Madness in Literature
Turn of the Screw: Did Miles die?
In the final and most climactic scene in the novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, the narrative ends abruptly with the death of little Miles. The novella sets the stage during Victorian England and tells the story from the perspective of the Governess, an impressionable, young and sexually inexperienced woman who is hired by the charming uncle of two young children Flora and Miles, on his estate, Bly. From the moment she meets the children, she falls into a deep admiration of their angelic qualities. She makes it her mission to preserve their “greater sweetness of innocence” by taking full responsibility of them. The Governess particularly takes a liking to the little Miles who she describes as with an “ indescribable little air of knowing nothing in the world but love” (James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels. Middlesex, England. Signet Classic, 1995. pg 301), yet intensely mysterious and seemingly precocious for his tender age. One day while she is fantasizing about the children and the uncle, she encounters the ghost of Peter Quint, who she soon learns had a questionable, even sexual relationship with Miles before he died. The Governess becomes obsessed with the idea of protecting the childrens, especially Miles’ supposed innocence. In the end, it is her desperate need to have control over the situation by keeping Miles from corruption, that leads her to killing him.
A key element to remember is the Governess’ impressionability and sexual inexperience. During a time of female sexual repression, the Governess lacks any sort of sexual knowledge, yet she often expresses emotions that one would describe as physical attraction or desire. This is apparent when she first meets the uncle, and “for a moment, disburdened, delighted, he held her hand, thanking her…” just with the simple touch of a man, something she had never experienced before,...
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