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Sexual Hysteria, Physiognomical Bogeymen, and the "Ghosts" in ...

Sexual Hysteria, Physiognomical Bogeymen, and the "Ghosts" in ...


THE TURN OF THE SCREW 187 widely opened, and fixed upon the victim" (p. 178). Even the "habit of going about bareheaded" (the governess's figure "has no hat" [p. 23]) attracts physiognomical attention.2' Indeed, the essence (as well as the eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and hair) of the governess's projected figure, embodying her hysterical but unconscious sexual horror, is reflected closely in one of a series of descriptions Lavater provides of physiognomical types, clearly an epitome of brutal male power: Rude, savage, ruffianly, danger-contemning, strength. It is a crime to him to have committed small mischief; his stroke, like his aspect, is death. He does not oppress, he destroys. To him murder is enjoyment, and the pangs of others a pleasure. The form of his bones denotes his strength, his eye a thirst of blood, his eyebrow habitual cruelty, his mouth deriding contempt, his nose grim craft, his hair and beard choleric power. (III, 249-50) The picture that accompanies this description (see illustration), showing close-curling hair-presumably red, the color traditionally associated with choler-may give us an uncannily accurate __t

188 NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE furnished. It remains only to show some striking prototypes of the governess's physiognomically stereotypical redheaded sex villain in popular novels of the era. A link to one such prototype exists in The Turn of the Screw itself: the governess is reading Amelia just before her third hallucination of the figure identified as Quint (p. 40), and Amelia contains a similar figure, Robinson, who has Quint's long pale face, red hair (actually "a red Beard"), and clothes that call a kind of disreputable attention to themselves.22 Although Robinson is not, to the reader's knowledge, sexually villainous, his life resembles Quint's, at least the latter's reputation for "strange passages and perils, secret disorders, vices more than suspected" (p. 28). Robinson is a gambler, cheat, thief, and criminal conspirator. The governess, not having finished the novel, would not know of his repentance in the end and thus could be expected to regard him with emotions that might contribute to her fearful hallucinations. Even more terrifying, however, in this novel with its undercurrent of sexual danger and ruin are its interpolated histories of young women betrayed by their naive indulgence in the pleasurable sensations excited by the attentions of attractive men: Miss Mathews, seduced by a soldier under false promises of marriage, and Mrs. Bennet, seduced by a nobleman after quaffing only "Half a Pint of Small Punch," which had been drugged. The latter's case would have been especially terrible to the governess, for Mrs. Bennet was the naive, sheltered daughter of a clergyman and got into trouble precisely by entertaining romantic fantasies of an attractive man: she intended only to "indulge [her] Vanity and Interest at once, without being guilty of the least Injury" (Amelia, p. 295). The warnings of both these wretched fallen women must surely have terrified the governess. Miss Mathews offers her fate as a warning to every woman "to deal with Mankind with Care and Caution ... and never to confide too much in the Honesty of a Man, nor in her own Strength, 22Henry Fielding, Amelia, ed. Martin C. Battestin, The Wesleyan Edition of the Complete Works of Henry Fielding (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1983), p. 29. May L. Ryburn has called attention to the resemblance between Fielding's Robinson and the figure the governess describes. Ryburn observes quite logically that this parallel "would seem to lay the ghosts to rest forever, except as they existed in the governess's mind" ("The Turn of the Screw and Amelia: A Source for Quint?," Studies in Short Fiction, 16 [1979], 237).

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