would appear to be confirmed by the apparitionist/non-apparitionist debate, which, ninety years after the story's publication, still continues.
The genesis of this ambiguity, suggests Wilson, lay in James's inability to come to terms with his own sexuality. And here we come to Wilson's fourth line of argumentation. By examining James's biography and tallying other events with the chronology of his literary productions, Wilson attempts to demonstrate that, just as the governess, as Wilson interprets her, fits easily into James's gallery of characters, so she and the other Jamesian characters Wilson discusses are understandable products of a man like James and complement other elements in his biography to elucidate his psychological profile.
Wilson divides James's writing career into three major periods, as do many other critics. In the first period, according to Wilson, James
This period includes, of course, The Bostonians, The Princess Casamassima, and The Tragic Muse. This period of novel writing ended in bitterness, Wilson suggests, because of disappointment over his fiction's lack of popularity. Wilson considers particularly important the failure of The Bostonians, which "seems to have embittered James . . . and . . . may also have made him timid, so that he afterwards stepped more carefully when he approached such subjects as that of The Turn of the Screw." In his revision of this essay for publication in The Triple Thinkers, Wilson would expand on his discussion of James's problems with his public, suggesting that his characters' inability to consummate romantic attachments was a major reason for the failure of much of his fiction and also his plays, such as Guy Domville (106-9).
James then turned to the theater, an art form for which he had no talent. Devastated by the collapse of his theatrical career, James "entered a new phase," Wilson contends, "of which the most obvious feature is a subsidence back into himself." In the works of this period--The Turn of the Screw, The Sacred Fount, What Maisie Knew, and In the Cage--Wilson finds "a strange diminution" in
In all of these literary works,
Then, Wilson maintains, a recovery of sorts occurred, and in The Ambassadors, The Wings of the Dove, and The Golden Bowl, "a positive element reappears" as "Americans come back into the picture" and "score morally off an Italian prince, a charming French lady and a formidable group of middle-class English people who are shown in a disagreeable light as greedy, unscrupulous, and preoccupied mainly with keeping up dreary social positions" (404).
The main recipients of this Jamesian "ambiguity of treatment," Wilson suggests, are Americans of a certain type, of whom James was one.
Here, Wilson locates at least some of James's problems in his particular historical and sociological milieu, and this opens the door to a fusion of Freudian and Marxist insights. Wilson points out James's rootlessness--"he had travelled so much from his earliest years that he had never had any real roots anywhere" (401)--and suggests that much of his life and art can be understood as a search for fulfillment in America and Europe and a disappointment with the limitations of both societies. For these Americans, Wilson maintains,
This insight into the effects of social conditions on individual psychology is applied directly to the governess when Wilson refers to
The governess's English nationality does not deter Wilson from including her in the same category with the foregoing American types. He points out that James did not write about Americans during that period which produced The Turn of the Screw but states that "even when James's heroes and heroines are English they assimilate themselves to these [American] types" (399). Wilson makes this parallel even clearer in his revision of the essay for The Triple Thinkers, referring to James's portrayal of
The conflicts in James's psyche, according to Wilson, explain both his evasive answers to questions about The Turn of the Screw in his correspondence (396) and his "special resentment" toward Flaubert which "seems to have been particularly inspired by L'Education Sentimentale." Terming Frederic "a perfect young man out of Henry James," Wilson offers this pithy interpretation of James's antagonism:
Were we to consider only Wilson's first two lines of argument--his internal evidence from the story itself and his comments on James's statements about the story and his decision to include the novella in Volume 12 rather than elsewhere in the New York Edition--we might hastily conclude that Wilson's essay has been overrated because of the reputation of its author.
In the first place, although Wilson tells us that the governess is sexually attracted to the employer and later to Miles and that the ghosts are in some way caused by this attraction (he reminds us that the governess first sees Quint while in the middle of a daydream about the employer), he does not offer a detailed explanation as to why these problems cause the governess to need these particular ghosts with their distinctive characteristics. We may, on this point, contrast Wilson's essay with Goddard's, recalling Goddard's detailed explanation of how the governess's need to perform some heroic and self-sacrificial service for the employer and her incomplete information about past happenings at Bly combine to form a deadly psychodrama. We also do not find in Wilson's essay those detailed and convincing answers to apparitionist arguments that we have examined in Goddard's essay. Wilson's answer to the problem posed by Mrs. Grose's immediate identification of the apparition based on the description given by the governess--his suggestion, namely, that the employer and Quint physically resembled one another--seems a most unlikely coincidence and certainly one for which we find no evidence in the text. Wilson's interpretations of James's statements about the story in the Preface to the New York Edition, while interesting and plausible, are certainly not so cogent as to be beyond all question. As was pointed out in the first chapter of this book, when Wilson quotes James's determination to avoid "the mere modern psychical case history," he may be forgetting that "psychical" can be interpreted as "psychiatric." Moreover, as a number of critics--among them, Charles G. Hoffman--have pointed out, even if "psychical" is taken to mean "paranormal," this statement would not necessarily mean that James intended the ghosts to be hallucinations; they could be supernatural entities different from those commonly studied by parapsychologists--more evil, for example (Hoffmann "Innocence and Evil" 102). Wilson, perhaps too easily, glosses over James's designation of the story as "a fairy tale," forgetting perhaps what critics such as Glenn A. Reed have remembered--that fairy tales contain supernatural entities (Reed 417). Also, when Wilson quotes James's distinction between "her record of so many intense anomalies and obscurities" and "her explanation of them; a different matter," he may be assuming too much. In 1947, for example, Robert Liddell pointed out that the governess could be seeing "devils that have assumed the form of Quint and Miss Jessel to tempt the children" while she mistakenly "believes that she sees the spirits that once animated the earthly bodies of Quint and Miss Jessel" (142). This would not mean she was hallucinating. Both Sheppard and Roellinger have emphasized the fact that parapsychologists, in James's day as in ours, were not dogmatic in their theoretical explanations of what they considered to be genuine paranormal occurrences. Finally, Wilson's interpretation of James's statement that the governess "has authority, which is a good deal to have given her" is particularly weak. When we remember that this statement is immediately preceded by a reference to "the general proposition of our young woman's keeping crystalline her record of so many intense anomalies and obscurities . . ." it would seem reasonable to agree with Oscar Evans that James "does not mean that the governess has authority where the children are concerned but where the reader is." Evans also reminds us that when we read James's statement that "one's ironic heart shook almost to breaking" upon encountering the charge that the governess was insufficiently characterized, we should bear in mind the following remark which appears a few sentences later:
Once again, Wilson's interpretation, while plausible, is certainly not conclusive.
