Poetry | Essays | Lectures | Reviews | Books | Articles in the Press | Collection | TRO (Int'l Periodical)

  Home Aesthetic Realism Online Library


Chapter 1    

Careful Hovering

As you may have gathered by now, the viewpoint of Aesthetic Realism as to The Turn of the Screw is that the children weren't so good; and further, that though they may have been badly affected by those two shadowy figures, the governess and the handyman who are now dead, they also had evil in them. It is an evil that can be studied in the works of James's father and also in the works of the teacher of James's father, Swedenborg. The children, Miles and Flora, represent evil; and what is necessary to see is that children can, and that they also can represent innocence. This is important because it tells us what we are.

     Since in The Turn of the Screw, the ethics of man as presented through the children is so important, it is well to bring as many supporting things for the Aesthetic Realism viewpoint as can be.

     There is a poem by Blake in which a child is seen as sulky and evil and "individual" in a bad way. This poem is in two versions; there is one in the Rossetti Manuscripts with quite a few stanzas where the child complains a great deal of what it got into and how it's going to meet it; and then there is a version in Blake's Songs of Experience. In the Songs of Experience, the poem is called "Infant Sorrow." (Blake, by the way, was very much affected by Swedenborg, though he wrote notes against him.) This is Blake's "Infant Sorrow":

My mother groan'd, my father wept,
Into the dangerous world I leapt;
Helpless, naked, piping loud,
Like a fiend hid in a cloud.

Struggling in my father's hands,
Striving against my swaddling-bands,
Bound and weary, I thought best
To sulk upon my mother's breast.

    Well, that child doesn't look too cherubic. He's a terror. And there are more details in the longer version.

    There are quite a few poems on the innocence of the child, the most famous of which is Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality." Another is by Henry Vaughan of the 17th century. This is from Vaughan 's "The Retreate"; it shows the divinity of the child:

Happy those early dayes! when I
Shin'd in my Angell-infancy.
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy ought
But a white, Celestiall thought.

You wouldn't think Vaughan and Blake were writing on the same subject, but they really are. Both poems represent something in the child: the child is angelic and intolerable. Aesthetic Realism believes that the way children are innocent and also intolerable is something that has to be looked at.


     I shall deal first with What Maisie Knew, because there a child represents something good, though she also fumbles. In What Maisie Knew, one can see James's attitude to parents. It is an implication of mine that the children in The Turn of the Screw did not care too much for their parents, though the parents have died and aren't around. Miles and Flora, being aristocratic children, get a certain satisfaction from patronizing two servants, as rich boys and girls—and even not so rich boys and girls—have done in the past. These two children have a contempt for adults which Maisie also has, but she doesn't use it to hope to have contempt for everything. There is the difference.

     The having of contempt, as I have said pretty often, is not a bad thing. After all, things will act contemptibly, so what can you do? But to hope that they act contemptibly and to use persons' weakness to exalt oneself, is bad. Maisie has contempt for a lot of things, but she doesn't try to exploit it, and she doesn't fool herself. She is a very knowing child; she is just as keen as Flora and Miles, maybe even a little keener. But she doesn't use the weakness of adults to get herself a bad glory, as Miles and Flora do.

     A child is presented terrifyingly and sweetly in What Maisie Knew. This book was published a year before The Turn of the Screw, that is, 1897; and it hasn't been taken, as far as I know, seriously enough. It is one of the most terrific evaluations of the family—father and mother—that has ever appeared. And it is interesting that James should write this not as a young man—young men, for instance, have written novels about fathers or uncles interfering with their artistic endeavors and such things. But that James should write this way fairly on in life is mighty interesting. The question is, what did Maisie know? James doesn't say. The book ends as follows:

    Mrs. Wix also was silent a while. "He went to her," she finally observed.
    "Oh I know!" the child replied. Mrs. Wix gave a sidelong look. She still had room for wonder at what Maisie knew.

       One of the things that Maisie knew was the weakness of adults; the other thing that Maisie knew was what James knew, what an artist knows in varying degrees: how things could be beautiful. In other words, Maisie was a critic, but she didn't use her criticism or contempt to spoil her notion of beauty, as the other children did.

     First of all, What Maisie Knew deals with a man and wife, the Faranges, who disagree. They are Maisie's parents. James as usual doesn't say wholly what they disagreed about. That's not his way; he wants to be devastating through vagueness. But you feel other people are concerned. Ida and Beale Farange do openly hate each other. So they have a divorce, and Maisie is supposed to be six months with the mother and six months with the father. Of course that already is a little difficult. She is supposed to be tossed from one person to another, both of whom hate each other.

     Mother and father can use a child as a means of asserting their own vanities. This goes on a great deal in family life. James knows that it does. Why did the Faranges want a child? James says:

They had wanted her not for any good they could do her, but for the harm they could, with her unconscious aid, do each other.

That is very strong. The beginning of What Maisie Knew is not James using his finger tips: he's going around angry.

