Starting The Turn of the Screw and drafting your first paper

Posted in prompts at 10:54 am by Dominique

Hi all,

While we don’t have a formal midterm for this class, we have reached the midway point of the semester (congratulations!); that said, we all have a busy weekend in front of us. Please set aside a solid portion of time this weekend to complete two important pieces of work for this course:  first, you’ll read the introductory material and the beginning of Henry James’s novella through the start of Book X (pages 1-68). Secondly, a full five-page draft of your first paper is due in the Dropbox folder before class on Tuesday. When creating this draft, please keep in mind that you are testing out what you proposed this week. If you find that your critical lens is not leading you to connections and insights across your three passages, or that your motivating question is something you can’t answer in a five-page paper of this kind, please don’t forge ahead blindly: this is the time to reflect on and revise your approach, if necessary. I’ve asked some of you to contact me in my comments on your proposals, and so expect to hear from a few of you this weekend.

On the draft due before the start of Tuesday’s class…

Please keep the two things I mentioned in class in your mind as you write:

1) No writing is easy, especially critical analyses of literary texts. You will hit road blocks where you’ve forgotten why you’re writing or don’t know what to say. That is okay! Step back, return to the assignment sheet and to your proposal, then turn back to the text itself. Reconnect with your sense of purpose: what are you trying to understand about this text? are you continually defining and developing your approach as you write? are you using the resources available to you to guide you through this task (e.g. class notes, the Bressler book, the models of critical analysis in the back of Heart of Darkness)?

2) The draft should adopt the following rhythm: set up the significance of an excerpt or scene in relation to your motivating question, cite the excerpt or summarize the scene, present an analysis. Don’t worry to much about composing a stellar intro and conclusion at this point. The analysis should draw our attention to particular language, implications, and/or thematic associations between scenes, noting the issues that would stand out to a critic using your particular approach and thinking about how such an approach helps us to understand the meaning of the passage within the work as a whole. I am not evaluating the draft on how assertively you insist on an idea but on how carefully was you go about interacting with the passage you’ve chosen and applying the types of questions that a Deconstructionist, New Historicist, Post-colonialist, or Reader-oriented critic, etc., would pursue.

(**A note on quoting: if you have chosen an excerpt that is more than five lines, please indent the text and include it on a new line. You should not be citing much more than five lines of text at a time, even if the excerpt you indicated is longer: please pick out the most crucial language that will allow you to illustrate your claim about the passage and then summarize the rest of the scene briefly.)

On The Turn of the Screw

Edward Mendoza and Nadia Bhagwandin have volunteered to be our main bloggers for this week. Their posts of 500-550 words, submitted by midnight on Monday, will consider the first half of the text through a psychoanalytic approach. They may address any one of the following sets of questions in relation to James’s novella (these questions, of course, might be applied in a psychoanalytic reading of any text, not just this one):

  • What kind of characteristics do the characters portray? Do whole characters (or elements of them) fit into Freud’s distinctions between the id, ego, and superego? Where do these elements come up in the course of the narrative?
  • Think about the characters’ speech and narrative voice. Are there strange phrasings or slips in logic or meaning? Are these moments conscious and intentional, or are they unconscious? If they are unconscious, are there other moments in the text that seem to unconsciously reveal themselves? (For this question, try to consider word choices, repetitions, and omissions in the text.)
  • Pay special attention to the way the characters interact with one another. Do they do so as a reader might expect? Are there unexpected interactions (e.g. does a child act more like a parent, a servant like a therapist, etc.)? Are confessions made? Is information withheld?
  • Are there notable characters in the novel who are no longer present (i.e. does the memory of those characters or some action they performed seem to loom over the story or over a particular character in some way)? How do you account for the continued importance of these characters? What might they do or inhibit, psychically, for those characters who remain?
  • Are there specific elements in the text that either the characters or narrative itself seem unable to speak about? Perhaps disturbing kinds of knowledge that might need to be repressed? (Think specifically about questions of race, class, gender, sexuality, disability, or other issues that it might be difficult to raise socially even within a family setting.)
  • Does the work chart the emotional, psychical or (socially-based) educational development of any character? If so, how does that development take place? Are there appropriate psychological models (Lacan’s “mirror stage,” for instance) for how the character comes to know him/herself and the world?
  • Where is desire in the text? Are desires articulated (spoken about, gestured to, acted on?) or do they remain repressed and unspoken?

