December’s Read: The Turn of the Screw

Tell me, dearie, do you love long sentences? The kind that waft on the breeze, this way and that, like a leaf on the chill autumn wind? Do you curl up by the fire, safe and warm, and thrill to tales of the cold and the gloom and of those that roam by night? Cozy up next to me, then, and The Turn of the Screw.

It starts as a Christmas ghost story (a tradition well worth reviving, I think): lonely young governess, neglected country house, gardens run wild and past their prime, a mysterious man upon the topmost tower. As the story progresses it all seems so simple, good against evil, governess against ghost. Is it, though? Is it all imagination gone mad? Is this a haunted house or a mind full of shadows? How it really is we can never know.

The long, wandering thoughts and descriptions take attention, and the unanswered questions are exciting and frustrating by turns, but the tale moves along well. There is more mystery and atmosphere than true horror, which is just the thing for a busy holiday season.

I plan to read (or reread) one gothic or horror classic for each month of the coming year. In the quiet of January I shall spend time with Ann Radcliffe, a pioneer of the gothic novel. Her Mysteries of Udolpho was quite popular in its day, enough to catch the notice of Henry James (who mentions the book briefly in The Turn of the Screw) and Jane Austen, who’s Northanger Abbey is a parody of Udolpho and its like.

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