     So these two people have used the child against each other. It happens very frequently. The feelings they have are quite terrible. James says:

The mother had wished to prevent the father from, as she said, "so much as looking" at the child; the father's plea was that the mother's lightest touch was "simply contamination."

Most people are not divorced, but this kind of feeling, which James presents straight and terribly, is had. Mothers have said, "Don't bother the child, take your hands off him," with all kinds of implications.

     And so Maisie goes first to her father. And the mother writes letters:

     Her first term was with her father, who spared her only in not letting her have the wild letters addressed to her by her mother: he confined himself to holding them up at her and shaking them, while he showed his teeth, and then amusing her by the way he chucked them, across the room, bang into the fire. Even at that moment, however, she had a scared anticipation of fatigue, a guilty sense of not rising to the occasion, feeling the charm of the violence with which the stiff unopened envelopes, whose big monograms—Ida bristled with monograms—she would have liked to see, were made to whizz, like dangerous missiles, through the air.

    All this is in front of the child; and she did have a very good chance of becoming a sour and concealed fright. She doesn't say what is on her mind, but it's not for the purpose of deceiving. She is still looking for something that is beautiful.

    The servants here are important, because what often happens is that if mother and father are disagreeing, the servants know it. They conceal their disrespect, of course, as employees very often do with the boss.

    Maisie has two governesses in time. (There are two also in The Turn of the Screw.) We have a feeling of the relation of servants. You may remember that the governess in The Turn of the Screw is immediately seen as somewhat loftier than Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, or the other servants. Here there is a comparison between the governess, Miss Overmore, and Moddle, the nurse:

     Miss Overmore, however hungry, never disappeared: this marked her somehow as of higher rank, and the character was confirmed by a prettiness that Maisie supposed to be extraordinary.

    Maisie's mother, Mrs. Farange, is richly detestable. She uses all the mother's business. Every now and then she will hug Maisie to herself effusively: "How can I live without you? Can you still care for your dear, dear mother though that awful Mr. Farange keeps you away from me?" And in the meantime, she is going on with her pursuits. All this is vague, but Mrs. Farange, it seems, is pretty effective with gentlemen. This is punctuated with her huggings and claspings and sobbings towards Maisie. Occasionally Mrs, Farange shows herself very sarcastic. Maisie has just said, "Oh I thought she was."

    "It doesn't in the least matter, you know, what you think," Mrs. Farange loudly replied; "and you had better indeed for the future, miss, learn to keep your thoughts to yourself." This was exactly what Maisie had already learned, and the accomplishment was just the source of her mother's irritation.

    Two frequent remarks of mothers are: "Don't prattle so much, dear," and, "You never tell your mother anything." But Maisie is judging her elders in general, not just her parents:

    It was of a horrid little critical system, a tendency, in her silence, to judge her elders, that this lady suspected her, liking as she did, for her own part, a child to be simple and confiding.

Her mother saw that Maisie had thoughts that were critical. She didn't want to know what they were, but she was angry that Maisie dared to have them. Adults don't like children to have thoughts about them: it is very annoying. But if people are going to have children, they might as well get used to it.

    Maisie gets very fond of Miss Overmore. She wants to like somebody very much.

    She had conceived her first passion, and the object of it was her governess. It hadn't been put to her, and she couldn't, or at any rate she didn't, put it to herself, that she liked Miss Overmore better than she liked papa; but it would have sustained her under such an imputation to feel herself able to reply that papa too liked Miss Overmore exactly as much. He had particularly told her so. Besides she could easily see it.

    The fact that Maisie likes Miss Overmore better than she likes papa is quite clearly related to what goes on in The Turn of the Screw. The children didn't have parents about, so they couldn't like them, but the fact remains that they settled on Miss Jessel, the governess, and Quint, the man useful around the house. James says Maisie felt she liked Miss Overmore, the governess, better than her father. That is already important.

    And then there is a distinction between concealment and deception. When you conceal a thing because you don't want a person to meddle with the truth or to alter it or deface it or defile it or misjudge it or disrespect it, you are not deceiving, because your purpose is to maintain the truth. But if you say something for the purpose of someone else not ever seeing the truth, that is deception. James makes the distinction in a way:

    For Maisie moreover concealment had never necessarily seemed deception; she had grown up among things as to which her foremost knowledge was that she was never to ask about them.

    Sometimes Maisie tries to say what's on her mind, but she very often doesn't fare so well. There is a description of her difficulty:

    The child's discipline had been bewildering—it had ranged freely between the prescription that she was to answer when spoken to and the experience of lively penalties on obeying that prescription.

    We have a relation of the quadrilateral and the six: the governess, Miss Overmore, marries Maisie's father and becomes Mrs. Beale Farange; and then Sir Claude marries Ida Farange, Maisie's mother; then after a while the governess is interested in Sir Claude and Sir Claude in the governess. And there is another governess, Mrs. Wix, who represents an intense but not so flexible attitude to morality. I think James is satirizing his father a little bit here. But that is not the chief thing about Mrs. Wix.

