The Gothic setting



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The genre that you criticised and those texts you illogically denigrated have a high degree of literary and filmic merit. The Gothic genre addresses those dark issues of the human psyche that are usually suppressed or unexamined. It deals with horror, despair, fear etc. but this is reality. Students must learn how to deal with such fundamental truths. Simply cutting out the teaching and learning of the Gothic Genre in highschools to protect students is ridiculous.

Henry James’ novella, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ set in the 1840s, and Alejandro Amenabar’s film, ‘The Others’ set in 1945, force us to confront the emotions and ideas that are universal despite the passage of time. Additionally, the Gothic genre is a fantastic learning tool for young responders as it is entertaining and provides an insight into the importance of context in shaping values. The Gothic genre and its complementary elements of terror, mystery and suspense provide us with entertainment, but with the entertainment there are the allegories.

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Henry James in his twenty four chapters each constituting a dramatic scene and a significant event leaves his readers, at the end of each chapter, on the edge of their seats with a melodramatic ending. In chapter 10, we see from the Governess’ eyes that “The presence on the lawn… was poor little Miles himself. ” James does this again and again, in chapter 7, “It’s far worse then I dreamed – they’re lost! ” He gives pleasure and enjoyment by creating an aura of mystery, suspense and terror, with an ambiguous conclusion to each chapter.

Henry James himself describes his tale, in the preface, as an idle “amusette”, a piece of light entertainment. However, Amenabar manipulates film techniques and the conventions of the Gothic setting and isolation to fill us with terror, mystery and suspense, and so entertaining us. Grace, Anne and Miles are placed in a large landscape, which is covered by a thick, white ever-present fog which is a barrier, making viewers “feel totally cut off from the world”. The “children are photosensitive” and “daylight will kill them” and so we are overwhelmed by the darkness, of almost, all of the scenes in the film.

The children are isolated and “living in this darkness” which represents the innocent being exposed to evil. In Amenabar’s film, the ever-present white fog and the eternal darkness are, in itself, very mysterious and terrifying, but, the use of pleonastic instrumentals, leading up to an event where Grace is terrorised by the “intruders”, builds a captivating sense of suspense and fear. Though, it is not just a form of entertainment. In James’ novella there are several unanswered questions or mysteries. How did the parents of the Flora and Miles die?

How did the predecessors Peter Quint and Miss Jessel die? What had Miles done to be expelled? How had Miles died? The novella, ‘Turn of the Screw’ takes its responders from reality into an imaginative world. The film, ‘The Others’ has the same effect, though it is not everlasting because all mysteries are resolved. As Henry James famously said after exploring the new notions of the subconscious, “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”.

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