I live in Australia; hence the British spelling, frequent bouts of spell-check rage at WordPress, and, according to an American friend, a distinct lack of sugary breakfast options. Even worse, we don’t celebrate Halloween.
I know, right?!
Apparently, a bunch of old people like whining about cultural imperialism and the Australian identity, but hello? Why wouldn’t you want to import a holiday with candies and costumes and faux-scary decorations?
(The one and only time I went trick-or-treating in my neighbourhood, I got a long lecture about how how we should be proud of our national history, yada yada, and was rewarded for my attention by a grudgingly presented muesli bar).
Then again, Australians barely celebrate Christmas as it is, or at least in comparison to our European counterparts, so anything extra is probably too hard to scrounge up.
So my version of celebrating Halloween Down Under is reading Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, first published in 1898.
A governess is hired for two orphans adopted by a rich guy who, incidentally, dislikes children (he and I have that in common). She then starts seeing ghosts that are supposedly trying to entice the kids away from their nice, safe existence? Or trying to make the kids commit some sin? Or existing only in her head all along?
You see, Henry James, like most of his Victorian contemporaries, didn’t like his writing to mention anything “base” (immoral/evil/anything to do with the lower class). Meaning, of course, that modern readers are a little ‘wtf?’ when it comes to discerning what he doesn’t say – what the ghosts actually did. Supposedly Victorian readers knew immediately what Henry James was attempting to talk around, but that easy understanding has been lost over the years.
Speaking of whom, Henry James sure loves his punctuation. It’s like reading a academic’s first attempt at prose. Have an example sentence:
There were exactly states of the air, conditions of sound and of stillness, unspeakable impressions of the kind of ministering moment, that brought back to me, long enough to catch it, the feeling of the medium in which, that June evening out of doors, I had had my first sight of Quint, and in which too, at those other instants, I had, after seeing him through the window, looked for him in vain in the circle of shrubbery.
That’s one educated governess.
Anyway, it was rather enjoyable to read this book out loud, probably because of all the commas, but I did have to wait until I was home alone to do so. Because, awkward. Still, I’m quite happy we don’t write like that anymore; how on earth would we have invented Twitter?
The Turn of the Screw was an ok story; open-ended but not so substantial that I spent any large amount of time attempting to interpret the story. The majority of the book was read on a beach (which probably would have ruined my burgeoning Halloween vibe, if the novella’s author hadn’t already done so).
Evidently, Henry James was going for that ‘it’s scary because it’s so realistic’ technique, by choosing to avoid flickering lights/eerie wails/etc, but I think he went a little overboard, since the ghosts enjoyed doing nothing more than standing and staring at you for no apparent reason.
It seems that Henry James’ ghostly apparitions would do well to join Dracula at a bar for a couple of beers, as well as a discussion on how much it sucks not being able to do anything remotely villainous and/or frightening. All the while, being shunned by the next table, filled with the likes of Mr Rochester’s mad wife, Mr Hyde, and pretty much every Edgar Allan Poe character.
So what I’m going to do is decide that The Turn of The Screw is a psyhocological thriller: an enraged governess goes crazy after realising she has less authority then a condescending 10 year old (?) boy, due, of course, to her lesser status in society, which also leaves her unable to catch her douchebag employer’s eye, despite inexplicably falling in love with him after two short meetings. Mmm, see? Much more satisfying, and quite an excellent read.
Happy Halloween, my pets!