Commentators, who will post comments of 150-200 words by midnight on Wednesday, may offer additional thoughts on the questions the bloggers have addressed or choose questions that have not yet been answered. Please be sure to indicate which question you are answering in your post!

Though the work load in getting heavier, this is an exciting and important time in our semester together. I have a lot of confidence in what you will be able to create over these next few days.  Good luck!


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  1.    emendoza said,

    October 23, 2011 at 4:46 pm


    The Governess displays insecure or unstable sense of self, one of the core issues in Psychoanalytic Criticism. Like other core issues, anxiety is the cause of the revelation of this core issue. The Governess is very vulnerable to the influence of other people, as seen through her interactions with Mrs. Grose throughout the novel, as well as her interaction with the Bachelor. The various incidents with apparitions in the novel can be seen as a part of the Governess’ displacements. She could possibly be seeing these ghosts due to her assumed lack of control over the house in Bly, so she creates this problem that only she can resolve.
    Peter Quint and Miss Jessel play an important role in the novel as well, since A LOT of the Governess’ actions are motivated by the “ghosts” of these two characters. I may be getting ahead of the assigned reading, but there is a scene in which the Governess sees an apparition of Miss Jessel at the base of the staircase, but through the psychoanalytical lens, it could be just a mental projection of her, based on the details and stories the Governess was told about Miss Jessel. Peter Quint is the first (and as you’ll see, the last) apparition she claims to see in the novel, which drives almost her every action and basically makes her story. Quint’s presence throughout the novel drives the Governess to assume that Quint is out to get Miles, and that Flora is aware of Miss Jessel’s presence as well, but refuses to admit it. These thoughts motivate the Governess to question, on more than one occasion, the histories of interactions between Quint and Miles and Miss Jessel and Flora, to which Mrs. Grose replies that Quint was “too free” with Miles. After the incident in which the Governess finds her room curtains pulled out and Flora nowhere to be found, as well as one night spotting Miles in the middle of the fields, to which he claimed was a notion to show her he could be bad, the Governess comes to this conclusion that the children frequently meet with the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel .
    And ultimately, throughout all the series of strange events that occur at the house in Bly, the Governess remains so stubborn and deliberately forsakes contacting the children’s uncle, for what seems like her way of showing him that she is capable and not incompetent. The unnamed bachelor is a particularly notable character in the novel in that his presence and thoughts of him hover over the Governess’ head. It is implied that upon their first encounter, the Governess seems somewhat infatuated, in the least bit, by this handsome bachelor and immediately takes him up on his job offer without hesitation or questioning. She is assigned the task of taking care of the Bachelor’s nephew and niece on the condition that she never contacts him for any reason. Throughout the novel, you will see that the Governess has plenty of opportunities to contact her employer and address certain predicaments that most other people would call for; instead, she remains true to her word and refuses to contact the Bachelor, out of what could be either fear of and/or “love” for him.

  2.    nadiab said,

    October 24, 2011 at 1:26 am

    In “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James, desires weren’t easily recognized. It was hidden in certain dialogue and behaviors of the characters in the story.
    In the first paragraph of the prologue, the reader was given a scene in which a group of people are sitting around a fire listening to a ghost story told by a man named Griffin. “The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome…” (p. 22) Here, the listeners had become fixated on Griffin’s story. The story had become so fascinating that they were “breathless”. Due to their reaction, it seemed that the audience had a desire to know about such frightening stories. When Douglas (another storyteller) reveals that he knows of a ghost story that deals with not one child but two, there is an immediate attraction to the story. When Douglas describes how horrible and dreadful the story was, one woman replied, “Oh how delicious!” (p. 23), indicating her desire for such drama and suspense in stories.
    The reader is also introduced to the main character in Douglas’s ghost story, the governess. She was hired by an attractive man to teach his niece and nephew. Douglas hinted the governess’s immediate attraction to the man in which he says, “He struck her, inevitably, as gallant and splendid”. (p 26) It was in the first meeting, the governess seemed to develop a liking for the man. Douglas states, “She succumbed to it”, (p.28), referring to the seductive manner in which the man spoke to her in the second meeting. The reader can assume that Douglas’s intention was to suggest of the governess’s future desires.
    In chapter three, the governess’s desire for the children’s uncle was even more apparent. During the afternoon break, the governess took a walk outside of the country home. While outside, she started to fantasize about meeting someone. She created a vision that a figure would appear before her. Though this was happening in her mind, the reader can assume that the person’s “handsome face”, as was described by the governess, was the uncle. In previous chapters, we knew only of one person she is attracted to; the uncle. This confirms the idea of him being the figure she most desires. Since her thoughts are focused on the children’s uncle, she was able to create such desired scenes. It was only when she had time for herself that these thoughts occurred in her mind. Therefore, while instructing the children, her desires were suppressed. The more she kept her desires internally, the more she wanted it to be satisfied externally.
    As she started to imagine, the figure appears to her. At first, the governess believed that it was the figure from her imagination. The desire for the children’s uncle to be with her has now, in her mind, become a reality. But eventually, she realized that the figure wasn’t whom she had desired. The reader immediately felt that the intensity of the governess’s imagination had led her to believe that she was about to achieve her long felt desired. The governess did not act on her desires because no dialogue was evident. Her desires were internalized. The presence of the figure had only satisfied her partially.
    In psychoanalytical criticism, the purpose of the text is to satisfy the author’s desire. Since the desire is kept within the author, it becomes fulfilled in the story.

