Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Monday, October 18, 2010

Letter to Henry James

Dear Mr. James,

Your ghost story, The Turn of the Screw, has left me, how shall I say, underwhelmed. The protagonist, the governess, keeps crying how the ghosts are evil! dreadful! depraved! but you give very little explanation of what makes them so evil. Is it because they're ghosts? Yes, when the dead stick around it is unsettling. Is it because these ghosts were sexually promiscuous while they were alive? Certainly not something to laud, I agree. Is it because they were acting above their station, these low-class ghosts, in making friends with the upper-class children? Uppity ghosts should not be tolerated. But evil?

Well, they look evil! your governess cries. I could see the depravity in their eyes!

The male ghost had red hair, whiskers, and wore no hat. Oh the depravity, he wore no hat!

The female ghost wore mourning clothes and was quite pretty. Sinister, very sinister!

I'm sorry, Hank (may I call you Hank?), but you're going to have to do better than that if you want me shivering in my boots. Your evil is all together too vague.

Yours truly,

P.S. You use too many commas.

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