Mysterious Vagueness

         In the 1898 novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James, uncertainty raises horror and mystery in the reader. Nothing is spoken of directly in the story. This vagueness is used to enhance mystery and presents the reader with a sense of fear. James hints at much but explains very little; this leaves the story to be interpreted by the reader, which kept me captivated. This sense of mystery was captured by director Jack Clayton and the other film makers in the 1961 movie The Innocents.

         The lead role, a young beautiful governess, named Miss Giddens in the movie (Deborah Kerr), is tempted into a job by a charming man (Michael Redgrave), who happens to be the uncle of the children she will care for. She accepts the job opportunity on the condition that she may never contact the master of the house with the troubles of the children. Why does the master want nothing to do with the children? The girl, Flora (Pamela Franklin), and the boy under the governess' care, Miles (Martin Stephens), are also a mystery; he is expelled from school without explanation; but he is also well-mannered, which gives no reason to suspect him as being "bad." The governess has her doubts about the boy but then begins to suspect the school authorities of mischief. Miles is very charming and courteous, and therefore the governess stops suspecting him of his terrible character.

         The governess then begins to see ghosts; the two ghosts that the governess sees are of Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde), the master's past valet, and Miss. Jessel (Clytie Jessop), the children's past governess. The death of Quint is explained, but the death of Miss. Jessel remains a mystery in the book but is revealed in the movie as a suicide drowning in the nearby lake.

         The governess starts to believe that the children also seeing the sprits and are being influenced by them. The children appear to be well-mannered, but a little less so in the movie; and we are given no reason to suspect this. She imagines that the children are fooling her and that the ghosts are taunting her. There is no proof to link the children to the spirits except for the governess's suspicions. The ghosts seem to appear only to the governess, and it made me wonder if the governess had become insane or if her worries were justified.

         The governess accuses the children of being influenced by the ghosts. She has gone through a change; she has gone from understanding and calm to impatient and impulsive. Even before ascertaining whether Flora had seen the vision of Jessel, she suggests that the little girl has knowledge of the ghost. Similarly, when she hears about the friendship between Miles and Quint, she concludes that Miles is evil. The governess finds Miles wandering outside on a dreary night and Flora watching from her window. Are they under the influence of Quint and Miss Jessel? Miles insists that he has pulled a prank on the governess so that he would seem bad; however, the governess does not believe him. I assumed that at the end of this story Miles is dead for some unknown reason. It seemed as if Quint has killed Miles using some kind of force.

         I really liked this story in both the book and the movie because it left so much to the imagination and was one of the stories in the class that held my attention the whole time. The mysteriousness of it all kept my attention and kept me guessing at what might come at the end.

Sarah Weaver

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