    So Maisie in a way gets two new parents, Miss Overmore and Sir Claude; and then they in turn become interested in each other. Towards the end of the book, she shows her criticism of that interest: she wants her stepfather, Sir Claude, to give up Miss Overmore. There is some geometrical symbolism; and many things of depth and vagueness and subtlety are here.

    Sir Claude is very interested in Maisie. He has questions about himself, and he feels that he can find an answer in Maisie. She represents wisdom and art. He says:

    "If you'll help me, you know, I'll help you," he concluded in the pleasant fraternising, equalising, not a bit patronising way which made the child ready to go through anything for him and the beauty of which, as she dimly felt, was that it was so much less a deceitful descent to her years than a real indifference to them.

    That is very refreshing. She is talked to as a person, not patronizingly. Many people think children want to be patronized. Yes, they will be, they want to be, because they can use it, they can get a lot of importance from it; but there is something that every child not entirely straight from hell wants more. What happens when somebody patronizes a child is that the child in turn does some patronizing of the adults.

    There is some interesting conversation between Maisie and Sir Claude:

    "How can I help it?" Maisie enquired in surprise. "Mamma doesn't care for me," she said very simply. "Not really." Child as she was, her little long history was in the words; and it was as impossible to contradict her as if she had been venerable.

Many children could say that. But then, it is all confused by the fact that the mother has such a deep meaning; and the fact, too, that the mother doesn't care for one enough is a big wound: it is a wound that can't be explained.

There is a description of more of the contradictoriness of Mrs. Farange:

    But she was a person addicted to extremes—sometimes barely speaking to her child and sometimes pressing this tender shoot to a bosom cut, as Mrs. Wix had also observed, remarkably low.

That is James quite satirical, and neatly so.

    At one time four adults come together, and as usual James goes after Ida:

    This was the very moral of a scene that flashed into vividness one day when the four happened to meet without company in the drawing-room and Maisie found herself clutched to her mother's breast and passionately sobbed and shrieked over, made the subject of a demonstration evidently sequent to some sharp passage just enacted.

In other words, when Ida Farange didn't do so well with other people, suddenly she became very affectionate to Maisie. She found time then to show how good a mother she was. But Maisie doesn't come through; she begins getting a little suspicious of this sobbing and clasping. And then Ida Farange gets angry:

    "I'm very good to break my heart about it when you've no more feeling for me than a clammy little fish!" She suddenly thrust the child away and, as a disgusted admission of failure, sent her flying across the room into the arms of Mrs. Wix, whom at this moment and even in the whirl of her transit Maisie saw, very red, exchange a quick queer look with Sir Claude.

    This is fierce. I have never seen anything so fierce about the insincerity of parentage. I think people have been afraid to tackle this, afraid to see the meaning of this book: it definitely explains certain aspects of The Turn of the Screw.

    All this shows that James had anger. The way he deals with Mrs. Farange is angry. This is important, because James could appear angelic, very quiet, beatific; and if we forget that he also was in a rage—and sometimes a lucid rage—we cannot understand the full nature of The Turn of the Screw: how he is pleased with the children and also angry with them.

    Maisie represents art in a child: the desire to know good and evil in their true relation. Maisie is not given to the idea of power through aloofness. Miles and Flora, I think, are. Maisie wants to find out things, and to find out, she uses "little silences" and "intelligent little looks," and so she gets "delightful little glimpses." James says:

    She learned on the other hand soon to recognize how at last, sometimes, patient little silences and intelligent little looks could be rewarded by delightful little glimpses.

    Maisie wants people to be good; and when there is a sign, she is very affected and has a tendency to tears—but they are good tears:

    The tears came into her eyes again as they had done when in the Park that day the Captain told her so "splendidly" that her mother was good.

She wants to see people as good, and you can ask yourself whether the children in The Turn of the Screw do. I do not think so; and a good person wants people to be good. That is one of the big indications.

    Maisie as artist is aware of the thoughts of people about other people. There is a strange passage which is akin to other passages in James, about people's vision of other people's vision of people.

    The immensity didn't include them; but if he had an idea at the back of his head she had also one in a recess as deep, and for a time, while they sat together, there was an extraordinary mute passage between her vision of this vision of his, his vision of her vision, and her vision of his vision of her vision.

    Why shouldn't there be? That's what feelings do: you can think of another person thinking of another person thinking of you. That's what mind can do, and James is aware of it. You can have a vision of another person's vision of another person's vision of you. James has reminded us of this.

    The attempt in What Maisie Knew is to show the grandeur, the necessity of knowing. Maisie does feel herself to be a good influence on adults. There is an intimation that Maisie can bring more form to adults' lives, and this is one passage showing it:

    Mrs. Wix was in truth more than ever qualified to meet embarrassment; I am not sure that Maisie had not even a dim discernment of the queer law of her own life that made her educate to that sort of proficiency those elders with whom she was concerned. She promoted, as it were, their development; nothing could have been more marked for instance than her success in promoting Mrs. Beale's.

This is not the time to go into any long statement on how children can teach their parents, but they can.

