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Repetition and Subversion in Henry James's The Turn of the Screw by John H. Pearson, Stetson University He who would only hope is cowardly, he who would only recollect is a voluptuary, but he who wills repetition is a man, and the more expressly he knows how to make his purpose clear, the deeper he is as a man. But he who does not comprehend that life is a repetition, and that this is the beauty of life, has condemned himself and deserves nothing better than what is sure to befall him, namely, to perish. —Soren Kierkegaard The purpose of Kierkegaard's defense of repetition is the maintenance of thoroughly engendered power. He contends that responsible contribution to patriarchal succession requires recognition of one's manly role in it; irresponsibility and ignorance in this regard lead to political and biological damnation, which is nothing less than absence in the next generation's structures of power and authority. Unmanly men, in other words, will suffer the political fate of women. Manliness, however, promises assurance of posthumous representation (and, implicitly, posthumous participation) within the structures of power. Although for his part Kierkegaard is sufficiently responsible to reveal that repetition and articulation are the means of entailing power, this logic did not originate with him. As Emily Brontë shows in Wuthering Heights, the laws of primogeniture, which assure the maintenance and containment of family fortune under male auspices, complicated the lives of women for generations. Even in the absence of immediate male heirs, power remained engendered, as Jane Austen describes in Pride and Prejudice. The repetition of Mr. Bennet 's patriarchal neglect of his wife and daughters is assured because his estate is entailed in perpetuity by the written wills of previous patriarchs. All rights and privileges associated with the estate are devised to the nearest male relative rather than bequeathed to any female kin. It should not be surprising that women like Brontë and Austen have written of engendered structures of power, exposing the excesses of, and sometimes subverting, male hegemony; it is surprising, however, that so The Henry James Review 13 (1992): 276-91 © 1992 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Subversion in The Turn of the Screw 111 canonical a writer as Henry James, from such a privileged family as that of Henry James, Sr., would contribute The Turn of the Screw, his most enigmatic tale, to this body of subversive literature. Within the frame of the governess's narrative, James enacts the logic of repetition that maintains patriarchy, yet he does so with a difference—in the voice and guise of a woman. The governess seems to understand and finally to use the logic of repetition as a means to power as she struggles with the ghostly authority of her absent employer, the Harley Street uncle of her charges, Miles and Flora. Outside the frame of the governess's narrative, James re-enacts the logic of repetition and uses it subversively in the startlingly similar preface and prologue. These repeated "pre-readings" embed the governess's tale in an engendered struggle for authority, attempting to bring full circle the subversive repetitions by recalling authority in a male voice. Kierkegaard's logic of repetition and the subversion of the governess's narrative authority by the prologue exemplify the two distinct modes of repetition, Platonic and Nietzschean, identified by J. Hillis Miller in Fiction and Repetition. Platonic repetition asserts that identity and delegated authority devolve from similarity between the original and the repetition. This is repetition that Kierkegaard would recognize and validate. In The Turn of the Screw, Platonic repetition is represented as patriarchy and the governess's reiteration of its logic. As John Carlos Rowe has noted, Miles will one day accede to his uncle's economic power and authority not because of individual virtue, but because he carries his uncle's name and genetic material and, most importantly, because he carries these things as his uncle does—that is, as a male happily governed by the laws of primogeniture (133). The logic of Platonic repetition also accounts for the authority delegated to Peter Quint. Although the governess's predecessor, Miss Jessel, was intellectually—as the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 276-291
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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