Such a hasty undervaluation, however, would be grossly unfair to Wilson's essay, the most outstanding features of which lie in his masterful relation of this novella to the rest of the Jamesian canon--a discussion in which The Turn of the Screw as interpreted by Wilson sheds considerable light on other Jamesian fiction and is itself elucidated by Wilson's insightful analyses of other works in the canon--and his brilliant relation of other biographical material to the chronology of James's literary productions so as to provide considerably greater insight into the works themselves via a deeper understanding of the creative and other psychological processes of the man who wrote them. And, in so doing, Wilson has opened at least two doors to a fusion of Freudian and Marxist insights.
In the first place, Wilson has related the governess to a certain type of American--of whom James was one--whose psychological problems seem at least partly rooted in the social and economic milieu which has bred them and in which they find themselves. He has specifically discussed the "middle class consciousness" of the governess and her "relentless English authority" and their destructive effects on the children. He has called our attention to the emotional poverty of this "poor parson's daughter," which is obviously related to her economic poverty and consequent lack of opportunities --we cannot help but think of the social and economic barriers that separate her from the employer, for example. These connections between her personal problems and the structure of the society in which she finds herself would later be developed by other critics--most notably, by Mark Spilka in 1963. Secondly, by his discussion of the reasons for the Victorian public's rejection of The Bostonians and lukewarm reception of much of James's other fiction, Wilson has opened the door to a greater awareness of sociological considerations when evaluating reader responses. Wilson's suggestion of how the public reaction to the subject matter of The Bostonians may have inhibited a frank treatment of sexual material in The Turn of the Screw is an important insight into the ways in which literary works can be partly shaped by the anticipated response of a particular public.
There are, of course, roughly, three types of psychoanalytic criticism: that which primarily seeks to understand the author; that which focuses primarily on the analysis of fictional characters; and that which is concerned mainly with understanding the responses of the reader. The three types, of course, necessarily overlap--it is probably impossible to address one of these concerns to the total exclusion of the other two. And each has its pitfalls; it is possible for the critic to lose sight of literary values as he turns an author or a fictional character into a psychiatric case history or to become a mere sociological or psychological reporter of what some people like and why. Good literary criticism never loses sight of literary values. Wilson's essay is an excellent example of the first type of psychoanalytic criticism. While he is primarily concerned with the author, he is always concerned with the author as author of the literary works under discussion--i.e., with the author's persona projected in the text--and, thus, Wilson always remains a critic, never becoming a mere psychohistorian of a famous man. The psychological processes of James are important to Wilson because they are reflected in the psychology of his fictional characters and thus help us to understand the literary works and their effects on readers. The latter consideration is always important to Wilson as he considers various characters--Olive Chancellor of The Bostonians, the anonymous narrator of The Sacred Fount, the governess in The Turn of the Screw--and asks why readers respond as they do, looking for answers in psychological processes of fictional characters and hidden messages from their author which they perceive whether consciously or not and whether the author consciously intended them or not. Thus, Wilson includes The Turn of the Screw among "a small group of fairy tales whose symbols exert a particular power by reason of the fact that they have behind them, whether or not the authors are aware of it, a profound grasp of subconscious processes" (390-91).
2. Wilson, 1938
Wilson revised his essay for inclusion in the 1938 edition of The Triple Thinkers. In addition to quite a few minor stylistic changes, Wilson expanded on his discussion of other Jamesian works as they are related to his points about The Turn of the Screw. He provides examples of how each novel of James's first major phase "begins strangely to run into the sands" at some "point--usually about half way through" so that "the excitement seems to lapse at the same time that the color fades from the picture; and the ends are never up to the beginnings." For example, in the first half of The Tragic Muse, "Miriam Rooth . . . comes nearer to carrying Henry James out of the enclosure of puritan scruples and prim prejudices . . . than any other character he has drawn." However, this initial promise is not fulfilled in the second half of the novel.
Wilson is unconvinced by James's later statement in the Preface to the New York Edition of The Tragic Muse "that he had been prevented from allowing Miriam Rooth to have a genuine love affair with anybody by the prudery of the American magazines," pointing out that,
Instead, Wilson suggests that, because of "something incomplete and unexplained about James's emotional life," the novelist "could not deal with that kind of passion and was much too honest to try to fake it" (148-9). The relationship of this problem to The Turn of the Screw is made a bit more direct in the 1938 revision of the essay. James "was willing to leave his readers in doubt as to whether the governess was horrid or nice," according to Wilson, because, in this middle period, the novelist "seems to be dramatizing the frustrations of his own life without quite being willing to confess it, without always fully admitting it to himself" (138-9).
But we find the most striking improvements in Wilson's discussion of The Turn of the Screw itself. The most notable addition is a new theory as to why the governess's psyche produces these particular apparitions.
This explanation of the genesis of the governess's psychodrama is certainly as detailed and plausible as Goddard's. Furthermore, it opens some very interesting doors.
For example, in 1962, M. Katan, M.D. would incorporate the idea that the love between the two ghosts is reflective of three other loves--that between the governess and Douglas, that between the governess and the employer, and that between the governess and the children--into a psychoanalytic reading which sees the story as an attempt by James to control his own anxiety arising from "the traumatic effects of primal-scene observations" (479) by "discharging it onto others" (476), namely the readers of the story who are terrified as their own primal-scene anxieties are brought to the surface. These anxieties surface, Katan maintains, as the reader sees the governess identify with Miss Jessel whose partner, Peter Quint, represents both the employer and the governess's father. Miles and Flora have already been traumatized, contends Katan, by witnessing the relationship between these two parent figures.
