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Why Henry James’s Eerie Story Still Stimulates Many Adaptations

New on Netflix, The Haunting of Bree Manor is the latest feature film of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (1898), which began in Benjamin Britten’s opera in 1954. .. Since then, there have been more than 25 people. The lasting appeal of the adapter to James’ irresponsible little fiction can be summarized in one word: ambiguity.

The story of a young Governess whose deceased predecessor Miss Jessel and the late Barrett Peter Quint have become suspicious of their continued influence on the orphans Miles and Flora. It is very likely that this effect is not only spectral, but sexual in nature.

As James’ opening line predicted, “the story … fascinated us,” and its readers soon fell into two major camps. Metaphysical readers choose to “believe in the governor” and believe in ghosts, while psychological readers (Edmand Wilson, the most famous American writer in the 1934 essay) said, “Ghosts are not real ghosts, they are just governors. It’s a hallucination of. ” She was now a “case of sexually depressed neurosis” and acted probably from her employer’s sublimated desire for her child’s uncle.

However, it has been proven that metaphysical or psychological readings could not include this story, the details of which refuse to be stubbornly explained. If the clerk Quint is hallucinating, how can the housekeeper identify him from the governor’s account? But similarly, if he has an independent existence, why does the governor associate it with the act of writing, as literary scholar Sheila Tihan pointed out? The governor suggests that Quint is as genuine as “the letter I form on this page”, suggesting that he is her creative composition.

Therefore, James’ novella calls for a third approach, of which literary critic Shoshana Felman’s “Twisting the Interpretation” (1977) is one of the best examples. This reading recognizes that ambiguity is the basis of its effect, rather than trying to scare the story and make it consistent.

With this in mind, the appeal of screw rotation adapters may seem paradoxical. Why does the ghost’s objective reality remain uncertain when he sees the ghost walking, talking, and singing a twelve-tone opera in Britain? Nevertheless, adapters have used a variety of innovative strategies to maintain text ambiguity. The term is usefully defined by Alexander Mackendrick in the context of the film, not as a “lack of clarity” but as a contrast to “an alternative meaning, each of which is clear.”

On-screen ambiguity

Director Jack Clayton rewrote the original script for The Innocents (1961) with one clear mission to employ Stanley Kubrick to maximize the ambiguity of the story. In the resulting film, the lake scene offers at least two alternative meanings for Miss Jessel’s appearance.

He sees the governor (Deborah Kerr) reacting to a person standing in a hurry, but after a few frames, Jessel disappears. Did she appear and then disappear, or did the governor simply imagine her? Flora’s troubled face is inconclusive and reacts to any illusion to her governor’s upset.

In The Others (2001), the diagonally adapted creator Alejandro Amenabar takes an innovative stance on the reality of ghosts. Trapped in an isolated house in Jersey after World War II, the stubborn Catholic Grace (Nicole Kidman) resists her children’s claim to hear ghosts. It becomes clear that they are actually listening to the story of the new owner of the house, and that it is the children and their mother that are the ghosts. Overwhelmed by the death of her husband and the sadness of Grace, we finally learned and suffocated the children before shooting ourselves.

Therefore, the others combine the metaphysical and psychological readings of their source. Ghosts are, in a sense, “real” (though not guided by what we believe), and at the same time Governess’s character, Grace, has been established as unreliable.

In Tim Faywell’s 2009 BBC adaptation, Governess (Michelle Dockery) is a patient in a post-World War I mental hospital and a frame story that casts viewers doubts on the validity of her testimony. is. However, after being involved in Miles’ death, when she was taken to a prison van and executed, her psychologists easily hallucinate that the guard was Peter Quint. Such details wondered if the governor was really guilty, as psychologists seemed to be, or was it premature and irreparably silent.

The Haunting of Bly Manor teaser replays the eerie O Willow Waly song from The Innocents in honor of this basic adaptation. Sung in the treble of Flora (Amelie Bee Smith), the line “We, my love and me, lying under the weeping willow” is in the innocence of childhood exposed to adult sexuality. I calmly capture the commitment of the novella. In many adaptations, these tremors are exacerbated by the complete unreliability of what we are seeing, producing unanswered questions that keep the adaptation wheel spinning.

More screen translations may be seen, and many of the literary diversions discussed in my book are examples of AN Wilson’s A Jealous Ghost (2005) and John Harding’s Florence and Giles (2010). Viewers and readers will continue to find what Virginia Woolf found in 1921. This is the story of “you can scare the darkness.”


Bethany Rain, Senior Lecturer of English Literature, De Montfort University

This article has been republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Please read the original article.

Why Henry James’s Eerie Story Still Stimulates Many Adaptations

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