    James saw a person who did not want to know as a villain—that's what it came to: as a person who could be looked upon as representing evil. James saw knowing as being art because, as Aesthetic Realism would put it, knowledge is complete when feeling is of it: when logic and emotion are one. And when that knowledge occurs, it is akin to art.

    As I see it, when James had presented a child in the art way, the beautiful way, Maisie, he was ready to tackle the other thing in children. And so there is a reason The Turn of the Screw should have been thought about after What Maisie Knew. The two are related. Maisie is the aesthetic ideal, in all her interesting and profound youthfulness. If the book is read that way and thought of in relation to The Turn of the Screw, I think the upshot of The Turn of the Screw will be seen better.

    Mrs. Wix talks to Maisie about Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude. It has been felt that James questioned love even more severely than Freud did. Some of the fiercest statements about love are made by James, in this book and elsewhere. Mrs. Wix talks about what Mrs. Beale wants of Sir Claude; she says:

    "Do you want to know really and truly why? So that she may be his wretchedness and his punishment."

    "His punishment?"—this was more than as yet Maisie could quite accept. "For what?"

    "For everything. That's what will happen: he'll be tied to her for ever. She won't mind in the least his hating her, and she won't hate him back."

This notion of love that Mrs.Wix expresses has to do with James's own. It is not consummate, it is not complete, but it has to be known before the complete is seen.

    A good deal in James is about people loving dead people—or people that don't even exist. That is akin to something in Poe I've talked about pretty often. The most beautiful person for Poe was a dead woman showing signs of life, or a live woman ready to die. Apparently he couldn't love anybody unless that person were close to death in some fashion. This is strong in James too, but it doesn't take the form that it takes in Poe. In James it's a deeper thing; in fact, the moral of James's works could be put this way: Love only live people, but to do this, you have to be alive yourself. This can be seen in James's ghostly stories and in his stories generally.

    The idea, which is tremendous in its terror, of people wanting to love others only when they are nothing, only when they are annihilated, only when they are not present—this has to do with The Turn of the Screw; and there are intimations of it in What Maisie Knew. Sir Claude talks in a way that makes him seem not the man of pleasure that some persons take him to be. He says:

    "I've not killed anything," he said; "on the contrary I think I've produced life. I don't know what to call it—I haven't even known how decently to deal with it, to approach it; but, whatever it is, it's the most beautiful thing I've ever met—it's exquisite, it's sacred."

    There is a feeling in James that corresponds to the oldtime notion of vampire: that there exists something like a vampire in people. The vampire did exist, particularly in the Balkan states; and in Greece there were vampires. They came to suck your blood. The vampire was dealt with by Kipling, and it has been elsewhere. Strindberg's women are mostly vampires, though he doesn't call them that. James was very much taken with the idea, and perhaps his least successful work, The Sacred Fount, deals with how, because someone was married to someone, he gets much older, more pallid, and frail. The idea is that you take over the life principle of somebody else, and in the meantime the other person gets languid.

    This idea was in James as it was in Nietzsche and Schopenhauer and Strindberg: that people, under the guise of love, really take the life from someone. James presents it in The Sacred Fount and elsewhere in a subtle and roundabout fashion. People have been appalled by The Sacred Fount: what was happening in that book?

    So Sir Claude's saying, "I've not killed anything," is very meaningful.

    Then there is a quarrel between Mrs. Wix and Mrs. Beale. Mrs. Beale wants Maisie for her purposes; Mrs. Wix also wants Maisie. Mrs. Beale is more flashy.

    One of the things that makes me think that Flora is not an ideal Reynolds child, that she is not Miss Innocence misled by governesses, is the fact that she gets so ill-mannered. It is like the way Mrs. Beale gets ill-mannered.

    Well, this is about the quarrel. It is about the choice: with whom is Maisie to go, with Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude or with Mrs. Wix? Maisie says that unless Mrs. Beale and Sir Claude separate, she won't go with Sir Claude. With Sir Claude alone, or not at all.

    Somehow, now that it was there, the great moment was not so bad. What helped the child was that she knew what she wanted. All her learning and learning had made her at last learn that; so that if she waited an instant to reply it was only from the desire to be nice. Bewilderment had simply gone or at any rate was going fast. Finally she answered. "Will you give him up? Will you?"

    "Ah leave her alone—leave her, leave her!" Sir Claude in sudden supplication murmured to Mrs. Beale.

    Mrs. Wix at the same instant found another apostrophe. "Isn't it enough for you, madam, to have brought her to discussing your relations?"

    Mrs. Beale left Sir Claude unheeded, but Mrs. Wix could make her flame.

    Mrs. Beale has been rather sweet so far, just as Flora is sweet up until she turns on the governess when the governess bothers her too much; but now that Mrs. Wix has really annoyed her, she shows that she is not just a lady. This is Mrs. Beale to Mrs. Wix:

    "My relations? What do you know, you hideous creature, about my relations, and what business on earth have you to speak of them? Leave the room this instant, you horrible old woman!"