Similarly, Cole, obviously indebted to Wilson, would later (in 1971) effect a fusion of Freudian and Marxist insights by suggesting that, in this hallucinatory pattern,
Thus, Wilson's theory is easily incorporated into Cole's sociological and psychological reading which sees the governess possessed by "hysteria caused by her repression of her awareness that social inequities will frustrate her love for her employer" (1).
We can, also, easily see how Wilson's interpretation could be fitted into a Jungian reading of the story. For, in hallucinating a lascivious counterpart to both herself and her employer, whom she seems to idealize, the governess can be seen as projecting her shadow. It is not unusual for Jungian critics to see such projections of the shadow onto both masculine and feminine figures. For instance, Christopher Bryant, commenting on The Lord of the Rings, reminds us of the episode in which
The shadow, here is primarily embodied in the threatening male figure. Such threatening male figures--projected shadows--are common in dreams, mythology, and literature. As Bryant points out,
However, Bryant sees the feminine figure of the spider in the dark cave as also informed by Frodo's shadow. Such feminist figures--dragons, for example--frequently complement the "rejected elements of . . . masculine potential" we have mentioned. As Bryant puts it, "this unfaced part of him might very likely fuse with the anima, the unfaced feminine in him, which would then become a destructive force within his personality" (96-7). Bryant then provides an example from common experience: "A common form of the anima in its negative aspect is that of the possessive mother who prevents her children from growing up and living their lives independently of her" (97). This example demonstrates why the shadow must be seen to inform such a contrasexual archetype:
It is easy to see how this line of reasoning could be applied to the governess. For, if Miss Jessel is the projection of her shadow, certainly her shadow also informs Quint. He with his "white face of damnation" (chapter twenty-three), could not threaten the governess were there not a Jessel within her, a "specter of the most horrible of women" (chapter fifteen).
Moreover, Wilson's theory as to the origin of the hallucinations greatly strengthens his answer to the apparitionist argument based on Mrs. Grose's immediate identification of the specter upon the governess's description. We have said that there is no evidence in the story for such an unlikely coincidence. In his revised version, however, Wilson makes his case more credibly:
Furthermore, with this story in mind--that Miss Jessel is a projection of a part of the governess's own personality--Wilson offers a very insightful reading of the scene in the schoolroom in chapter fifteen in which the governess sees Miss Jessel at the schoolroom writing table. ". . . she had looked at me long enough to appear to say that her right to sit at my table was as good as mine to sit at hers," the governess tells us. In this scene, maintains Wilson, "the morbid half of her split personality is getting the upper hand of the other . . . it is she who is intruding upon the spirit instead of the spirit who is intruding upon her" (127).
In this revision of the essay, Wilson expands on his earlier discussion of the story's final scene, recalling the governess's vision of "the white face of damnation" at the window and asking, "But is the governess condemning the spirits to damnation or is she succumbing to damnation herself?" (129). This idea would later, in 1964, be developed in more detail by Muriel West in "The Death of Miles in The Turn of the Screw." West considers in detail the context of the governess's final outburst and concludes that, in this scene, Miles is, indeed, "dispossessed," but that the governess succumbs to possession herself.
Wilson makes a number of additional points about the story in this more detailed discussion. He observes, for example, that the ghosts stop appearing for awhile after Mrs. Grose threatens to contact the uncle, that the governess suppresses the letters the children write to their uncle, and that Miles and Flora may have met after the final vision of Jessel at the lake. This last occurrence would, of course, explain Miles's question--"It's she?"--in the story's final scene. Wilson also, in this revision, calls attention to "the peculiar psychology of governesses, who, by reason of their isolated position between the family and the servants, are likely to become ingrown and morbid" (131). Wilson makes one point which seems extremely questionable. Commenting on the scene in which the candle is blown out while the governess is in Miles's room, Wilson suggests that "the gust of frozen air" felt by the governess is "the only detail which is readily susceptible of double explanation." Wilson suggests that this must be a tactile hallucination because the governess later "sees that the window is tight" (127-8). Wilson's assumption that there is no ambiguity here is unwarranted. Spirits have been known to cause drafts in closed rooms.
To sum up, then, Wilson's revision of his article for the 1938 edition of The Triple Thinkers is a great improvement over the original essay. In the revised version Wilson has expanded on his discussion of Jamesian works as they are related to The Turn of the Screw and has looked in more detail at the story itself. His explanation of the psychological origins of the phantoms provides telling insights into the story and opens the door to additional Freudian, Jungian, and Marxist insights.
3. Reactions to Wilson
A. Major Critical Statements
The debate which Wilson sparked concerning the reality of the ghosts continued throughout the period under discussion.
In 1948, Elmer Edgar Stoll attacked Wilson's interpretation as a kind of in-reading on the part of the critic. He considered Kenton's attempt to "press on `toward the story behind the story`" an example of "the now timeworn fallacy of confounding art and reality," likening such criticism to "inquiring into the previous history of Falstaff or Hamlet, of the heroines or the Macbeths, who (of course), except as meagerly furnished by the dramatist have none" (230) and suggested that Wilson viewed such things as Flora's insertion of one piece of wood into another through the eyes of his own Freudian preoccupations, thus imposing on the work an anachronistic set of significances (229).
Stoll disagrees with Kenton's interpretation of James's description of the work in the Preface to the New York Edition as "an amusette to catch those not easily caught," suggesting that such passages "mean . . . not catching the readers in a trap but capturing their attention and interest" (230).
Stoll correctly points out a long literary tradition of genuine ghosts which are visible to some people and invisible to others--citing examples from Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar--but then unwisely adds, "The reality, on the other hand, of the supernatural is conveyed by other means--by suggestion of indirection--as here, plainly enough" (230). Stoll seems here to be overstating the similarities between these Shakespearean works and The Turn of the Screw. The ghost of Hamlet's father, after all, is seen by quite a few people at the beginning of the play, although it is invisible to Gertrude when it appears to Hamlet in the Queen's chamber. Similarly, while it is true that the ghost of Banquo is invisible to all but Macbeth, it must be remembered that the earlier supernatural visitations--the Weird Sisters--were visible to both Macbeth and Banquo.
