4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Ghosts and the Brothers James

Next week, Intrepid Shakespeare Company will stage an adaptation of Henry James' novella The Turn of the Screw, hailed by many as one of the, if not the, greatest ghost stories of all time.

Seemed so to me the first time I read it - alone in a log cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains, on a night both dark and stormy. I swore I saw Peter Quint and Miss Jessel's rain-drizzled faces on the window and in the smoke curling from the rock fireplace. Sometimes just their unblinking eyes, big as baseballs.

Quint and Jessel are - or, many contend, are not - the ghosts of former servants haunting a young governess and two children at Bly, a country estate.

Two questions haunt me still. Are the ghosts in the story real - can the children see them? - or is the governess just hallucinating? And did Henry James believe in ghosts?

James is gleefully evasive about the story. He's called everything from a "fairy tale" to a "wanton little tale" to "a rather shameless potboiler."

He does say, albeit cryptically, he admires the craft: how it sustains the mystery in the reader's mind throughout. "So long as the events are veiled the imagination will run riot and depict all sorts of horrors, but as soon as the veil is lifted, all mystery disappears, and with it the sense of terror."

(the novelist Graham Greene admired James' coy treatment: "at a certain level, no writer has really disclosed less").

So James' makes contradictory remarks by design: to keep the story ambiguous - and still vital.

But was he a believer? Gets tricky here too.

In his youth, James poo-pooh'd seances ("spirit-rapping") and "ghost-raising." But possibly inspired by his brother William, he developed an ongoing interest in the unconscious and "the other side."

William James was one of America's most influential thinkers. He wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience, The Principals of Psychology and Pragmatism.

He was also one of America's most ardent students of the supernatural, and risked his professional career pursuing non-scientific subjects. He co-founded the Society for Psychical Research and - a relentless seeker of first-hand experience - went to hundreds of seances.

These used to be called "ghost evenings." The Turn of the Screw begins with one. William debunked most of them, often on the spot. But some convinced him to "remain uncertain and await more fact."

(Fascinating book: Deborah Blum, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. When members of the PSR died, several came back in seances and complained that spirit mediums are inept and need much better training).

Henry James always kept an eye on his brother's findings. When William died in 1910, Henry and William's wife Alice went to several ghost evenings in Boston to make contact. None did, and Henry - revealing his true feelings on the subject? - attributed the silence to "the grim refusal of the dead."

Just days after Henry and Alice's last one, the New York Times reported that William had spoken from the spirit world. "I am at peace," he said. "I have awakened to a life far beyond my highest conception while a denizen of the earth." The voice, which echoed William's style, promised to contact Henry soon.

If it happened, Henry never said.

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

A poem by Edgar Allan Poe on his birthday

Annabel Lee
Next Article

African Composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Don't Sleep on Samuel Coleridge-Tayor

Next week, Intrepid Shakespeare Company will stage an adaptation of Henry James' novella The Turn of the Screw, hailed by many as one of the, if not the, greatest ghost stories of all time.

Seemed so to me the first time I read it - alone in a log cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains, on a night both dark and stormy. I swore I saw Peter Quint and Miss Jessel's rain-drizzled faces on the window and in the smoke curling from the rock fireplace. Sometimes just their unblinking eyes, big as baseballs.

Quint and Jessel are - or, many contend, are not - the ghosts of former servants haunting a young governess and two children at Bly, a country estate.

Two questions haunt me still. Are the ghosts in the story real - can the children see them? - or is the governess just hallucinating? And did Henry James believe in ghosts?

James is gleefully evasive about the story. He's called everything from a "fairy tale" to a "wanton little tale" to "a rather shameless potboiler."

He does say, albeit cryptically, he admires the craft: how it sustains the mystery in the reader's mind throughout. "So long as the events are veiled the imagination will run riot and depict all sorts of horrors, but as soon as the veil is lifted, all mystery disappears, and with it the sense of terror."

(the novelist Graham Greene admired James' coy treatment: "at a certain level, no writer has really disclosed less").

So James' makes contradictory remarks by design: to keep the story ambiguous - and still vital.

But was he a believer? Gets tricky here too.

In his youth, James poo-pooh'd seances ("spirit-rapping") and "ghost-raising." But possibly inspired by his brother William, he developed an ongoing interest in the unconscious and "the other side."

William James was one of America's most influential thinkers. He wrote The Varieties of Religious Experience, The Principals of Psychology and Pragmatism.

He was also one of America's most ardent students of the supernatural, and risked his professional career pursuing non-scientific subjects. He co-founded the Society for Psychical Research and - a relentless seeker of first-hand experience - went to hundreds of seances.

These used to be called "ghost evenings." The Turn of the Screw begins with one. William debunked most of them, often on the spot. But some convinced him to "remain uncertain and await more fact."

(Fascinating book: Deborah Blum, Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. When members of the PSR died, several came back in seances and complained that spirit mediums are inept and need much better training).

Henry James always kept an eye on his brother's findings. When William died in 1910, Henry and William's wife Alice went to several ghost evenings in Boston to make contact. None did, and Henry - revealing his true feelings on the subject? - attributed the silence to "the grim refusal of the dead."

Just days after Henry and Alice's last one, the New York Times reported that William had spoken from the spirit world. "I am at peace," he said. "I have awakened to a life far beyond my highest conception while a denizen of the earth." The voice, which echoed William's style, promised to contact Henry soon.

If it happened, Henry never said.

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Will this increase or reduce the population of abominable Sasquatch hunters?

March 28, 2012

Twister that's a toughie. Maybe both?

March 29, 2012
Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories Fishing Report — What’s getting hooked from ship and shore From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town The Gonzo Report — Making the musical scene, or at least reporting from it Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Theater — On stage in San Diego this week Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close