Final Turn of the Screw

In my last (thankfully) look at The Turn of the Screw, I wanted to review James’s device of word repetition. He repeats a number of words or phrases, and I wonder if the repetition adds layers to the meaning.

One example I tracked was the word “innocent,” (or a variation thereof) which appears at least 13 times in the novella, referring to children other than Miles and Flora, individually and together to Miles and Flora and even to the governess herself. Here are just a few of the uses:

The first reference appears during a conversation between the governess and Mrs. Grose concerning Miles’s expulsion from school and refers to other children:

I found myself, to meet my friend the better, offering it, on the spot, sarcastically. “To his poor little innocent mates!”

One, at the beginning of section IX, refers to both Miles and Flora:

Putting things at the worst, at all events, as in meditation I so often did, any clouding of their innocence could only be—blameless and foredoomed as they were—a reason the more for taking risks.

This refers to the governess herself, after seeing Quint peering into the house:

I could meet on this, without scruple, any innocence.

And, the last reference is to Miles:

I seemed to float not into clearness, but into a darker obscure, and within a minute there had come to me out of my very pity the appalling alarm of his being perhaps innocent. It was for the instant confounding and bottomless, for if he were innocent, what then on earth was I?

Frankly, I am not sure what to make of all this, except that if James used a word 13 times in one novella, he must have had a good reason. Anyone else care to speculate on how James is using word repetition here?


Danielle said...

Hmm. I am about 30 pages into the novella. I will have to watch for this now! This is my first James novel (novella--I like to start small), who I have always been in awe of, so I am trying to take him slowly!

Dorothy W. said...

I have no idea what his use of the word means, but it does sound interesting and simply must be significant! It sure does seem to be a big question -- who is innocent, exactly?

LK said...

Danielle, I feel the same way. I've avoided James for some time now...but after reading this, I'm interested to read more and pick up on his style.

Dorothy, I agree, it must mean something! As you say, I guess the idea of innocence -- what it is and who it applies to -- is the ambiguous element here. As I look over the references, the term is applied to everyone except the uncle and Mrs. Grose, and Miss Jessel and Quint (naturally). So, I guess it applies to this triangle of the governess and two children (and, by implication of one reference, to other children, of whom the governess suspects are not innocent).