Other arguments advanced by Stoll are weaker still. Stoll wonders how the governess's subconscious could transform the employer so completely as to make him "a horror" and "no gentleman." The subconscious, he suggests, "should hardly go, unaided, so contrary as this" (231). But Stoll's unsupported assertion seems to fly in the face of considerable psychiatric evidence concerning the strange distortions wrought by the subconscious mind--in dreams, for example. His suggestion that Wilson reads into events a psychoanalytic significance foreign to the mind of James might suitably be applied to the later psychoanalytic criticism of Cargill which was published in 1956, a source study suggesting that Freud's writings per se influenced James in his composition of the work. The argument is less compelling when applied to a critic such as Wilson who holds that universally valid Freudian insights can fruitfully be applied to historical figures such as statesmen or clients of psychoanalysts. Stoll begs the question by objecting that Wilson's interpretation fails to "explain the children's taking so keen an interest in secretly looking at and holding commerce" with the ghosts and "intriguing and conspiring together for that purpose," as well as "their corruption under the influence of the valet and the former governess, both when alive and when dead" (231). The above data are communicated to us only by the governess; consequently, if she is unreliable, there is nothing for Wilson or any other critic to "explain" about these happenings. Stoll is also on slippery ground when he claims that Wilson's theory is invalidated by "the confessions of the boy when approached on the subject and the deep resentment of the girl," along with "the hesitating but increasingly frank admissions of the housekeeper" (231). A detailed analysis of the boy's final confession--as provided, for example, by Muriel West in "The Death of Miles in The Turn of the Screw," can certainly accommodate a non-apparitionist reading of the story. Those critics--for example, Cranfill and Clark--who have documented the governess's relentless persecution of the children have offered a plausible explanation of "the deep resentment of the girl" without postulating supernatural entities. And Goddard's theory of how "the governess' fears and repressed desires and the housekeeper's memories and anxieties unconsciously collaborate" (14) demonstrates that this argument from Stoll is not unanswerable. Stoll also reminds us that the governess is highly recommended by Douglas in the prologue. Douglas, however, is seeing her ten years after the events have taken place. Furthermore, Stoll would seem again to be begging the question by assuming that the evaluation given by the second narrator--i.e., by Douglas, must be accepted at face value. If one narrator's account can be questioned, why not another's? If, on the other hand, we agree with Stoll that to question a narrator in a fictional work is "like discounting prologues or epilogues, choruses or soliloquies, addressed the audience and necessarily to be taken at face value" (230), then it would appear that we must dismiss Wilson's reading from the outset and that evidence adduced from another narrator is redundant. When Stoll suggests that Wilson is "forgetful, like most contemporary critics, of Aristotle on plot and character" (232), in not taking the governess's account at face value, he seems, like some critics of the Chicago School, to be unthinkingly and rigidly applying classical canons where they would appear to have no relevance. Stoll also errs in mixing Douglas's descriptions of the governess with James's statements in the New York Edition Preface about "agents" and "demons," forgetting apparently the difference between the statements made by a fictional character and an author's comments about his own work. He also seems to fall into the trap of the intentional fallacy. Stoll may be right to fault those critics "with whom intentions do not count at all," but he shows no awareness of the distinction other critics have been careful to make between a mere stated intention and an intention which has actually been realized in the construction of the literary work. Thus, Halliburton says that "the intentionality" to be sought "is not in the author but in the text" (Guerin 268). Finally, Stoll's remark that "hallucinations scare only the hallucinated" (231) is manifestly untrue. Certainly the story of children in the care of an insane governess--as the novella is read, for example, by Goddard or by Cranfill and Clark--is very terrifying.
Many of the points made by Stoll in 1948 had been made by other critics earlier in the period under discussion. In 1947, for example, Robert N. Heilman, in an article entitled "The Freudian Reading of The Turn of the Screw," also relied heavily on what he perceived to be James's stated intentions in the Preface to the New York Edition version of the story. He was particularly scornful of Wilson's interpretation of the statement, "She has authority, which is a good deal to have given her," arguing that James intended here to invest the governess with credibility and, in so arguing, lashing out intemperately at Wilson: "Once again, then, the word authority has brought about, in an unwary liberal, an emotional spasm which has resulted in a kind of emotional blindness" (434). In arguing that the story is not primarily about the governess, Heilman quotes James's statement which appears on page xix in the Preface to Volume 12 of the New York Edition: ". . . I saw no way, . . . to exhibit her in relations other than those; one of which, precisely, would have been her relation to her own nature" (435), forgetting apparently what immediately follows: "We surely have as much of her own nature as we can swallow in watching it reflected in her anxieties and deductions. . . ."
Ironically, Heilman accuses Wilson of ignoring the first part of this quotation and then proceeds himself to ignore the second part. Heilman also refers to James's statements about the story in correspondence but with the same selectivity, quoting extensively only the 1898 letter to H. G. Wells. Heilman argues, with some cogency, that
We must wonder, however, how "joyous" this hopeless infatuation could be and also if affection could be consciously acknowledged while sexual feelings of a more overtly genital nature were repressed. Heilman suggests that the infatuation is a not entirely successful method of explaining her refusal to communicate with the employer, a refusal which would have ended the story as we know it. But, when he suggests that "a technical procedure should not be mistaken for a psychopathological clue" (437), he perhaps forgets that it might be both and also that it might be "not quite successful" in explaining this dereliction of duty only if it is considered normal--not reporting to the employer these unusual and dire events is, after all, irrational.
