Everyone likes a good ghost story. Perhaps this is why Henry James's 1898 story The Turn of the Screw is still a very popular piece of work. However, is James's work really a ghost story, or is the governess simply losing her mind? The ambiguity and the vague nature of The Turn of the Screw leave the reader to make his/her own decisions about the existence of the apparitions. Jack Clayton, on the other hand, in his 1961 cinematic adaptation called The Innocents, leads the audience to believe that the specters do in fact exist.
A wise man once said that seeing is believing. Henry James has the reader questioning whether or not this is true. The story line is being delivered to the reader through the perspective of a friend of the governess, and one has to wonder if the narrator is reliable. Even though the governess' friend is telling the story, the work itself is still her written words. Can the reader really trust the text?
At face value, The Turn of the Screw is a chilling ghost story, but let us examine the facts. The governess is drawn in to her new position by a handsome man in need of someone to watch and educate his orphaned niece and nephew. She accepts the position with the understanding that she is never to trouble the uncle about anything. Her new home is a large country estate that she has been put in charge of, and her pupils are the closest thing to perfect as any child could be. As a matter of fact they seem as though they are too perfect. However, things are horribly disturbed by the presence of two malevolent spirits. Conveniently, no one admits to seeing these spirits but the governess. It is quite possible that the governess conjures up these images to create a little adventure in her otherwise dull life. It could be that in her unconscious she wants to find some reason to trouble the master and see or speak to him again. The text does not suggest supernatural events to me.
The Innocents is another story altogether. Although it stays fairly accurate to the original work, it has a much more eerily supernatural feel to it. Even though no one else admits to seeing the spirits, Peter Quint and Miss Jessel, in the film either, they are depicted to the audience on screen by Peter Wyngard and Clytie Jessop; and it makes it much harder to argue that the governess, Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr), is simply losing her mind. Mrs. Grose (Megs Jenkins) is not feeding the governess fantasies in the film as she does in the book either. This makes it seem a little more possible that the ghosts are real.
After I read the book, I was unsure of the existence of the specters. However, after I watched the film, I felt a little more convinced of the supernatural. Who does not like a good ghost story? Besides, I have to agree with that wise man when he said that seeing is believing.