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The Turn of the Screw

It’s Halloween! And I’m reading The Haunting of Hill House, which I’m enjoying much more than another “classic” ghost story everyone trots out at this time of year: The Turn of the Screw.

If you followed the #19thCenturySpoilers discussion on Twitter some months back (which I hope you did; it was basically my favorite thing ever to happen on the internet) you may already have learned that I am not very fond of Henry James. Some of the things I tweeted about him (uh, spoiler alert, I guess):

  • Daisy gets malaria and dies. Winterbourne is a shithead no matter what Daisy did. #19thcenturyspoilers #DaisyMiller #FuckHenryJames
  • The kid dies and there’s no resolution. #19thcenturyspoilers #TurnOfTheScrew #FuckHenryJames
  • The beast in the jungle is his fear of the beast in the jungle. #19thcenturyspoilers #BeastInTheJungle #FuckHenryJames #ForReal #HeSucks

So! Mr. James and I: not BFF, you could say. He has problems with brevity, clarity, and women. Or, to be slightly more blunt, he writes like “a magnificent but painful hippopotamus resolved at any cost… upon picking up a pea that has got into the corner of its den” (line stolen from H.G. Wells, my new hero), and his much-vaunted characters are always either hysterical nincompoops (women) or self-absorbed douchebags (men).

So it’s probably no surprise that I tried to read The Turn of the Screw at least 5 times before I managed to finish it. And now I’m pretty sure I can parody it in fewer words than it would take James to describe an unremarkable breakfast:

This dude and some friends are sitting around a fire trading gossip or something, whatever they did back before there was TV. And this dude goes, “I know a story that’ll scare your britches off.

“Once upon a time I was totally in love with this governess, whom I didn’t marry for reasons unspecified, but which is supposed to make me sympathetic. And before she died she wrote down this story for me.”

Governess: “Once upon a time I interviewed for a job with this extremely creepy but super handsome guy. And he was like, ‘I would like you to come to my remote house, which the townspeople fear and which I will never inhabit, and take care of my niece and nephew. Who, by the way, creep me the hell out. Also, their last governess died.’ And obvs. I accepted this job, because he was handsome and bitches be crazy.

“So I show up at Creepington Manor and the housekeeper is like, ‘Thank god he found another sucker to take care of those creepy kids. P.S. Mind the ghosts.’ And I’m like, ‘I am totally up for whatever weirdness happens in the house of handsome Mr. Handsome, who will probably marry me later, I read Jane Eyre, I know how this works.

“And then I heard weird noises in the hallway at night, and saw a dude on the parapet, and a dead governess on the stairs, and then a dead dude on the stairs, and a guy staring at me and the kids in the woods. But nobody else sees these people, duh, and the housekeeper is like, ‘Probably a trick of your eyes but bee tee dubs it sounds like your mystery dude looks like our dead valet, weird coincidence, right?’ And I was like, ‘Well that’s pretty messed up, but whatever, I definitely won’t write to hunky Mr. Handsome about this in case it’s a test of my love and also because bitches be crazy.’

“And then the kids start going all Children of the Corn on me, staring at nothing and getting mad at me for interfering with their plans to have a chat with a freakin’ ghost in the woods in the middle of the night. I know, I’m such a hardass, right?

“Anyway, I made up my mind to leave, but then I walked into the schoolroom and saw the dead governess again, which I took as a good sign and decided to stay because, say it with me, bitches be crazy.

“So the next day we see the girl kid, the creepier one, having a little tête-à-tête by the lake with the ghost of the dead governess, and the housekeeper finally agrees that the kid is too creepy even for Creepington Manor, and bundles her off to gorgeous Mr. Handsome’s house.

“Now it’s just me and the boy—who is still pretty creepy, I don’t want to sell him short here—hanging out in big, empty Creepington Manor. And the two of us are having a little talk about how he’s undermining me and intercepting the call for help I finally agreed to send when I see the dead valet outside the window again. So I says to the kid, I says, ‘Hey, kid, do you see the dead guy too?’

“And after a couple months of nonstop ghost parties you think this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but the kid goes, ‘AAAAH!’ and just falls dead in my arms.

“So of course I got fired.”

And the moral of this story is: Bitches be crazy?


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