Now doesn’t that sound like Flora and Miles?
Is it a coincidence, or are the two pairs of names connected?
Well no, it isn’t a coincidence. And yes, the names are connected. But not as you may think.
If one is a true story then the other would be a variation on that story far from the truth as it has been told, misheard, distorted, embellished so many times.
Or, I like to think, neither is a whole truth. Both are distortions of another story that has never been told.
John Harding’s version of the story, unlike Henry James’, is told by somebody who was there, at the heart of everything that happened.
“It is a curious story I have to tell, one not easily absorbed and understood, so it is fortunate I have the words for the task. If I say so myself, who probably shouldn’t, for a girl my age I am very well worded. Exceeding well worded, to speak plain. But because of the strict views of my uncle regarding the education of females, I have hidden my eloquence, under-a-bushelled it, and kept any but the simplest forms of expression bridewelled within my brain.”
Florence. A strange and utterly engaging heroine.
She lives in a large secluded house in New England with her beloved young half-brother Giles. They are orphans, left by their uncle in the care of a small group of servants. He never visits, but he lays down strict rules. Giles, the boy, is to be educated but Florence, the girl, is not. She is not even to learn how to read: the extensive library is out-of-bounds.
How can you not weep for her?
And how can you not cheer as Florence, precocious and self-possessed, subverts her uncle’s rules?
She enters the library. she pulls out books and reads them, utterly entranced by the people she meets and the tales that unfold.
And she finds so many wonderful words to twist into her own rich and lovely dialect, nouns, verbs and adjectives trading roles back and forth, as she wanders through so many lonely rooms.
“No maid ever ventures here; the floors are left unbroomed, for unfootfalled as they are, what would be the point? The shelves go unfingerprinted, the wheeled ladders to the upper ones unmoved, the books upon them yearning for an opening, the whole place a dustery of disregard.”
It is clear from the start that this will be a dark and gothic tale.
There will be questions:
Why is the children’s guardian is so remote?
What lead to the untimely death of the their governess?
There will be drama:
A new governess arrives. Florence believes that she is dangerous, and that she must fight for herself and for her brother.
Is she right? Is she deluded? Or is she just plain unreliable? She is so compelling that whatever the answer is you can do nothing but turn the pages until her tale is told.
It’s very readable and very, very effective. Not necessarily great literature, but definitely great entertainment.
And it stands up as fine tribute to the Turn of The Screw and as a novel in its own right.
But I’m still clinging to the hope that both are echoes of a stanger tale yet to be told…