    "I think you had better go—you must really catch your boat," Sir Claude said distressfully to Mrs. Wix. He was out of it now, or wanted to be; he knew the worst and had accepted it: what now concerned him was to prevent, to dissipate vulgarities. "Won't you go—won't you just get off quickly?"

    "With the child as quickly as you like. Not without her." Mrs. Wix was adamant.

    "Then why did you lie to me, you fiend?" Mrs. Beale almost yelled. "Why did you tell me an hour ago that you had given her up?"

    "Because I despaired of her—because I thought she had left me." Mrs. Wix turned to Maisie. "You were with them—in their connexion. But now your eyes are open, and I take you!"

    "No, you don't!" and Mrs. Beale made, with a great fierce jump, a wild snatch at her stepdaughter. She caught her by the arm and, completing an instinctive movement, whirled her round in a further leap to the door, which had been closed by Sir Claude the instant their voices had risen. She fell back against it and, even while denouncing and waving off Mrs.Wix, kept it closed in an incoherence of passion. "You don't take her, but you bundle yourself: she stays with her own people and she's rid of you! I never heard anything so monstrous!" Sir Claude had rescued Maisie and kept hold of her; he held her in front of him, resting his hands very lightly on her shoulders and facing the four adversaries. Mrs. Beale's flush had dropped; she had turned pale with a splendid wrath. She kept protesting and dismissing Mrs. Wix; she glued her back to the door to prevent Maisie's flight; she drove out Mrs. Wix by the window or the chimney. "You're a nice one—'discussing relations'—with your talk of our 'connexion' and your insults! What in the world's our connexion but the love of the child who's our duty and our life and who holds us together as closely as she originally brought us?"

    Then Maisie still wants her point: she'll go with Sir Claude but she'll go only with him, not with him and Mrs. Beale. Mrs. Beale now includes Maisie in her anger. Before then she had been very careful, but now that she is wrathful, she includes Maisie too:

    "Will you give him up?" Maisie persisted to Mrs. Beale.

    "To you, you abominable little horror?" the lady indignantly enquired, "and to this raving old demon who has filled your dreadful little mind with her wickedness? Have you been a hideous little hypocrite all these years that I've slaved to make you love me and deludedly believed you did?"

    "I love Sir Claude—I love him," Maisie replied with an awkward sense that she appeared to offer it as something that would do as well. Sir Claude had continued to pat her, and it was really an answer to his pats.

She's not so sure of Sir Claude either, now; but Maisie sticks to her point:

    Maisie looked at her with new eyes, but answered as she had answered before. "Will you give him up?"

    Mrs. Beale's rejoinder hung fire, but when it came it was noble. "You shouldn't talk to me of such things!" She was shocked, she was scandalized to tears.

    Then towards the very end:

    Sir Claude had reached the other door and opened it. Mrs. Wix was already out. On the threshold Maisie paused; she put out her hand to her stepfather. He took it and held it a moment, and their eyes met as the eyes of those who have done for each other what they can. "Good-bye," he repeated.

    And she goes with Mrs. Wix. Not, I think, deeply or entirely, but because in Mrs. Wix there hasn't been any arrant falsity. The very last sentences of the book I read before; they are:

    Mrs. Wix also was silent a while. "He went to her," she finally observed.

    "Oh I know!" the child replied.

    Mrs. Wix gave a sidelong look. She still had room for wonder at what Maisie knew.

    What Maisie knew is about art and evil. She has seen a very great deal of it, and she wants her knowledge to help people.

    Before I get to the text of The Turn of the Screw, I want to comment on the story of "Maud-Evelyn," which is one of the most misunderstood stories. I see it as one of the most terrible. It seems very dullish, but it is about how people don't want to love each other until they make each other into nothing: annihilate them and then love them. The story seems very tepid, very Westbourne Terrace, but it is terrible. It is the terrible changed into the tepid; the fierce changed into the lukewarm.

    The dull person in "Maud-Evelyn" is Marmaduke; he is called a "crown prince," as we'll see. He, of all people, a crown prince! He is like dishwater in the sun for three days. Marmaduke is a person who wants to vanish; he wants to be completely flat, so that no one can see him. But he also wants to be able to make other people flat. It is a strange story; it is even comic; but James does have terror and the comic join.

    Marmaduke has been taken over by two people, the Dedricks, who had a daughter that died, and they are giving their whole life to her memory. She is Maud-Evelyn. Lady Emma, who is telling the story, asks Marmaduke:

    "But are you," I asked, "as fond of them—"

    "As they are of me?" He took me up promptly, and his eyes were quite unclouded. "I'm quite sure I shall become so."

But you feel that Marmaduke really doesn't want to.

    There is talk of making use of people. Lady Emma sees Marmaduke as either getting softening of the brain or as very cunning and wanting a fortune by taking up these people with their dead daughter, whom they venerate and go to mediums about. Marmaduke joins the Dedricks and their dead daughter, and it seems that in a way he gets to marry the dead daughter. The girl he knows, Lavinia, doesn't mind, because she gets something out of it. It is very strange, put this way: how people want to make nothing of each other, and "as long as you're nothing, I'll love you." You either have to be flat or nothing.

