Today, TeachingBooks.net welcomes author Adele Griffin as she stops by on her blog tour.
“If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children?”
“We say, of course,” somebody exclaimed, “that they give two turns! Also that we want to hear about them.”
–Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
About three years ago, I rediscovered my high school paperback of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Inside, my bubbly handwriting loftily explained that the title, with its allusion to thumbscrews, “signifies the tighter, more treacherous grip of a child’s presence in a ghost story.” I’ve always loved a good ghost story, but The Turn of the Screw, which I first read in 10th grade, drew me in again as an adult because the notes I’d written inside offered a journey back through my adolescence.
I re-acquainted myself with James’ governess character. I found her emotional chaos, frayed spirits, and insistence on doing “right” both intoxicating and infuriating. The governess moves through the novel as naively as a horror-film ingénue, and her entrapment feels excruciating. The novel’s macabre restlessness seemed to illuminate the delirium of my own year, my heightened emotional state as a new parent. In short, James’ fragile ghosts spoke to me in a brand new way.
I could tell from my 10th grade doodles and notes that I hadn’t “gotten” the novel back then. Rereading the book as an adult, I fell hard under James’ spell—the styled grace of each sentence, the taut psychological stitching of his warped characters. I even bought a 6 x 4 notebook for a new project and inscribed it with my favorite Turn of the Screw quote:
No, there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don’t know what I don’t see—and what I don’t fear!
James’ book launched me into a genre I know well. After all, James’ setting is very Young Adult: a governess who leaves home to care for two children must uncover the truth surrounding a doomed romance. A house of secrets, the push and pull of vice and virtue, and impulse and consequence, all make for a thrilling gothic drama.
My novel, Tighter (Random House, 2011), is a loose restyling (not a scholarly interpretation) of The Turn of the Screw. As I wrote it, I didn’t dive deep into Jamesian critique. Ultimately my process of retelling became a personal journey, of exploring what storytelling means to me as a reader and writer. Tighter is, however, completely indebted to the genius of James’ soaring imagination. And it was fun to have my turn in reexamining The Turn of the Screw. Maybe because since 10th grade, I’ve learned that there is no moment more chilling than when our ghosts are simply here with us.