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In our class discussion last week Mr. Chisnell asked us how the meaning we find in the Turn of the Screw would be different from the one those reading it at the time it was created would find, same goes for pretty much all books created in a different age. When psychological theory was brought up I couldn't help but think that Henry James was not at all writing with intent to bring in actual psychology. (Unless he was just smarter than everyone else at the time and just didn't share it) Psychology was not something particularly researched at the time James wrote this, so while we may be able to find clear concepts that connect to psychology we know today, I don't think his audience would be able to dig any deeper into a meaning pasts "oo this is a spooky story". I can understand that there was a general understanding of peoples behavior and why we do things at the time, I just don't think they would go very in depth. That all being said, my question is are we supposed to create our own psychological meaning to this story that Henry James himself may not understand or are we to look at it through the view of his readers?
I also know that generally we always try to dig deeper than the author may have, I only pose this question because it seemed to be an underlying idea that we did not bring up in class.
I am not sure if I agree that Henry James was not trying to bring psychology into the book. For, if that was not his intent, he could have written this book a lot differently. There are certain things within this book where it is clear that the writing is very deliberate that cannot be looked over. As I was reading, the word beautiful when talking about was extremely excessive and it seems there for a reason, and also James' use of obfuscation seems intentional. Obviously I can't say for 100 percent certainty that Henry James had the clear intent to demonstrate what we are interpreting the story but I feel that it is very possible that he could be pointing out, discreetly, truths that others of his time period knew, but didn't want to talk about. For even though there was stigma around psychological issues, that doesn't mean that no one was aware.
@gil I also do not think that Henry James intended to include anything psychological into this book intentionally. A connection to psychological theory and Freud in this book that might be a bit of a stretch is the Oedipus Complex. Freud talked about this and how it describes a child's unconscious sexual attraction to the parent of the opposite sex. I think that Miles is a bit outside of the age range for this theory but it still may fit a little bit. In the story it seems as though there is a bit of sexual tension (might not be the right term but I feel like you guys know what I mean) between Miles and the Governess. Maybe because Miles never really had a mother figure, the governess is that figure and the Oedipus complex is starting to come into play? Let me know your thoughts.
@snowyyeti This could be a possibility with Miles. However, I feel like he does not see the governess as a motherly figure-I have a strong theory that Miles just sees the governess and himself as equals, or even the governess being beneath him (socially, he is technically above her and I think he knows this). It seems that even the governess sees Miles as being above her for we can see how nervous she is to confront him. How many parents can you think of that are afraid to ask an eight year old if they stole a letter? The governess has to work up the nerve for months to even tell Miles she knows that he got kicked out of school. So, I think because of social class both the governess and Miles see each other closer equals rather than the governess being a parental figure for Miles.
Also, when you said this:
@gil I also do not think that Henry James intended to include anything psychological into this book intentionally.
Did you mean unintentionally? I would like to hear more about whether you think the psychological aspects are intentional or unintentional!
There is one part of your question that befuddles me, "supposed to". The only thing I am sure of, is that as readers we are supposed to be scared. After all, it is a horror story. I think the idea that is poor, shy girl is whisked away to work at a glorious castle only to be haunted by ghosts and have her pupils suffer was Henry James's version of a fantasy gone wrong. However, I think that people reading this when it first came out would have been able to see the more psychological side. It is common as humans to imagine how much better, smarter, and more advanced we are than the humans in the past, but in reality we aren't as great as we assume. Most people are acting in the roles of the society they are in, and that is just how it is. I don't think they may have had the words we have now, or the acceptance of society to talk about psychological issues. But mental health was still a large part of life! I think James was tuning in the the unspoken fear of "going crazy" that was too taboo to talk about, but too real to ignore. So I guess in a way I think James knew what he was doing, just without the "greater understanding" that we think we have now.
I think that while psychological and Freudian theory were obviously not popular or present during the writing of this book, that does not mean psychology was not a factor in the writing of this book. I think the writing style was very deliberate and that psychology was absolutely one of the largest factors in this book. Though, it could not be written as obviously due to societal stigma at the time and other things...
I think that because we choose psych because I think it is super prevalent in the media which we decide to consume. It was probably one of the most popular theories which we had discussed in class. A lot of people in this thread have discussed the fact that James didn't intend to write a novel that would be interpreted through a psychological lens. He did write a novel that would go and address the issue which the governess had so I do think he wrote a novel about mental health just it was written in a way that was complex so that someone at the time would have to go and search for it. except because it was written for that time and not ours we picked up on the more complex themes which a person in the 19th century would have to dig for. So i think it just comes more naturally to someone who lives in our time peroid
I think James' focus on a theme surrounding the governess' psychology was definitely intentional. As @gil stated, he could (and most like would) have written it very differently if it were actually about ghosts. And I don't think the fact that it was written in the 1800s means that James was oblivious to issues surrounding psychology and mental health. Just because it was over 100 years ago doesn't mean that he was unaware of what was going on in the minds of both himself and those around him. I also don't think he was the only one that understood what he was writing. People in the 1800s could observe psychology and mental health just as much as we can today. They just chose not to talk about it as much. There was much more of a stigma around it, but that doesn't mean they were completely ignorant to it. We may have a different way that we observe these things and a different understanding of them, but that doesn't make what we have any "more" than what they did. Sure we may have some more fancy names and studies that were done, but the issues were still there 100 years ago, and could be observed as such. Like @theboulder said, "It is common as humans to imagine how much better, smarter, and more advanced we are than the humans in the past, but in reality we aren't as great as we assume."
However, I feel like he does not see the governess as a motherly figure-I have a strong theory that Miles just sees the governess and himself as equals, or even the governess being beneath him
I agree with this entirely. Closer to the end of the novel we are introduced to more full conversations between Miles and the Governess. I think it is clear that Miles has a superiority complex although it may have not been intended by James. Yes now is an entirely different time than when this story was conceived, but if a child were to address me as "my dear" as 10 year old Miles does to the government I would find it incredibly condescending and rude.
@curtis I completely agree. Miles definitely views the two as equals, and I would assume that he hold himself in a much higher regard than just as a child, almost as an adult. He even goes out of his way to show off to her/try to impress her which shows that there is no lack of confidence from him in his view on how he deems himself.
@nicole I think that he was trying to address mental illness in his time but I don't think he was trying to implement psych theory. like I have been saying a lot in class I think that they had different ways of describing concepts that we already knew but they were using different language. So I think that it was written for a different audience so we come and recognize different aspect of the novel than what we see
I think this general theme holds relevant for many other topics. The understanding is only partially developed at least compared to today, but the topic/issue still existed and needed to be dealt with. An example of this is the way in which disease spreads and functions. To match the era of the novel, during the civil war, soldiers would coat their bullets in the blood and feces of sick people and animals. This way even a minor wounding of someone meant certain death with the lack of medicines to combat advanced diseases. There is an understanding of the causes and effects of disease, but the way to treat it isn't there yet. This is on par with mental illness. The existence is known and observed, but the ways to treat it are uncertain.
Just thinking further about this, the explanation for homosexuality had much to do with the Christian ideas of demonic possession and presence in general. If we look at the book as a comment on the state of psychological understanding during the era, could it be possible for it seeming so easy for us to see the Governess as mentally ill as a statement on the beliefs of society at the time. By this I mean is the point for the Governess seeing Miles under possession via a demon (Quint) so ludicrous that it is a satirical comment on viewing homosexuality as a demonic possession instead of as a medical/biological topic?
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