  3.    marissae17 said,

    October 25, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    Question 8- Family Interactions
    I feel that the family interactions in this story would be considered “unhealthy”. The master is supposed to be taking care of his niece and nephew because his brother died in war and they had no other relatives to go to. Instead he ships them off to live in a separate house to be raised by the governess, the housekeeper and whoever works in the house. I think in a “healthy” family, an uncle would love to take care of his nieces and nephews; instead the master wants no bother of them. Also, when Miles gets kicked out of school, the governess and Mrs. Grose decide not to tell the master what has happened with him. I think that since the Master is supposed to be looking out for the children’s best interest, he should be aware of the situation and handle it in an appropriate manner. But like Kathleen commented on my paper earlier today in class, who is to determine what a “healthy” family is.

  4.    amark916 said,

    October 26, 2011 at 2:00 am

    In response to question # 5
    In “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James it is clear that the governess is constantly probing Mrs. Grose about information in regards to Quint and Miss Jessel. It is quite apparent that she knows a lot but is trying to keep what she knows hidden from the governess. But, because the governess is so persistent she offers information in bits and pieces. There is a passage on p.51 where Mrs. Grose describes the relationship between Miles and Quint. Mrs. Grose says “It was Quint’s own fancy. To play with him, I mean –to spoil him.” She paused a moment; then she added: “Quint was much too free.” As I read this passage it gave off a weird feeling. I wasn’t quite sure what she was trying to convey to the governess. Did Quint inform Miles about things that maybe he was too young to know about? Or is he trying to stray Miles from the angelic persona that the governess believes Miles to possess. Furthermore, I became more intrigued because I did not quite understand why these two apparitions would continuously appear to the governess and as she was convinced, to the children as well. The governess became obsessed with trying to protect the children and their innocence to the point where at some moments she seemed naïve to a certain extent because she was raised with little exposure to the rest of the world. I wondered if she actually saw what she claimed to see or was she somehow losing it because of the pressures of caring for the children. It just sounds a little odd that she became so fixated on these apparitions. She describes Miss Jessel to Mrs. Gross as trying “To get hold of her” (p57), “her” meaning Flora when she encounters the apparition by the lake. She believes that Flora sees Miss Jessel as well but is purposely betraying her and keeping it a secret.

  5.    victoriane said,

    October 26, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Question 4) We have come across two characters who I believe will continue to play a huge role in the developing story. Miss Jessel and Peter Quint are no longer in the physical world but their spirits seem to linger around the house and especially with the children. Mrs. Grose does not portrayed Peter’s character as a good one with the governess. She implies he might have been inappropriate with the children when he was alive. It is also assumed the Miss Jessel (ex-governess) and Peter had an affair. On page 59, the footnote suggest Miss Jessel and Peter had an affair and she could have been expecting. It also suggest she could have committed suicide. Mrs. Grose does not provide a clear understanding to her death either.
    The children seem to know more about the ghost than anyone else in the story. The governess also believe the children see the ghost but are not saying much. She knows enough about the children to know they are pretty well behaved and when they act up she seems to get suspicious of that behavior.

  6.    emina said,

    October 26, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    11- What is the relationship between the reader and the text? Does the text seem to ask the reader to sympathize in certain ways? Reject other things? Feel other kinds of emotions towards the issues portrayed?