Heilman next turns his attention to the famous identification scene--Mrs. Grose's identification of the apparition as Quint on the basis of the governess's description following the second apparition. Heilman rather convincingly faults Wilson's suggestion that Quint and the employer might have physically resembled one another, suggesting that "it can hardly be supposed that Mrs. Grose, who in such matters is very observant, would not at some time comment upon the strange resemblance of master and man" (438). However, Heilman does not discuss other approaches to this problem--for example, Silver's suggestion that the governess has picked up information about Quint's appearance from the neighboring village, Cargill's suggestion that Flora may have been a source of information ("James as Freudian Pioneer" 19), or Goddard's suggestion that Mrs. Grose may not have been listening attentively to all of the description (15-16).
Heilman, like Stoll, is unconvinced by Wilson's reminder that only the governess is known to see the ghosts. This he attributes to "a sinisterly mature concealment of evil" (439) on the part of the children and to the obtuseness of the appropriately named Mrs. Grose,
This argument, though questionable, is certainly superior to Stoll's simplistic, incomplete, and misleading comparisons to Shakespeare.
Heilman sees great significance in "the objective fact of the dismissal of Miles from school--a dismissal which is unexplained and which is absolutely final" (439). He perhaps fails to appreciate, however, the significance of the fact that the governess has not given us the text of the headmaster's letter and Douglas's assertion that Miles was unusually young for a residential school. Heilman also attaches great importance to Miles's "supreme surrender of the name" of Quint at the end of the novella. In arguing that point, however, he is unfair to Wilson when he asserts that "in plain defiance of the text Wilson says that Miles has managed to see Flora before her departure and thus to find out what the governess is thinking about" (439). Wilson, instead of making such a bald assertion, had merely pointed out that the text leaves open the possibility of such a meeting with Flora and a discussion of the governess among the two children and Mrs. Grose. Goddard had earlier made the same point in his then unpublished essay. Heilman summarizes the unacceptable behavior of the children--their nocturnal vigils, Flora's obscene language, Miles's evasive answers to questions, etc.--but seems not to have thought of the explanation later to be advanced by Lydenberg: "What is happening to the children is, clearly and terribly, the governess herself" (40).
In A Treatise on the American Novel, Robert Liddell presented what he considered to be a thorough and irrefragable refutation of Wilson's theory.
Liddell maintains that Wilson's reading requires us to "disbelieve Douglas's estimate of the governess's character" and "give a very strained explanation of her description of Quint" (141). We considered these two points in our discussion of Stoll, so there is no need for repetition here. Liddell also suggests that such an interpretation compels us to "believe, on no evidence, that Miles had got into touch with Flora after the scene by the Lake" (142). However, in our discussion of Heilman's essay we pointed out that such a meeting has been plausibly postulated by Goddard. Liddell also objects that Wilson's reading necessitates the assumption that the governess "is deluded about the very sense-data experienced in Miles's room, not only about her interpretation of them" (141). Here, however, Liddell seems to beg the question, for a woman capable of hallucinating ghostly visitants could certainly be "deluded about the very sense data experienced" on that occasion. Liddell's next move is simply to assert his position and then announce that his mere assertion in some way constitutes proof:
Here, it would appear, Liddell has abandoned argument for pontification.
Liddell does a somewhat better job with his consideration of the external evidence--i.e., James's statements about the story. Commenting on James's distinction in the Preface between the governess's "record of so many intense anomalies and obscurities" and "her explanation of them, a different matter," Liddell offers an interpretation which is a plausible alternative to Wilson's hallucination theory:
This is similar to the point Roellinger would later make; Roellinger pointed out that psychic investigators were frequently tolerant of various explanations for events considered to be genuinely paranormal.
Liddell, however, is on less firm ground when he cites evidence from James's notebooks and correspondence concerning the origin of the story in Archbishop Benson's anecdote. Liddell may be correct in his assertion that "Henry James began to construct this story not from a character, but from a scrap of anecdote" (143), but surely the story's genesis is less important than the final form it took. A similar point can be made about Liddell's evaluation of the significance of the story's debts to The Mystery of Udolpho and Jane Eyre: "It is from literature rather than from the abnormal psychology of himself or his governess that the relation between her and the ghosts arises" (144). Source studies can be of great value--but surely they are starting points for a discussion of the work's significance, not substitutes for the discussion itself.
B. Other Critical Statements
Critics of lesser importance also attacked Wilson's non-apparitionist interpretation. A.J.A. Waldock based his entire case on Mrs. Grose's positive identification of the male apparition as the ghost of Peter Quint upon hearing the detailed description of the governess. Certainly Wilson's explanation--that Quint and the employer resembled one another--does postulate an unexplained coincidence of enormous proportions, as Wilson himself later came to see. However, if we consider answers other critics have suggested in response to this argument--the explanations of Goddard and Silver, for example--we must consider Waldock overconfident in his categorical designation of this identification scene as "the sharp little rock on which his [Wilson's] whole theory must split" (332).
Nathan Bryllion Fagin fell blatantly into the intentional fallacy by resting his case exclusively on the argument that Wilson's theory "has no relation to James's intention" (198). Fagin casually refers to "the fact that Freudian psychology was something Henry James could not have been conscious of dealing with" (198), ignoring the novelist's lifelong interest in mental illness, his brother's pioneer research in the field, and his sister's long and painful struggle with schizophrenia. In commenting on Wilson's assertion that the novella might be informed by "a profound grasp of subconscious processes," Fagin, with almost incredible lack of sophistication, advances the following argument:
The foregoing provides an interesting example of how the intentional fallacy can impoverish our understanding of literary works.
Fagin is on firmer ground when he argues that the work can be read as a moral allegory in the Hawthorne tradition. He seems, however, not to entertain the possibility that this approach and the Freudian one could be synthesized--as, for example, they would later be by both Firebaugh and Lydenberg.
