Saturday, 2 January 2010
Of snow and ghosts
More snow has fallen, and I ventured out this morning, wrapped up in more layers of padding than a Michelin woman. Aberdeenshire looks beautiful but unrecognizable from the place I first came to in June. Back then, I picnicked beside the loch that you can see in the second picture; or rather, you can't see it, because it's iced over and covered with thick snow.
The gates look like the ones that lead to Rebecca's Manderley, I think, although no ghosts are visible here in Tillypronie. True, it has a touch of the Gothic about it, like Du Maurier's 'House of Secrets', or Bly, the mansion in Henry James' 'The Turn of the Screw', which is as much a part of the narrative as Manderley in 'Rebecca' -- set alone, far from any other dwelling, surrounded by woods and hills, and hidden from the road. But even though Henry James visited here, it's not as brooding as Bly. Nor is there any sign of the sinister ghosts that whisper in those houses. In fact, this house feels like a friend, especially when it's cold outside.
But if anyone is still brooding about 'The Turn of the Screw' -- as I am, after watching its dramatization on the BBC earlier this week, transposed from the end of the 19th century to just after the First World War (a fictionalising of a fiction that seemed to come to a dead end, at least for me, in a much less expert way than James' own narrative within a narrative) -- here is a passage from James' original novel; a single sentence that twists like the novella in which it appears. (Sadly, as you will have noticed from this blog, I don't possess a fraction of James' mastery of long sentences.) Although the BBC drama was spooky -- the governess particularly unsettling -- I still think the book is far more frightening; more ambiguous, closer to the edge of madness, and beyond into the darkness of the true unknown...
'The limit of this evil time had arrived only when, on the dawn of a winter’s morning, Peter Quint was found, by a labourer going to work, stone dead on the road from the village: a catastrophe explained—superficially at least—by a visible wound to his head; such a wound as might have been produced (and as, on the final evidence, had been) by a fatal slip, in the dark and after leaving the public-house, on the steepish icy slope, a wrong path altogether, at the bottom of which he lay.'