    The relationship between the reader and text at times seems almost like it is supposed to make you wonder what you should be feeling. The tone speaking of death, in specific on the bottom of page 27, is very serious. Almost as if at this time sympathy is not wanted for these children that have lost there mother. Then after the reader is told this, then the author asks for sympathy when telling that Mrs.Grose looks after Flora the best way that she can. I feel that these emotions that the reader feels are done on purpose because the author is the one who is developing these characters throughout the text, and needs to have the reader understand and feel what the author is describing. There is a sense of confusion as well when reading the text, a lot of information is not told and it leaves it up to the imagination. The author uses these aspects that you know already to help you figure out a possible outcome of some events that are not explained.

  7.    GordonWTam said,

    October 26, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    Question 1 –

    Freud’s distinctions between the id, ego and superego are quite prevalent in this story thus far. Let’s start with the narrator, the governess. She portrays many characteristics of ‘Id’ when she is by herself. She fantasizes about the lord of the Bly where she works and goes chasing after ghosts without a moments hesitation. Her thirst for finding out who these ghosts are and her tenaciousness are definitely giving in to a side of her that WANTS. Her superego manifests itself whenever she speaks about the children to Mrs. Grose, as all she can blather on about is protecting the children, in a heroic sort of way. The ‘Id’ is also very popular with our two ghosts. Quint, as told to us on page 51 was “much too free” with Miles. Mrs. Grose really makes Quint out to be some sort of ‘Id’ following maniac. The ‘Id’ also influenced Miss Jessel, as she had an affair with Peter Quint and presumably killed herself after he knocks her up.

  8.    acervinaro90 said,

    October 26, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Question 4:Are there notable characters in the novel who are no longer present? How do you account for the continued importance of these characters? What might they do or inhibit, pyschically, for those characters who remain?

    There are two notable characters in this book that have passed, but are still a big part of this story. Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are the two characters, who have died, but their ghosts are still present. Due to these visions that the governess is having, it leaves us the reader with wondering what their part is in this story. Their connection with the children and each other leaves us wondering if there will be some type of conflict that will come out of this. I believe that Miss Jessel and Peter Quint have a further implication on this story which we will find out at the end of this story. The connection that these two characters have is that Miss Jessel and Mr.Quint were having an affair and she left Bly for this reason. Most of the actions the governess takes are based on the sights of these two ghosts.

  9.    khaff88 said,

    October 26, 2011 at 8:28 pm

    I agree with mendoza’s character response. It is clear that the governess has some serious insecurities about taking care of the children. Instead of being a responsible caretaker and informing the uncle of what was going on with Flora and Miles she tries to handle it on her own because she does not want to embarrass herself to the man she is attracted to; the fact that she is infatuated with her employer shows that she isn’t that mature yet to be educating children. It can also be said that the governess has some paranoid tendencies waiting to see the ghosts. She is starting to become obsessed with the idea that she might have another encounter. Yes, she does care for the children and has their best interests in mind, but the fact that she is losing sleep over the ghosts shows some cause for concern. She is so convinced that Flora sees the ghosts too but will not admit that to the governess, and then she judges herself about the madness of seeing ghosts in general in chapter VIII page 60-61. I feel like reading more into “The Turn of The Screw” the governess’ character will only get worse in her somewhat “mad” personality focusing on the visions of the ghosts and their interactions with the children and Mrs. Grose.

  10.    joshuak314 said,

    October 26, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    4) Notable characters who are no longer present.
    I thought the comments of one of the guests in the prologue seemed to loom over the whole story. When the guest says “And what did the former governess die of? Of so much respectability?” He seemed to be suggesting that the governess was not respectable at all and seemed to say it mockingly with a sneer. At first I took him for a cynic who just looked for the negative things in everything. But when it turned out he was right in his insinuations, it made me rethink the way I read the story presented to me. I started being skeptical of everything and tried to find the hidden meaning behind everyone’s actions and words. Although this character did not affect the other characters in the play, I believe he has en effect on the reader and the reader’s perception of the characters. So I guess you can say this guest changes the characters. They’re changed because the way we view them are changed.

