Governing the Unspeakable

Henry James’, The Turn of the Screw was the scariest story we’ve read so far. It sent chills up my spine and gave me an unsettling feeling after reading and watching the story on-screen. I can handle vampires and monsters, but the paranormal? Not so much. It creeps me out!

The prologue had different voices speaking, which made it a bit difficult to follow. But it sets up Douglas as the one narrating the story to guests at a party; which was written down by his sister’s governess. When we get into the actual story, it is clear that it is in the governess’ perspective.

It makes me wonder if James’ prologue intentionally included different viewpoints or voices, before we are able to get into the novella. I want to say that he does this to prepare us for the run-around of emotions and trust-issues expressed in the story. Even though the perspective is of the governess, I don’t all that much believe it as truth. She shifts perspective about the children, from innocent to mischievous, and even sympathetic. She also doesn’t know who to believe anymore. Can she trust Mrs. Grove? The children? Herself? The highs and lows connect to the paranoia we see. It’s questionable, taunting, and one hell of a ride.

Earlier on we are told that the governess took the job because she was really fond of her employer. Actually, she had something I like to call “instalove.” I mean, she barely knew him and already there’s some emotions stirring up? Well, that escalated quickly! It is so common in governess’ stories to fall in love with their employers. Whether it was for the money, power, or love, governess’ stories always track back to the fairytale-like endings and wishful fantasies. I couldn’t help but connect it to the story of Jane Eyre. She answers the advertisement on the newspaper, just like Jane, and experiences “paranormal activity”(before we realize who the cause of all the events) as well.

The film captures the story and characters almost perfectly.  The one thing I felt that the movie adaptation conveyed really well is the mysteries each character has; the “unspeakable.” We don’t really get why Miles was expelled, or why Mrs. Grose can’t tell much about the previous employees of the house, or if we can really trust the governess’ paranormal experiences. Besides the “ghosts” of Peter Quint and Jessel that appear in the story, there’s a kind of “ghost” of the truth. It kind of makes the story even more frightening. Mysteries leave blank spaces for the audience to fill and there’s something about that which heightens the intensity of the novella. The paranoia that the governess feels is extremely evident in both the text and film. I even felt a bit of that paranoia transcended onto my own body. Horror films tend to do that to me. I’m a lightweight in that department, remember?

From the music to the way the shots were formed, The Innocents, definitely had me spooked. Having it in black and white really set the tone as well. I really appreciated how it stuck to the actual text and manifested even the slightest details. The scene that terrified me most was when the governess was in the attic. First of all, there was that horrendous clown doll popping its head back and forth. Then, the jewelry box started playing that awfully eerie song. It’s a lovely song, but… we’ve heard it before. When it plays, it rarely alludes to good things. Finally, Quint’s face pops up out of nowhere! I swore I had a mini heart attack. James’ story was an interesting read, but now I need to figure out how to sleep well tonight.


One thought on “Governing the Unspeakable

  1. I agree…this is by far the creepiest thing we have read (but just wait, it may get creepier 🙂
    James has a way of writing that makes you feel very uncertain about the characters and who, if anyone, we can trust. It also helps that children who may or may not be “possessed” are part of this tale…


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