In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

ELT: Volume 33:4 1990 Two on James Peter G. Beidler. Ghosts, Demons, and Henry James: 'The Turn of the Screw' at the Turn of the Century. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1989. xix + 252 pp. $25.00 Robert L. Gale. A Henry James Encyclopedia. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989. xxi + 791 pp. $95.00 ATTEMPTS TO FORM A CONSENSUS on how to read The Turn of the Screw have always foundered on two stubbornly irreconcilable issues, one ancient, the other modern, one metaphysical, the other literary: the issue of the supernatural and that of literary interpretation. Are there really ghosts? Are there right and wrong readings? Are the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw real or are they to be interpreted as something more—or less, depending on the reader's perspective on these issues? Peter G. Beidler has made a determined effort to settle the controversy over The Turn of the Screw in favor of the view that it is a ghost story, that the ghosts are real, and that what James intended was a certifiable case of demon possession which Miles heroically but fatally throws off at the end. Beidler constructs his argument in two steps. The first three-fifths of the book (parts 1 through 4) demonstrate how faithfully James reproduced in his story the characteristics of the supernatural manifestations reported in many ghost stories he might have known. The last two-fifths (parts 5 through 7) constitute Beidler's own reading of the story. The argument is logically organized , cleanly written, and persuasive on its own terms. Drawing copiously and convincingly on the large body of literature on supernatural phenomena toward the end of the nineteenth century, the first part of the book sets James's story squarely in the context of the lively interest in such phenomena by reputable people, some known to James. Beidler recounts the establishment of the Society for Psychical Research, notes the respectability of its key members—Henry Sidgwick, F. W. H. Myers, and later William James —and links Henry James with the Society and the interest in ghostly phenomena: his father had reported psychic events; his brother, "the most respected psychologist of his day," became president of the Society just before James's ghost story was written; and he himself was personally acquainted with Sidgwick, Myers, and Edmund Gurney, "the three prime practitioners of serious psychical research in England at the time." James actually, if reluctantly, read a letter from William before the Society in London in 1890 reporting his 474 Book Reviews brother's conclusions about a noted medium of the day. Henry James owned one of the most influential books on ghost lore, which cited "some seven hundred cases possibly involving spirits." He must have known about William T. Stead, a leading journalist, who capitalized handsomely on the popularity of ghost stories, and failing to strike pay dirt by writing for the stage, he decided to make a try for the public Stead had exploited so profitably. The rest of the book's first part reproduces numerous published ghost narratives to demonstrate how precisely James's ghosts follow recurring patterns found in these accounts: cases of first-person narratives by women, cases that prefigure each of the fourteen salient ghost motifs reproduced in James's story (Beidler cites twenty cases on the crucial motif of second-party identification of a ghost described by someone who could not have known the original), and, since the average ghost merely displays itself quite innocuously, several cases involving ghosts driven by an evil purpose, such as that of possessing children for some unimaginably vile design. In all this Beidler is eminently successful: it is hard to conceive that anyone could come away from this demonstration still doubting James's knowledge and use of ghost lore in constructing the ghostly business of The Turn of the Screw. That being granted, however, one wonders for whom such a strenuous argument needs to be made. The real issue is not whether James drew realistic ghosts but what he meant by the ghosts: real supernatural presences or something else. Another point in which Beidler's argument seems to miss its aim is in his...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 474-478
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.