Thursday, April 14, 2011

His Little Heart

The Turn of the Screw (1898)
by Henry James

But he had already jerked straight round, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day.  With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss, and the grasp with which I recovered him might have been that of catching him in his fall.  I caught him, yes, I held him - it may be imagined with what a passion; but at the end of a minute I began to feel what it truly was that I held.  We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.

I'm a total sucker for a GREAT gothic classic (I'll save Wuthering Heights for another post).  One of my favorite high school English class assignments was Henry James's thrilling novella, The Turn of the Screw.  My own heart almost stopped when I read this final paragraph in a story that kept me spellbound as a teenager.  It is a chilling story of a newly-hired governess who witnesses the ghosts of a former housekeeper and employee and fears for the safety of the two children in her charge.  What is so fascinating about the tale is its ambiguity and critics have been arguing over the meaning since its publication.  Are the ghosts real?  Are the children sinister themselves and in cahoots with the spirits?  Is the governess insane and hallucinating the spectres?

As a writer, the story has always intrigued me and I have often toyed with the idea of adaptation for the stage as either a play or a musical.  It has been adapted numerous times, most notably the Benjamin Britten opera and the wonderful 1961 film version The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr.  It's frequently on my mind and it very well may be one of those many "projects" that I tackle during my "sabbatical."

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