    The terrible import of this story I'm afraid, has not been seen. Marmaduke is just seen as a nebbish. But the process of taking the life out of people and wanting live things not to be alive, is there.

    You can see that the person telling the story, Lady Emma, doesn't like Marmaduke. She wants Lavinia to see him right, but Lavinia is no bargain either.

    She demurred a little. "But why?"

    "So that at least he shan't make use of you," I said with energy.

    And the Dedricks are making use of Marmaduke too.

    There is an interesting description of Lavinia. It's a little complicated, and I don't think it gets over too well; but while Marmaduke has almost attained to nothing, she has attained to flatness. Lady Emma says:

There were mixed in her then, in a puzzling way, two qualities that mostly exclude each other—an extreme timidity and, as the smallest fault that could qualify a harmless creature for a world of wickedness, a self-complacency hard in tiny, unexpected spots, for which I used sometimes to take her up, but which, I subsequently saw, would have done something for the flatness of her life had they not evaporated with everything else.

It seems that Lavinia is trying to be important by having herself completely out of sight. In the process, she takes the guts out of the world, and so does Marmaduke.

    The Dedricks are queer: they give their lives to a dead child. It sounds noble, but James thinks that it isn't, and the character telling the story doesn't think it is either. The dead child, Maud-Evelyn, is described as "incontestably beautiful." You must remember that Flora was incontestably beautiful too. This is about the Dedricks:

Their feeling had drawn to itself their whole consciousness; it had become mildly maniacal. The idea was fixed, and it kept others out. The world, for the most part, allows no leisure for such a ritual, but the world had consistently neglected this plain, shy couple, who were sensitive to the wrong things and whose sincerity and fidelity, as well as their tameness and twaddle, were of a rigid, antique pattern.

    James doesn't say how much he detests these people, but you can see he doesn't like them. Lady Emma says, "I don't want to meet these people." When Marmaduke asks her, "Meet my friends," she doesn't want to. James shows how he feels in his quiet manner, but it's definite.

    Some of Marmaduke's attitude—how he is for death —is to be seen in these sentences:

His reply had been abundant and imperturbable—had included some glance at the way death brings into relief even the faintest things that have preceded it; on which I felt myself suddenly as restless as if I had grown afraid of him. I got up to ring for tea; he went on talking—talking about Maud-Evelyn and what she had been for him; and when the servant had come up I prolonged, nervously, on purpose, the order I had wished to give.

    Then Marmaduke is called a crown prince. After the Dedricks marry Marmaduke to the dead girl, they die themselves—their work is over; and they leave their property to Marmaduke.

He "talked" like a crown prince. "They were ready, to the last touch—there was nothing more to be done. And they're just as they were—not an object moved, not an arrangement altered, not a person but ourselves coming in: they're only exquisitely kept. All our presents are there—I should have liked you to see them."

    The story could have as a subtitle: The Epic of Selfish Drips. The people are that way. It's all presented in stucco, with dullness; and I don't think James knew what he was dealing with.

     James took children very seriously; and as a means of understanding the governess' position, I believe it is well to mention another story, "The Pupil," and comment on it.

    In "The Pupil," there is a person named Pemberton, just out of Oxford . He has done well at Oxford, and he meets this family, the Moreens, who are quite shady, very much interested in their own advancement — particularly the father and mother. Then there are two daughters and another son, and there is this boy, Morgan. He is decidedly keen — a "genius," so it is said. The mother talks about Pemberton's being a tutor for this boy, and she is vague, especially about the money part of it. But he becomes the tutor.

    Morgan, who is a much better boy than Miles (he is older too), does not care for his family—in fact, he says his family is no good—and he wants to go away with Pemberton. He is very friendly with Pemberton. But when he has a chance to go away with Pemberton, he finds it too hard, and he also dies of a heart attack, as Miles does.

    One thing in bad ethics is trying to maintain a bad equilibrium between two things. People do that. It is a phase of compromise. One way of compromise is blankness, flatness, abstinence: you don't do anything, you do nothing, nothing at all. And the other way is to juggle two things conveniently.

    Now, the boy in this story is much more likable than Miles. Morgan does come out with his abhorrence of his father and mother and the rest of his family, and it is very taking; but we feel there is an uncertainty. There is also an uncertainty about Pemberton. Pemberton is a little like Winterbourne in Daisy Miller; he makes certain things clear to Daisy, but he isn't clear enough. "The Pupil" is a story of uncertainty. One feels that the boy, though he despised his family, also could not get away from them.

    It is well, then, in this study of The Turn of the Screw, to look a bit at this story. There is a relation among Miles and Flora, who definitely want to use people; Morgan, who wants to become free and hopes that he can; and then Maisie, who has made up her mind in a good way. There is a relation among the three.

