The AP Challenges Continues, if Slowly: Pre-Reading Notes on Henry James’ The Aspern Papers and the Turn of the Screw (by Bethany)


I’m not going to give you anything in the way of witty memories for this installment in the AP Challenge, because I remember exactly nothing about this book. Here’s what I know. The book consists of two novellas, one just under a hundred pages and one just over. The novellas are written by Henry James. In my memory of this book, The Turn of the Screw came first, and The Aspern Papers came second. This memory is not correct: in fact, The Aspern Papers comes first.

To be honest, what I really remember about this book is an impression I had that it was structurally very similar to Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction – which is to say that when I was seventeen my reaction to these novellas was that one of them was a decently told story and the other was a bunch of abstruse nonsense. In Seymour, an Introduction, of course, Buddy Glass is sorting through his dead brother Seymour’s papers, trying to learn more about Seymour and his tremendous intellect and trying, if possible, to understand why Seymour committed suicide. I remember The Aspern Papers as being about some people rifling through the belongings of a dead person. And from glancing at the book for a few minutes, I think this impression might not be entirely correct – although the back of the book does promise a “zealous literary historian” on the trails of the correspondence of an American poet, who may or may not be dead.

I did underline a sentence, however. It’s on the second page of The Aspern Papers, which is probably exactly how far I read before I yawned, tossed it aside, and headed off to a babysitting gig. For some reason, my seventeen year-old self was fascinated by this sentence: “One doesn’t defend one’s god; one’s god is in himself a defense.” I’m not sure why this sentence captivated me, other than the fact that it is nicely phrased and is conveniently located on Page 2.

I do know a bit about The Turn of the Screw, not from AP English but from just living in the general presence of books for the last nineteen years. I know it’s about a governess and a couple of kids. I know that there’s a ghost in it – or the characters think there is a ghost in their house, or whatever. I know that this novella is one of the first texts taught in any class on psychoanalytical literary theory, and the whole plot is supposed to be some kind of projection of the governess’ mind that stems from Victorian sexual repression. Maybe she’ll have a spontaneous orgasm in the woods like Jane Eyre did. One can only hope.

If running a Google Images search for The Turn of the Screw isn’t on your bucket list, it should be. My search generated a nearly-infinite selection of photographs and drawings of women with panicked-yet-alluring looks on their faces. There’s this one:

the turn of the screw 1

and this one:


and this one:


and this one:

the turn of the screw 5

and so, so many more.

All sarcasm aside, I am actually looking forward to reading these novellas. I loved The Portrait of a Lady when I read it in January, but that novel was exhausting. I’m hoping that these novellas will have the wonderful subtlety that (I finally recognize why) Henry James is known for without being almost 700 pages long. Don’t get me wrong – I want to read more of James’ work, and I’ll read his other novels eventually, even if they are long. But right now a couple of beautiful, subtle novellas are just what I need – or, at least, they WILL be just what I need after I go reread Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters and Seymour, and Introduction, because thinking about Salinger’s novels and stories without immediately sitting down and rereading them is not something that I do especially well.

This entry was posted in AP English - 18 Years Later, Authors, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Henry James, Reviews by Bethany. Bookmark the permalink.

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