Turning the Screw of House of Leaves

A Short Synopsis of The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw begins in a parlor with people telling stories. One particularly “juicy” story is a ghost story involving children. The story is supposedly a manuscript given to a friend by the governess involved in the ghost story. The governess is taking care of a young boy, Miles, and a young girl, Flora, whose parents have died, and  she living with them at their family member’s country house. When the governess first meets the children she is in awe of their innocent-looking features. She continues to think of the children as innocent even after she discovers Miles was expelled from school, but this certainly plants the seed of doubt in her mind. The governess, her narration becoming increasingly unreliable, begins seeing ghosts who she believes to be the specters of the previous governess and her lover. Because the two deceased people were quite close with the children, the governess begins to suspect that the children also see these ghosts but will not admit it.  The governess becomes increasingly suspicious of the children until she finally confronts them separately, first driving Flora away and then (we can assume) causing Miles’s death.

Relevance to House of Leaves

Besides the incredible amount of ambiguity and room for interpretation allowed by both texts, the idea of the “found source” / disconnected original author of a fictional text generates the most curiosity for me. In House, we are acutely aware that Johnny Truant has stumbled upon Zampano’s manuscripts and notes with the help of Lude. Especially at the points where Johnny directly addresses a conflict with Zampano’s notes, be it a quirk in Zampano’s style, a contradiction, illegibility, or simply a thought that the notes inspire in him, we are constantly reminded of Johnny’s role as archivist of Zampano’s archives.  However, in The Turn of the Screw, we never find out much  about the person who possesses the governess’s manuscript or the context of the ghost story within the manuscript. If we think about the characters as real people, “The Navidson Records” (I am torn about whether I should italicize this or put it in quotes, but my choice is now obvious) has become real because of the number of interpretive hands it has traveled through. Although certainly fictional when Zampano wrote about it, the added level of having Johnny write about Zampano is writing about “The Navidson Records” gives a sense of the film existing, even if it simply is as a false document. To have so many perceived levels of interpretation and references giving the illusion of empiricism relaly pulls at our englightened heartstrings to make us believe that the documents in question exist beyond House (The Navidson Record [it now feels like a real film, not just an idea], Zampano’s manuscripts and notes, Johnny’s interpretation of the aforementioned texts). The lack of evidence, albeit fictional evidence, in Screw makes the ghost story within it much easier to dismiss.

The feeling of “realness,” better described as the sense of potential materiality, of the fictional texts within House make the novel that much more disruptive emotionally. Given a sense of the possibility that the events, texts, and stories of House may, to some extent, be “real” but still unknowable is much eerier and disorienting than the typical Gothic of James’s Screw ever could have been. If only James had had a sense of our weakness to the archive he could have really exploited our soft spot for empiricism the way Danielewski, or Zampano, have in House of Leaves.


Danielewsi, Mark Z. House of Leaves. New York: Pantheon Books, 2000. (Post-)Print.

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999. Print.


~ by hlrypngr on March 28, 2010.

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