    There are no ghosts in "The Pupil"; there are the parents, and Pemberton, and the other children. Pemberton says towards the end of the story, after Morgan's death:

    "He couldn't stand it with his weak organ," said Pemberton—"the shock, the whole scene, the violent emotion."

    "But I thought he wanted to go to you!" wailed Mrs. Moreen.

    "I told you he didn't, my dear," her husband made answer. Mr. Moreen was trembling all over and was in his way as deeply affected as his wife. But after the very first he took his bereavement as a man of the world.

There is a kinship of this ending to the ending of Daisy Miller: Winterbourne takes Daisy's death pretty deeply, but he also goes on.

    If we look at this story, we see that, with less passion than in The Turn of the Screw and, I think, with less aesthetic effect, the things that children go through are dealt with. The fact that Morgan found some satisfaction in despising his parents is not stated. Morgan is likable; he has a big desire to be honest, but everything doesn't permit him. He doesn't make it.

    Let us take this bit, Morgan and Pemberton:

    They were silent a minute; after which the boy asked: "Do you like my father and mother very much?"

    "Dear me, yes. Charming people."

    Morgan received this with another silence; then unexpectedly, familiarly, but at the same time affectionately, he remarked: "You're a jolly old humbug!"

    Pemberton feels that if he's teaching the boy, he shouldn't say anything against the parents; he has some sensitivities.

What had added to the clumsiness then was that he thought it his duty to declare to Morgan that he might abuse him, Pemberton, as much as he liked, but must never abuse his parents. To this Morgan had the easy retort that he hadn't dreamed of abusing them; which appeared to be true: it put Pemberton in the wrong.

    That is, Morgan says things against his parents, but he thinks it is not abusing them at all. Pemberton is trying to accept a very unusual situation, where a boy definitely is aware that something is wrong with his parents and wants to talk about it like nobody's business. It is partly received by Pemberton, but Pemberton doesn't see the whole meaning of it. It would be interesting to compare Pemberton with the governess.

    There are some other passages worth noting. What happens is this: the parents, knowing that Pemberton is very fond of their son, feel that since he is fond of their son, why should they pay him? He gets enough from having such good company, their wonderful boy. They want to put aside the boy, but they also want to hold on to him. It is very interesting to see how much they are fond of him, yet how they want to give him over to somebody else. After the boy does go to Pemberton, his clothes become not as good as they used to be—that is, Mrs. Moreen saves money on him:

He could trace perfectly the degrees by which, in proportion as her little son confined himself to his tutor for society, Mrs. Moreen shrewdly forbore to renew his garments.

    We see the calculation on the part of the parents, and it is much more in the open than some of the things in What Maisie Knew. The Moreens care for their son but they also want to use their son. Parents have used children for their glory. We have this sentence:

    Wasn't he paid enough without perpetual money—wasn't he paid by the comfortable luxurious home he enjoyed with them all, without a care, an anxiety, a solitary want?

    This negative way of seeing people—"Don't you get something out of it already?"—is said by James to be bad ethics. It's a way of saying that because an actor liked doing his work, enjoyed it, therefore the being praised and the enjoyment was enough of a payment. Payment has a great deal to do with ethics, and "The Pupil" is a story about the nature of payment, partly.

    There is an interesting anecdote about how the parents used the boy in his relation with a nurse, and also about how they wanted to use the nurse. Morgan is very plain about his parents. What we feel here, however, is that while the boy wants to be honest about his parents, the tendency to despise them is something he might luxuriate in. James isn't definite enough about this.

    Pemberton now has permission to talk to the boy about his parents:

A couple of days after this, during which he had failed to profit by so free a permission, he had been for a quarter of an hour walking with his charge in silence when the boy became sociable again with the remark: "I'll tell you how I know it; I know it through Zénobie."

    "Zénobie? Who in the world is she?"

    "A nurse I used to have—ever so many years ago. A charming woman. I liked her awfully, and she liked me."

    "There's no accounting for tastes. What is it you know through her?"

    "Why what their idea is. She went away because they didn't fork out. She did like me awfully, and she stayed two years. She told me all about it—that at last she could never get her wages. As soon as they saw how much she liked me they stopped giving her anything. They thought she'd stay for nothing—just because, don't you know?" And Morgan had a queer little conscious lucid look. "She did stay ever so long—as long as she could. She was only a poor girl. She used to send money to her mother. At last she couldn't afford it any longer, and went away in a fearful rage one night—I mean of course in a rage against them. She cried over me tremendously, she hugged me nearly to death. She told me all about it," the boy repeated. "She told me it was their idea. So I guessed, ever so long ago, that they have had the same idea with you."

    "Zénobie was very sharp," said Pemberton. "And she made you so."

    "Oh that wasn't Zénobie; that was nature. And experience!" Morgan laughed.

    "Well, Zénobie was a part of your experience."

    "Certainly I was a part of hers, poor dear!" the boy wisely sighed. "And I'm part of yours."

    This has a relation of passive and active, for it seems he affected her too. We get these little touches. Morgan is nice, but he is aware that he is affecting people too. He can be satirical. He knows there's something wrong: he feels he's wrong, Pemberton is wrong, and his parents are wrong.

