The Turn of the Screw
By Henry James
Read by Emma Thompson with Richard Armitage

The Turn of the Screw is a classic suspense novel and ghost story, but perhaps it suffers from being too firmly rooted in the time of its creation.  The short novel is the story of a young governess sent to care for the orphaned niece and nephew of a rich London gentleman.  Her employer wants nothing to do with the two small children, but that is only the start of their troubles.  The governess is soon convinced that they are haunted by a pair of ghosts.
James’s short novel is preserved as a primary example of Victorian suspense, but the style would be way too wordy and anticlimactic to best-seller readers today.  But the nouvelle is both steady and deliberate in the application of suspense as the main character attempts to unwind the layers of mystery surrounding her two charges.  The opening section, in which the James claims to have heard this story from a friend one Christmas holiday serves as a statement of purpose to this effect, and also as a sort of carnival barker, stoking the nerves of the reader and daring them to turn the page.
But “The Turn of the Screw” is perhaps a bit too steeped in the cultural and social mores of Victorian England to be relevant to modern readers.  Class and gender relationships, with a clear hierarchy, are taken for granted throughout the work.  The narrator asserts that young Miles is either her equal or superior on the basis of his sex.  Also, class consciousness is central to the scandalous behavior of the two ghosts.  The novel asserts either a tryst between a common manservant and the well-born governess.  It also implies that their contact with the two children was inappropriate, and that their return from beyond the grave is to snatch the children.  James doesn’t seem to see any difference between breaking class taboos and pedophilia ,  which was troubling to my twenty-first century American morals.
I listened to this book on Audible.  Emma Thompson’s reading is quite good, and she manages to cut the dense verbiage of James’s style down to a manageable path.  Her performance keeps the modern listener invested and upholds the air of gothic suspense that may be lost on a reader unaccustomed to the style.  The Turn of the Screw is also available in print and digitally from a number of public domain sources.
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