  11.    seng101 said,

    October 26, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    In The Turn of the Screw one particular scene shows and unexpected interaction between the narrative and Mrs. Grose, that scene would be the instance that the narrative and Mrs. Grose were discussing the letter from Mile’s boarding school. This scene on page 33-34 shows how it was rather a taboo to not be able to read at such an experienced age. Mrs. Grose seemed to be embarrassed about not being able to. Only after Mrs. Grose seemed to be “disinterested” in the matter of Miles getting kicked out of school that she had to finally admit that reading the letter was “not for me.” This would show that Mrs. Grose was still trying to keep herself proper in front of the governess. The language of the two characters changed dramatically after the narrative began talking to Mrs. Grose in a relaxed manner. Mrs. Grose would answer back to the governess “Master Miles – him an injury?” I think that at the time that Mrs. Grose was expressing this that she was unconscious what she was saying. Otherwise she would have had more composer about what she wanted to say to the governess.

  12.    kocampo100 said,

    October 26, 2011 at 10:57 pm

    1) The main characters in the novella seem to have very distinct characteristics. The governess is inexperienced but seems to be very curious and caring for the children. Mrs. Grose is very permissive and acts as the governess’ right hand. Both children are well behaved but I feel as though Miles has a dark side since he was expelled from school and the reader doesn’t know why.
    More specifically,the governess fits into Freud’s distinctions I think. When she claimed to se the ghost, she instantaneously wanted to figure out what it was. It’s hard to tell whether the she is merely hallucinating or actually sees something. On page 68 the last paragraph of Chapter 9, I feel as if Freud’s distinctions are shown. The governess used her ego to question if she really saw a ghost again, however her id is still there convincing her that yes, it is real. The disappearance of the ghost gives me the sense that the ghost is simply a figment of her imagination.

  13.    brianfinnerty91 said,

    October 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Question 4: Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are two characters in the short story “The Turn of the Screw”, that are no longer with us. These two characters however still play major roles throughout the entire rest of the book. The ghosts of both Quint and Jessel appear throughout the story. On page 49 we find out about Peter Quints’ death. From the readings we learn that both Quint and Jessel had an affair and after there death they both reappear in the story as ghosts trying to restow evil on characters who have given them trouble when they were alive. Both ghostly characters also play major roles when it comes to the children in the story.
    -brian finnerty

  14.    awilliams108 said,

    October 26, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    The question i chose was, “Does the work chart the emotional, psychical or (socially-based) educational development of any character? If so, how does it development take place, Are there appropriate psychological modles”. In this question i feel that lacans “mirror stage” is portrayed when the governess sees quin outside the window adn she goes outside to find him, only to realize the ghost was gone. In affect with this, i feel that the emotion development of both governess and mrs. grose. I think that the governess knows what’s going and she doesn’t want to mention it to her, also because she is worried about her children and if they had seen the same thing she saw.

  15.    beezy said,

    October 26, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Mendoza raises a valid point in referral to the governess’ instability throughout the course of the reading, “The various incidents with apparitions in the novel can be seen as a part of the Governess’ displacements. She could possibly be seeing these ghosts due to her assumed lack of control over the house in Bly, so she creates this problem that only she can resolve.” This holds very plausible in a sense particularly because she uses her intuition on occasion without any facts, or proof. For example when Miles is expelled from school; instead of doing the responsible thing and going to find a reason behind it, she creates a scenario out of thin air for herself to believe. In relation to QUESTION 7, a lot of the same can be observed. The lack of stability, control in her desires could cause her to see Peter Quint’s ghost. In Chapter V she observes him through the window, goes out to see him and is captured by a moment of intuition that tells her that Quint is looking for somebody other than her. Although terrified, at the same time she appears to be very attracted to Peter Quint. She calls him ‘remarkably handsome, tall, active, erect, but no gentleman’. (48) This apparition could merely be a reflection of her sexual desire toward the master, as well as the desire to do right by him and protect the children. Her reliability comes into question. It is as though she creates these scenario’s that only she could get to the bottom of in an attempt to impress him. Much like Peter Quint did the governess, she in turn terrifies Mrs. Grose, so much so that she turns white (45). This begs the question of whether or not she truly is a heroin, trying to do right and protect the kids due to her infatuation with the master, or is she losing touch with what is real and what isn’t??

    -Enes Mrkulic

  16.    victoriane said,

    October 27, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    I agree with Mendoza the governess seems like an unstable character. She seems to be intimidated with what is supposedly happening in Bly. The characters in the story don’t confirm whether or not the ghost are real, it’s is only the governess who keeps with the assumptions. Even at the end of the story, “Peter Quint you devil! His face gave again, round the room, its convulsed supplication” (p.120). When the governess and Miles are alone we are still left with questions because Miles does not clearly state he see’s Peter Quint, he just yells out his name almost as if he was referring to the governess.

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