She longs for their love and the ghosts pose a threat to this. Since she cannot control the ghosts or make them go away, she must protect the children from them. Lydenberg asserts the governess complete possession of the children is contingent upon the continuation of the threat” (283). He believes the governess wants the ghosts to actually exist to keep the children close to her. It is also his belief that she wants to be the possessor of the childrens souls, not anyone or anything else and she will do whatever it takes to make that happen. When Miles expresses a desire to return to school, she is taken aback. She knows Miles uncle deserves to know the truth, as she knows it, but she cannot bring herself to tell him for fear of consternation. She thinks, “I could so little face the ugliness and the pain of it that I simply procrastinated and lived from hand to mouth” (56). This scene brings us to the inner conflict the governess experiences on a daily basis and it could be used to explain Lydenbergs theory. The governess feels compelled to do the right thing but her sense of duty seems to be tugging her in another direction or perhaps she wants to possess the children any way she can. She wants to do right by the children, so she should confront the master of the manor. However, doing so would concede a certain amount of weakness. If her senses weakness within her, he might find her incapable of performing her duties and dismiss her. This would separate her from the children, which is the absolute thing she wants. Separation would mean placing the children in greater danger and it would be the end of her possessing them. The children, however, do not want to live in her “hysterical” (Lydenberg 287). Lydenberg asserts they want to escape her, concluding they hate and fear her and this is something she cannot accept. All of this indicates the governess is slipping away from reality. The governess does admit to being infatuated with the children and this obsession manifests itself into a neurosis that becomes larger than the governess and her world. The ghosts, then, remain a mystery and an extremely well-played one. Leaving this aspect of the novel unexplained and up to the reader is the best thing he could have done. Evil becomes what each reader interprets it to be — real or imagined. As many have notes, the ghosts symbolize a “more generalized evil that is part of man, of the governess as well as the children, an evil we must all continually fight” (289).
Furthermore, the evil is not something “given; it is developing and malleable” (289). This is an interesting point-of-view but it works in relation to this story and the idea that James was fully aware of what he was doing when he decided to leave the interpretation of the ghosts up to the reader.
When examining the ghost aspect of The Turn of the Screw, we must realize that once an author releases his work to the world, he is no longer in control of it or what readers may perceive it to be. It is apparent that James chose to be ambiguous for a reason. He wanted the ghosts to be questionable to a certain extent. When Hoffmann contends that their tangibility is the only thing we can question, he is correct. Whether or not the things were real does not matter because they are real to the governess. That the ghosts are tangible is left open to interpretation and this aspect of the story makes it more compelling. The ghosts could be real or they could be figments of the governess imagination. Either way, they serve their purpose of generating a sense of evil and fear for the reader. We can conclude they are real enough for the governess and the point of the story. When considering an authors intentions, we must consider still the readers interpretation. If there is clarity, the reader will generally come to a foregone conclusion. However, with any ambiguity, there will be differences of opinion. James might have intended the ghosts to be figments of imagination or perhaps he wanted the ghosts to be real. At this point, we must only look to their purpose since we have no conclusive evidence and we must assume this is what James wanted. An authors intensions may become lost in his or her work as the work takes a life of its own in the process of writing. James set out to create a ghost story and that he did. He gave it to the world and let them do with it what they would, as any good author does.
Fagin, Nathan. “Another Reading of The Turn of the Screw.” A Casebook on Henry Jamess The
Turn of the Screw. Thomas Y. Crowell Company: New York. 1961.
Hoffmann, Charles. “Innocence and Evil in Jamess The Turn of the Screw.” A Casebook on Henry Jamess The Turn of the Screw. Thomas Y. Crowell Company: New York. 1961.
James, Henry. The Turn of The Screw. Dover Publications: New York. 1991.
Lydenberg, John. “The Governess Turns the Screws.” A Casebook on Henry Jamess The Turn
of the Screw. Thomas Y..