    Morgan went on in silence, for a moment. Then he said: "My dear chap, you're a hero!"

    "Well, you're another!" Pemberton retorted.

    "No I'm not, but I ain't a baby. I won't stand it any longer. You must get some occupation that pays. I'm ashamed, I'm ashamed!" quavered the boy with a ring of passion, like some high silver note from a small cathedral chorister, that deeply touched his friend.

    I'm reading this in order to show that James was ready to give notions of good and evil to children, and also felt that they could express them. He is one of the few writers who can do that. We can see three kinds of children, all having to do with the good and evil problem: Maisie, the best; Morgan, undecided; and then Flora and Miles. When we study the ways of speech of the three groups or three kinds of children, I think we can get closer to being sure what James's Turn of the Screw is about.

    Morgan is talking about his parents:

    "I'm not proud of them. But you know that," Morgan returned.

    "Except for the little matter we speak of they're charming people," said Pemberton, not taking up the point made for his intelligence, but wondering greatly at the boy's own, and especially at this fresh reminder of something he had been conscious of from the first—the strangest thing in his little friend's large little composition, a temper, a sensibility, even a private ideal, which made him as privately disown the stuff his people were made of.

    This shows that children could think of disowning parents. We can presume that Morgan at this time is eleven or twelve, maybe younger. Then we have something about the gradations of knowledge. This is said of Pemberton:

When he tried to figure to himself the morning twilight of childhood, so as to deal with it safely, he saw it was never fixed, never arrested, that ignorance, at the instant he touched it, was already flushing faintly into knowledge, that there was nothing that at a given moment you could say an intelligent child didn't know. It seemed to him that he himself knew too much to imagine Morgan's simplicity and too little to disembroil his tangle.

So there was a lot of knowledge, and not enough.

    Then some of the words that are used as representing evil in The Turn of the Screw, "lying" and "cheating," are used here too:

    "You're right. Don't worry them," Pemberton pursued. "Except for that, they are charming people."

    "Except for their lying and their cheating?"

    "I say—I say!" cried Pemberton, imitating a little tone of the lad's which was itself an imitation.

    Morgan is aware that his parents use other people badly and are also used badly:

    "And what good does it do? Haven't I seen the way people treat them—the 'nice' people, the ones they want to know? They'll take anything from them—they'll lie down and be trampled on. The nice ones hate that—they just sicken them. You're the only really nice person we know."

    They have it out. Morgan has said plainly that's what he thinks about his parents, and Pemberton is a little shocked, but things go on.

    Morgan walked on and after a little had begun again: "Well, now that you know I know and that we look at the facts and keep nothing back—it's much more comfortable, isn't it?"

    "My dear boy, it's so amusing, so interesting, that it will surely be quite impossible for me to forego such hours as these."

    This made Morgan stop once more. "You do keep something back. Oh you're not straight—I am!"

    "How am I not straight?"

    "Oh you've got your idea!"

    "My idea?"

    "Why that I probably shan't make old—make older— bones, and that you can stick it out till I'm removed."

Pemberton is concerned about Morgan: he is a sick boy and he may die any time.

    "You are too clever to live!" Pemberton repeated.

    "I call it a mean idea," Morgan pursued. "But I shall punish you by the way I hang on."

    "Look out or I'll poison you!" Pemberton laughed.

    "I'm stronger and better every year. Haven't you noticed that there hasn't been a doctor near me since you came?"

    "I'm your doctor," said the young man, taking his arm and drawing him tenderly on again.

    Morgan proceeded and after a few steps gave a sigh of mingled weariness and relief. "Ah now that we look at the facts it's all right!"

    * * * *

Morgan had a romantic imagination, fed by poetry and history, and he would have liked those who "bore his name"—as he used to say to Pemberton with the humour that made his queer delicacies manly—to carry themselves with an air.

    We can imagine a child saying, "I'd like the people who bear my name to carry themselves better." People would think no child could say it, but James says a child does. Morgan wants his parents to live up to what he is. This feeling hasn't been articulated, but many children have had it.

    "The Pupil" is not as good as The Turn of the Screw, but it is one of the stories that helps to explain The Turn of the Screw. James was going after something in the ethical field all the time. He did not articulate it very plainly, but in The Turn of the Screw, the deepest feeling of it is to be had, because there it is related to some of the eternal things. The supernatural is a means of making The Turn of the Screw a source story, something beyond the earth (the unearthly is part of the earth: it helps to explain it). And so, through the unearthly, a dimension is given to the ethical problem as we see it in "The Pupil" and many other places, that it doesn't have often in those other places. We should, in looking at "The Pupil," ask why something comes over in The Turn of the Screw in a gnawing way, in a usefully tormenting way, that doesn't come over in the other stories, though certainly the other stories can be effective.


Copyright © 1968 by Definition Press


Copyright © 1997-2007 by Aesthetic Realism Foundation
A not-for-profit educational foundation