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APS TOGETHER

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James Day 11

July 19, 2020 | Chapters 22-24 (The End)

The novella's title is usually read as referring to a torture device: a heightening of tension & so of pain. It appears twice in the text: in the prologue, where that interpretation makes sense—& here. Should virtue be an instrument for torture? I can never read this passage without thinking of T.S. Eliot’s lines, from “Little Gidding”: “Of things ill done & done to others’ harm / Which once you took for exercise of virtue.” —Garth

“but demanding after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.”


If I could ask James to resolve just one of the ambiguities in his text I would choose this: of the adults who have proven such grievously inadequate guardians, whom does Miles finally address as “you devil”? —Garth

“‘Peter Quint—you devil!’”


The final 10 minutes of Britten’s opera both heighten & gesture toward resolving James’s ambiguities. Britten draws out the drama, giving us a grand climax but then letting tragedy unfold in quietness. —Garth


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