Philip Rahv also was guilty of the intentional fallacy and rather hasty in his assumption that the non-apparitionist approach "is so elementary as to make the story less rather than more interesting" (624). Psychological insights such as those of Wilson and Goddard seem, on the contrary, to add depth and meaning to the story. Rahv may be correct, however, in arguing against an exclusive concern with the psychology of the governess: "It lets off, so to speak, too many of the agents--the servants and the children" (624). Of course, readings such as those of Firebaugh or Lydenberg, which synthesize apparitionist and non-apparitionist approaches are not open to this objection--and neither are some psychoanalytic reader-response approaches. Although he does not offer a detailed analysis, Rahv seems to favor the latter approach, for he seems mainly concerned with how the story produces its "designated horror" in the reader:
This type of psychoanalytic reading does not concern itself exclusively with the governess. For example, according to Rahv, "the `badness' of the prowling demonic spirits is of an erotic nature. . . " (624).
Some critics, of course, agreed with Wilson's approach to the story. Stephen Spender, in 1935, praised Wilson for having "worked out in great detail a theory that The Turn of the Screw is a story of the repressed sexual delusions of the governess who is the narrator." According to Spender, Wilson's theory is plausible because
Ivor Winters, commenting on the dispute between Wilson and his apparitionist antagonists, opined that, while "there are difficulties of interpretation either way," (316-17), Wilson's view is "more plausible than the popular one" (317). Winters went on to assert that the story thus interpreted "has great illustrative value" (317) for Winters's moralistic theory of literature, which holds "that the work of literature, in so far as it is valuable, approximates a real apprehension and communication of a particular kind of objective truth" and that the literary work "is good in so far as it makes a defensible rational statement about a given human experience (the experience need not be real but must be in some sense possible) and at the same time communicates the emotion which ought to be motivated by that rational understanding of that experience" (11). Winters is contrasting this theory of the function of literature with three other theories: the didactic--which, holding that "the function of literature is to provide instruction," fails to realize that "the paraphrasable content of the work is never equal to the work, and that our theory of literature must account not only for the paraphrasable content but for the work itself" (4); the hedonistic--which "sees pleasure as the end of life, and literature either as a heightener of pleasure or as the purveyor of a particular and more or less esoteric variety of pleasure" (4); and the Romantic--which sees literature as "a form of what is known popularly as self-expression" (8). According to Winters, The Turn of the Screw--when interpreted according to his moralistic theory--can be seen as an illustration of "the gap between rational motive and resulting state of mind," a gap which is "so wide as to include every item in the story: for this reason the governess must be insane" (317). Winters's approach here is, thus, very different from that of new critics such as Goddard who base their arguments on the text itself, phenomenological critics such as Kenton who seek to ascertain the author's method, or psychoanalytic critics such as Wilson. Instead, Winters suggests that the story be read a certain way because, when read that way, it lends support to a particular theory of literature, the superiority of which can be established on other grounds--namely, the theory's avoidance of the shortcomings of its three rivals and its ability to "account both for the power of poetry and of artistic literature in general on its readers and for the seriousness with which the great poets have taken their art" (11).
Paradise Lost, according to Winters, can serve as a clear illustration of the shortcomings of the three other theories:
Osborn Andreas, relating the work to the whole of the Jamesian canon, sees it as one of many examples of "emotional cannibalism," which he defines as "any act of interference with others which is motivated by an egoistic desire for emotional gratification" (22).
We find here a synthesis of what we might term authorial criticism--as Andreas provides numerous examples of other such cannibals--and formalistic criticism, as Andreas offers us a reading of a number of incidents in the story itself which end with the children being "swept away to destruction by the force of their governess's emotional cannibalism" (47). Thus, for example, Andreas accounts for the illness of Flora and the death of Miles by suggesting that
Andreas offers us an explanation of the reader's experience which is consistent with Wilson's analysis of the governess as suffering from "sex repression" if we remember that, for Freud, sex is more than genitality:
C. Early Attempts at Syntheses
Some critics during this period appear to have been groping for a synthesis of the apparitionist and non-apparitionist positions, although detailed developments of that type did not occur until Firebaugh and Lydenberg, independently of one another, formulated such positions in 1957.
For example, in a 1942 radio symposium which The Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc. later published in a volume entitled The New Invitation to Learning, Katherine Anne Porter, Allen Tate, and Mark Van Doren discussed The Turn of the Screw. In the course of this discussion Van Doren said that
Tate summed up his view of the story in this way:
Later, Tate suggested that
Porter eloquently and clearly summed up the consensus:
Leon Edel, in his introduction to the 1948 edition of The Ghostly Tales of Henry James, seemed to imply that the objective reality or lack thereof of ghostly visitations is not of much importance in this and other Jamesian "ghostly tales," for, according to Edel, "of paramount interest are . . . the persons who see the apparitions." The interest, thus, is not in ghosts per se but in "haunted people--and, these haunted by phantoms usually of their own creation. It is the experience of these people," contends Edel,
D. Effects on Psychoanalytic Criticism
In addition to providing the major impetus for the debate between apparitionists and non-apparitionists, Wilson's essay contributed to a greater interest in the psychological analysis of James the man and in the effects his psychological characteristics had on the art which he produced.
Thus, echoing Wilson, F. R. Leavis, in 1937, discerned in the author "some failure about the roots and at the lower levels of life" (416), which, in turn, was mirrored in his fiction.
L. C. Knights, in 1938, without specifically discussing The Turn of the Screw, listed a host of "trapped spectators" in the Jamesian canon, each of whom is "merely a watcher, unable to participate freely and fully in human experience" (602) and contended that this "preoccupation with the plight of the trapped creature" (605) can be at least partially attributed to two elements in the author's history: the tendency of the elder Henry James to "too successfully cultivate in his second son the faculty of detachment" by, among other things, too much exposure to diverse geographical influences; and the fact that, later, "James settled in England . . . but he never became at home there. . ." (601). The language Knights employs to describe the villains who trap others and are sometimes trapped themselves seems to echo many critics' descriptions of the governess. Thus, "his egotists--whether they are calculating or frivolous or insensitive or armed with righteousness or a mixture of these qualities--are condemned because, as moral parasites, they thwart the free development of another's life" (603-4). One paragraph is worth quoting at some length:
In 1943, the psychoanalyst Saul Rosenzweig, without specifically discussing The Turn of the Screw, opined that James's ghosts, "unlike the ordinary creatures of their kind, . . . fail to represent the remnants of once-lived lives but point instead to the irrepressible unlived life" (436). Rosenzweig traces this peculiar preoccupation to a "combined guilt and inferiority" (440) resulting from an identification with his maimed father and guilt over his own exemption from service in the Civil War following a back injury which "was in some sense a repetition--that by one of those devious paths of identification which creates strange needs in sensitive personalities" (440). Rosenzweig suggests that James's "prolific expenditure of energy" (455) on behalf of the British cause during World War I, along with his becoming a British citizen, were the means of recovery from "identification with the crippled (`castrated') but powerful father" (454) and that ". . . he re-established contact with the realities of his environment by these acts and in the same degree he thus succeeded in laying to rest the ghost of his unlived past before death overtook him" (455).
