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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 3. 1962.

The Power of Suggestion

The Power of Suggestion

The key expression in the above passage is "obscure and imperfect." Most of James' story is hints, evasions and suggestions (as indeed all the best ghost stories from Le Fanu to the latest science fiction are) and the best aid in frightening anyone is that person's own imagination. It is not the devil you know is there that frightens you but the devil that might be there. James had illuminating remarks to make on this very point with reference to The Turn of the Screw:

"Only make the reader's general vision of evil intense enough ... and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy (with the children) and horror (of their false friends) will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars. Make him think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications."

Miss Giddens has her first premonition of something unnatural in the household when the girl, Flora, mentions that her brother, Miles, is coming home from boarding school. This incident, one which could be explained quite rationally, is blown up into something that hits the viewer between the eyes and makes him exclaim "Ah, that's significant!" The ghosts themselves are shown melodramatically with the full use of trickery and special camera effects. When Miss Giddens sees the figure of Quint on the tower, there is no air of unease in the occurrence as such, so it has to be injected into the scene artificially with the aid of a double exposure of drifting fog and soaring frightened doves, a halolike radiance appearing over the governess' features and oscillations on the sound track. Under such a mass of impedimenta the encounter falls completely flat.

In direct contrast, when she sees the figure of Miss Jessel dressed in black and standing in pouring rain across the lake, the very simplicity of the scene gives one the uneasy sensation that is so missing from the rest of the governess' encounters with the apparitions. When miss Giddens makes her long trek, candelbra in hand, through the empty house, the gimmickry again distracts—there is so much noise, special effects and musique concrete on the sound track that any suspense is soon dissipated. How much more effective to have used just silence and the odd natural sound.