“The Turn of the Screw” as a Representation of Victorian Sexual Repression L.R.G. “The Turn of the Screw” is largely a representational book. For the most part, I think it stands to characterize Victorian views of sexuality. The entire book seems to be sex related in one way or another. Everything that happens, from Miles being kicked out of school to the governess seeing ghosts, can be interpreted with a sexual connotation. When Miles is kicked out of school, no one says exactly why.
After reading the letter from the school, the governess only says that, “he’s an injury to others.” Because of the indirect nature of this discussion, we are left believing that the reason for his dismissal is related to sex in some way. We hear nothing more about this subject until the very end when Miles reveals that he “said things” to “those he liked.” Whether this means he did sexual things with other boys or just discussed things with them, we do not know. The important thing to realize is that he was banished from school for this activity, demonstrating that any sexual activity, including discussing it, was an offense punishable by expulsion. At the lake, Flora is seen moving a stick in and out of a hole in a piece of wood. The governess mentions that she is making a makeshift boat, but we are not fooled. This is a clear demonstration of how sexual inquiries or tendencies were ignored and denied in children.
Miles was punished because his activity apparently harmed other students. Flora’s action was simply denied because she was alone with the governess and did not “harm” anyone. James also throws in an element involving sexual relations between members of different social classes. Miss Jessel and Peter Quint were former employees at Bly who are both deceased. By reading into the story a bit, one can easily infer that the two were sexually involved and Miss Jessel became pregnant. Not only because they were not married, but also because Quint was of a lower class than Miss Jessel, it was shameful for her to be pregnant with his child.
Her mysterious death is easily interpreted as a suicide. At some points in the story, homosexuality is hinted at. One could infer that there was some sexual attraction between Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper, and the governess. Mrs.
Grose kisses the governess on one occasion and on another, the governess calls Mrs. Grose her “pet.” On some occasions the story insinuates that there was a sexual relationship between Miles and Peter Quint. They apparently spent time together alone, quite often. Also, I find several hints at the governess’ infatuation with Miles. At one point she says, “he wanted, I felt, to be with me.” Because of the extreme sexuality of this book, I can’t help but equate that comment with sex. At the very end of the book the governess says to Miles, “What does he matter ..
. I have you.” “He” being Peter Quint. This brings me to the most important aspect of the book, the governess’ ghosts. I believe that the ghosts she claimed to see were embodiments of her sexual frustrations. Because part of being a governess was being unmarried and having no gentlemen flatterers, the governess obviously had some issues with sexual repression.
I think the purpose of these ghosts is to further accentuate sexual repression as a whole, not only the governess’. In the story the ghosts seem to be the reason for her erratic behavior when in reality, sexual repression is the reason for it. The way that James wrote the story, setting it up in a frame, works very well with this idea. Although we are hearing the story from an unnamed narrator who heard it from Douglas at a holiday party, the governess is the author and one who experienced the events. Because she wrote the manuscript, it works well to consider the ghosts as symbols for her sexual frustration.
I think the purpose of this book is to present and refute Victorian ideals about sexuality. While I understand that other, very different interpretations of the book exist and are feasible, this one is definitely the most dominant to me. The overwhelming sexual connotations of every action and conversation far outweigh anything else happening in the story.