Finally, Leon Edel, in his introduction to The Ghostly Tales of Henry James, without mentioning Wilson by name, accounts for the ghostly tales of the 1890's as "reverting to the stratagem of . . . boyhood . . ." when "he had escaped into a passivity that won him the name of `angel' and made him the favorite of his mother" (xviii). In obvious debt to Wilson, Edel accounts for this reversion by tracing the double disappointment of lack of suitable appreciation of his fiction in the 1870's and his later disasters in writing for the theater. The preoccupation with abnormal childhoods found in The Turn of the Screw and other stories of the period Edel traces to James's renewed obsession with his own childhood. The governess is afflicted with "the consuming curiosity of Fatima, Blue Beard's ultimate wife," (xxi) and her curiosity reflects the sexual unfulfillment of the author:
One of the merits of psychoanalytic criticism which focuses on the author is that analysis of a particular work can then be fruitfully related to the rest of the author's canon. This Edel does--as Wilson had done fourteen years earlier. This story, Edel insists, "is thus not the isolated work most critics have believed it to be" but rather "the culminating point" of "the forces--the conflicts, struggles, frustrations, the sense of artistic oblivion (death-in-life), the regression to childhood--the forces that prompted Henry James to put down a dozen ghostly tales in ten years. . ." (xxiii).
4. Heilman, 1948
We began this chapter with a consideration of what is arguably the historically most important non-apparitionist essay on The Turn of the Screw. In 1948 Robert N. Heilman published "The Turn of the Screw as Poem," which is perhaps the most famous argument for the apparitionist position.
Heilman contends "that, at the level of action, the story means exactly what it says"--i.e., that the governess's assumptions about the evil of Quint and Jessel, the corruption of the children, and the return from the dead of the nefarious servants--are all to be accepted at face value. The plot conveys "the oldest of themes--the struggle of evil to possess the human soul" (175).
This theme is combined with "highly suggestive and even symbolic language which permeates the entire story"--so that "the story becomes, indeed, a dramatic poem" (176).
Heilman attends closely to the language of the story and cites numerous examples of references to the innocence and beauty of the children at the outset and the depth of their later degradation to establish that, in this story, "the incorruptible . . . have taken on corruption" (176) and that the "real subject is the dual nature of man, who is a little lower than the angels, and who yet can become a slave in the realm of evil" (177-78).
Consequently, according to Heilman,
Heilman detects also in the language of the story unmistakable "echoes of the Garden of Eden" (178). According to Heilman,
The language used to describe the children and the change within them is complemented, according to Heilman, by "James's management of the setting and of other ingredients in the drama," as the idyllic descriptions of Bly in the spring (at the beginning of the story) suggest that the country estate "is almost an Eden" where "`the three lived in a cloud of music and love'" and "where `the old trees, the thick shrubbery, made a great and pleasant shade'. . . ." The change in the children, Heilman points out, which is shown by the change from images of light and purity to those of darkness and ill health and even premature age are accompanied by changes in the language used to describe the setting, which "is gradually altered until we reach the dark ending of a November whose coldness and deadness are unobtrusively but unmistakably stressed;. . . ' the autumn had dropped . . . and blown out half our lights' . . .; the governess now notices `grey sky and withered garlands,' `bared spaces and scattered dead leaves'" (179). Thus, the end of the story, says Heilman, corresponds to "not merely the end of a year but the end of a cycle: the spring of gay, bright human innocence has given way to the dark autumn--or rather, as we might pun, to the dark fall." As this progression occurs, the earlier light imagery changes to "a hard, powerful, ugly light--an especially effective transformation of the apparently benign luminousness of the spring" as Quint, Jessel, and Miles are shown, at various times, to be "glaring" (179-80).
Coincidental to this passage of time in the story, Heilman observes, is a shift from language suggestive of youthful innocence to that which suggests an abnormal aging of the children. Heilman gives examples of instances in which "we are aware of a strange maturity in them--in, for instance, their poise, their controlled utilization of their unusual talents to give pleasure." Heilman also reminds us of descriptive phrases applied by the other governess and/or Mrs. Grose. Thus, ". . . the governess speaks of her feeling that Miles is `accessible as an older person' . . . the governess assures Mrs. Grose . . . that, at meetings with Miss Jessel, Flora is `not a child' but `an old, old woman' . . . Mrs. Grose sums up, `It has made her, every inch of her, quite old'" (180).
Heilman, furthermore, calls attention to the language used to describe Quint, whose characteristics are "unmistakably the characteristics of a snake" and to language which suggests that the influence of the two spectres has been that of a "poison" redolent of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden (181).
By this combination of language suggesting external malign influences and language suggesting change in the children, moreover, James, according to Heilman, "presents evil both as agent (the demons) and as effect (the transformation in the once fresh and beautiful and innocent children)" and, consequently, "these attacking forces, as often in Elizabethean drama, are seen in two aspects. Dr. Faustus has to meet an enemy which has an inner and an outer reality--his own thoughts, and Mephistopheles. . ." (183).
In Heilman's view, Miles's final cry, "You devil!" is
Here Heilman sees biblical motifs combined with other literary ones: ". . . Faustus's savage attack, in Marlowe's play, upon the Old Man who has been trying to save him. . ." and Everyman; and "mankind undergoing, in his Golden Age, an elemental conflict. . ." (184).
