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


Jack Clayton, director of Room at the Top, could not possibly have chosen a more different subject for his second feature than Henry James' ghost story "The Turn of the Screw." His transition from contemporary to gothic is not a particularly happy one for his treatment of James' minor classic is not only stereotyped but is stilted and predictable.

It is not that The Innocents makes any major changes in James' plot or is even unfaithful to his mood or intention. It is just that the treatment lets it down—what is believable in print becomes somewhat hard to swallow when demonstrated concretely before us. The suspension of disbelief becomes even harder when the machinery utilised to evoke it is so out-worn by repetition as to have become a cliche.

In his notebook, dated Saturday, January 12, 1895, James made the following entry:

"Note here the ghost-story told me at Addington (evening of Thursday 10th), by The Archbishop of Canterbury: The mere vague, undetailed, faint sketch of it—being all he had been told (very badly and imperfectly), by a lady who had no art of relation, and no clearness; the story of the young children (indefinite number and age) left to the care of servants in an old country-house, through the death, presumably, of parents. The servants, wicked and depraved, corrupt and deprave the children; the children are bad, full of evil, to a sinister degree. The servants die (the story vague about the way of it) and their apparitions, figures, return to haunt the house and children, to whom they seem to beckon, whom they invite and solicit, from across dangerous places, the deep ditch of a sunk fence, etc. So that the children may destroy themselves, lose themselves, by responding, by getting in their power. So long as the children are kept from them, they are not lost; but they try and try and try, these evil presences, to get hold of them. It is a question of the children coming over to where they are! It is all obscure and imperfect, the picture, the story, but there is a suggestion of strangely gruesome effect in it. The story to be told—tolerably obviously—by an outside spectator, observer."

When he gave the story its final form, James made the apparitions the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel and the protector of the children Miles and Flora a governess, Miss Giddens.