Moby Dick, Turn of the Screw, Bill Clinton

Finished Moby Dick and immediately started Turn of the Screw.

After the long, hard rowing across a becalmed ocean that is Moby Dick, Turn of the Screw was like a white-water ride, sweeping me along and depositing me abruptly and somewhat painfully at the end.

So I’m currently reading a little Turn-of-the-Screw analysis to try to figure out what the heck happened. I’ll avoid a spoiler, by saying that the book leaves certain things unsaid which you, dear reader, would really like to know. So everything James ever wrote about it later is now parsed and re-parsed for clues.

ANYWAY, I was amused by this little parsnip:

“That was my little tragedy…” (Letters IV 84). Robert Carlton Cole observes that this statement “can be used against the governess” but adds that the word was suggests a possible change–that the author’s original intention and his interpretation of the finished work were not the same… (from Edward Parkinson’s PHD thesis at

So it all depends on what James’ definition of ‘was’ was..


One Response

  1. Turn of the Screw was the only high-school literature assignment I never finished reading; I came to hate Henry James’s prose.

    That meant the discussion in my English class was unusually quiet. (I’m not bragging or apologizing, just reporting.) In fact, the teacher was having trouble getting people to talk about the book. At length she asked, “How did you react when you learned that Miles had died?”

    A good friend and I looked at each other across the classroom. She mouthed to me, and I mouthed to her, “Miles died?” And then we cracked up, which was not the reaction the teacher was expecting.

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