The language applied to the governess, Heilman suggests, and the words used by the governess suggest
In addition to combinations of literary motifs, Heilman perceives various theological threads in the story. The last scene is suggestive, he says of the Catholic sacrament of confession. ". . . the long final scene really takes place in the confessional, with the priest endeavoring, by both word and gesture, to protect her charge against the evil force whose invasion has, with consummate irony, carried even there." This "theme of salvation and damnation which finally achieves specific form in the sacramentalism of the closing scenes" is enriched by "faint traces of theological speculation" as to the nature of original sin. Thus, Heilman calls attention to the governess's description of the children as "blameless and foredoomed," observing that
Finally, these biblical, theological, and literary allusions are complemented by "a few dry and casual ecclesiastical mementos," even though the novella contains "no old familiar signs announcing a religious orientation of experience . . . nothing of the Bible overtly . . . no texts, no clergymen . . . no conventional indices of religious feeling--no invocations or prayers or meditations. . . ." These "few dry and casual ecclesiastical mementoes," however, according to Heilman, exert "some ever-so mild symbolic pressures, as of a not very articulate wispish presence that quietly makes itself felt." Thus, Heilman reminds us that
Some of this religious material, moreover, says Heilman, is organized into a definitely ironic pattern which mimics the major New Testament events--i.e., those occurring from Good Friday through Easter Sunday. Miles's direct confrontation with the governess on the way to church, in the fourteenth chapter, according to Heilman, "introduces a straight-line action which continues with remarkably increasing tension to the end of the story . . . and here is the notable point--takes only three days."
Ironically, the governess "undertakes her quasi-priestly function with a new intensity and aggressiveness" on a Sunday--beginning thus on the day when the New Testament action is not begun but successfully completed. Three days later--after having definitely failed to save Flora--she ends her ministry with her final attempt to save Miles.
Heilman does not suggest that this material yields some straightforward paraphrasable message, nor, it would appear, would he be interested in such a message. He is attempting, instead, to delineate that combination of elements James has fashioned which
Nevertheless, Heilman is careful to insist that, while the story cannot be reduced to some paraphrasable message, "these patterns, which overlap and interfuse in a way badly obscured by the clumsy analytical process, are unquestionably important in the formation of the story and the qualifying of its meaning. . ." (188).
Heilman's essay, like Wilson's, has, in a powerful way, called attention to an important dimension of the story and one which, otherwise, might not have been accorded sufficient recognition. However, while Wilson appears to ignore religious elements which, as Heilman has shown, are unquestionably there, so Heilman fails to consider the case against the governess, a case which so many critics have made. This is why, in my opinion, the essays of such critics as Bewley, Firebaugh, and Lydenberg, all of which will be discussed in the next chapter, are much richer interpretations of the story than is either Wilson's or Heilman's.
Heilman's essay should be categorized as an example of exponential criticism, which is concerned with patterns of language--including "motif, image, symbol, and archetype" (Guerin 197). Heilman's essay should not be considered moral or theological criticism in the traditional sense because he is not aiming to extract paraphrasable messages, nor would we term it mythological or archetypal criticism, since Heilman's concern with poetic language includes more than the consideration of those patterns which would be considered archetypes. Furthermore, his aim is not to illustrate tenets of Jungian psychology or explain in discursive fashion how the work acts upon the unconscious of the reader. Rather, his critical method seems to fit the description of exponential criticism advanced by Guerin et alia:
5. Wilson, 1948
Our survey in this chapter of the apparitionist/ non-apparitionist debate following Wilson's seminal essay would seem to reflect an overwhelming predominance of apparitionist opinion during this period. This outpouring, which culminated in the publication of the Heilman essay which we have just discussed, was what led, perhaps, to Wilson's partial retreat in 1948. In an addendum to his essay "The Ambiguity of Henry James," Wilson, in the 1948 edition of The Triple Thinkers, made the following admission:
He, therefore, revised his position thus:
This would appear not to be a major change in the interpretation of the work; however, by making this revision, it would also appear that Wilson has devalued the work--for the "identification scene" must then be viewed as a mistake--and a serious one--on the part of James.
The period covered by this chapter--1934 to 1948, inclusive--is bounded by two outstanding and famous critical essays arguing respectively the non- apparitionist and apparitionist position, the latter essay's publication coinciding roughly with a partial retraction on the part of the author of the former essay. Since Heilman's outstanding example of exponential criticism was published only a year after he specifically replied to Wilson, it is reasonable to assume that his famous theological reading might not have been formulated had Wilson not so effectively argued the opposing case. Thus, Wilson clearly dominates the period under discussion.
Wilson's essays were fine examples of that type of psychoanalytic criticism which focuses on the author and, in so doing, sheds additional light on the literary work. His criticism never deteriorated into mere psychoanalysis of an individual of historical importance; rather, his aim was always better to understand the works in question and the readers' responses to these works by exploring the creative processes of the author and the persona which the author projected in the narrative. His criticism related The Turn of the Screw to the rest of the Jamesian canon in such a way that the novella and the rest of the canon served to illuminate one another. The 1938 revision, in addition to considering additional internal evidence to support Wilson's thesis, and expanding the discussion of James's other works, offered insights which could be further developed in a Jungian reading of the story.
In addition to providing the main impetus for the debate between the apparitionists and non-apparitionists, Wilson's essay sparked a great interest in the psychology of James the man and artist, so much so that L. C. Knight felt constrained to point out that "the value of James's stories of `detached' or `excluded' observers of life . . . is something to be determined by the methods of literary criticism" (607) rather than by armchair psychoanalysis of the man who wrote the stories--a truth of which Wilson himself never needed to be reminded.
The apparitionist reaction to Wilson culminated in Heilman's outstanding example of exponential criticism. Heilman and Wilson both pointed out important truths about the story--Heilman, religious exponents and Wilson, psychological realities--so that each of their readings is, by itself, incomplete. It would take later critics--Lydenberg, Firebaugh, and Bewley, for example--to synthesize the two sets of insights and demonstrate that each is needed to provide what the other lacks.