The Turn of the Screw

Sexism in The Turn of the Screw 12th Grade

Central to The Turn of the Screw is the question of the governess’ reliability. Analyses of the text from both ‘apparitionist’ and ‘non-apparitionist’ perspectives hinge upon a verdict passed by the critic on the trustworthiness, or conversely the ‘hysterical, compulsive, sadomasochistic’ nature as John Lydenberg put it, of the novella’s twice-removed narrator. Although James was keen to defend the governess’ sanity in his retrospective 1908 New York Preface, describing the story as ‘her particular credible statement of such strange matters’, he generates ambiguity about the protagonist’s credibility consistently throughout the text. Intrinsic to a feminist reading of the novella is the question, as Peter Biedler puts it: ‘would a male narrator of the story have been so easily moulded to fit so many different critical interpretations, and would he have been considered ‘hysterical’ in so many of them?’ There is certainly structural and textual evidence to support the assertion that the governess’ actions and her report of her actions are undermined by her gender, making her victim of what Biedler termed...

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