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.'



25 comments:

kairu said...

Thank you for your commiserations on my sore tooth - a friend told me to chew a couple of cloves, so I tucked one into my cheek and went about my day. Perhaps the sharply medicinal, oily flavor of the clove merely distracted me from the pain, or it really had curative powers, as I felt much better almost immediately.

Funny that The Turn of the Screw comes up again, as I have been thinking about it recently. I haven't read it since I saw a starkly bare-bones stage adaptation at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival some fourteen years ago.

sarah said...

I am envious of where you are looking at all that snow. I was interested when I read an article of your where you spoke about not wanting to wear a frock this festive season. I felt like that last year and wore a pair of three quarter length taupe Schumacher evening trousers with turn-ups and deep pockets all season. I felt safe and protected without loosing any sense of style. This year I finally put on a frock at New Years which my daughter labelled 'demure' ...a start and I did have a less than demure soft leather jacket over the top..

A Japanese friend sent me a New Years Card recently showing a tiger with the words that we need to show the courage and strength of that beautiful animal this year...not easy but if we are to survive all that comes and get over the grief we feel maybe we do need some of that...

enid said...

Like Kairu I too have tooth problems - will try cloves. Justine do you like James ? - which of his books do you like ? I have read more about him than by him. Your pictures are really beautiful.

Justine Picardie said...

I'm glad to hear that the cloves are working, but I still treat toothache with respect, or rather, I think you should go to the dentist, because you don't want to end up in agony in the middle of the night. At the risk of sounding overly gloomy, I still remember the misery of the New Year root canal episode -- I had to rush back to London from the Cotswolds, where I was supposed to have been enjoying a romantic weekend in a very nice hotel with my husband. This was two years ago, and I sometimes wonder, gloomily, if that was the beginning of the end of my marriage. If I hadn't have had toothache, perhaps I would have been more appealing? And if I'd been more appealing, possibly our marriage might have survived? And all because of a cracked molar; the dental equivalent of the butterfly fluttering its wings and causing an earthquake. It is thoughts such as these that can drive one to distraction. Possibly a sign of incipient madness, I know. Anyway, get thee to a dentist, Kairu and Enid.
And Sarah, my thoughts are with you in the year of the tiger. I like the sound of your demure dress with a less demure leather jacket on top. Here's to 2010! Grrrr...

Justine Picardie said...

PS. And Enid, when you are back from the dentist, and if you still want to read Henry James, I would recommend first the Turn of the Screw, and then Portrait of a Lady.

oxford-reader said...

Although I liked the BBC adaptation, I don't think it came anywhere close to the book for the chill factor. I don't think the mental institution parts helped at all .... I found the house interesting, because I knew I'd seen it before. A little digging has proved it to be Culverthorpe Hall, in Grantham, used in the 1994 adaptation of 'Middlemarch'. I think it was Mr Casaubon's house, and as such doesn't really lend itself to such a gothic tale.

I would agree with the recommendation to read 'Portrait of a Lady'. I think it's my favourite James.

Lazywell said...

I wonder if it was filmed at Culverthorpe Hall, oxford-reader. The BBC blurb says it was filmed in the west country. What was odd was that architecturally the front (Elizabethan or Jacobean?) looked totally different from the back (more traditionally classical). So perhaps two different houses were used. In that respect it rather reminded me of Local Hero, where the location of the village with the famous telephone box was on the east coast of Scotland, while the beach below was in fact on the west coast.

elspeththompson said...

Hi Justine,
I was searching for a poem/blessing to sum up how I felt at this turning of the year - was trying to find Thomas A Clark's Twenty Blessings that my mother (who died this summer) read at our wedding ten years ago but in absence of that, found the John O'Donohue on your blog and linked to that.... And as so often happens in wonderful Blogland, a kind reader has supplied the words to the Clark poem that had evaded me... I thought you might like them. The last two lines always take my breath away, and feel right for a new year.
A Happy 2010 to you,
xx Elspeth

elspeththompson said...

Of course I forgot to attach the poem/Blessing! here it is.
TWENTY BLESSINGS
adapted from the Celtic by Thomas A Clark

May the best hour of the day be yours.
May luck go with you from hill to sea.
May you stand against the prevailing wind.
May no forest intimidate you.
May you look out from your own eyes.
May near and far attend you.
May you bathe your face in the sun’s rays.
May you have milk, cream, substance.
May your actions be effective.
May your thoughts be affective.
May you will both the wild and the mild.
May you sing the lark from the sky.
May you place yourself in circumstance.
May you be surrounded by goldfinches.
May you pause among alders.
May your desire be infinite.
May what you touch be touched.
May the company be less for your leaving.
May you walk alone beneath the stars.
May your embers still glow in the morning.

oxford-reader said...

Perhaps it's not Lazywell - I just found this picture, and it seemed to fit (I hope the link works)
http://www.marsdenarchive.com/library/preview.php?id=00000448&THESESSION=2b46fcc86e1211d01e949481b6
bfd669

The problem is that the adaptation has yet to turn up on IMDB, which would usually be able to tell me where things are filmed!

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you for the blessing, Elspeth -- it's the perfect beginning to a new year, and as you say, the final two lines are breathtaking.
Meanwhile, I will leave Oxford reader and Lazywell to solve yet another twist of The Turn of the Screw.

enid said...

I have made my dentist appointment and have put Turn of the Screw and Portrait of a Lady on my book pile. I have both books and will definitely read them as my resolution this year is to read a classic every month. I now see that I read Turn of the Screw at university but I think I was lectured to by the most boring person on the universe and so I didn't enjoy James. Thanks to you this will now be altered.

Caroline said...

Happy 2010 Justine. Thank you for all your thought provoking posts - we are so lucky to have you! I especially valued the introduction to John O'Donohue who I hadn't come across before. I know his Blessings will be of great help to a friend whose husband is terminally ill and to all, like me who sometimes need a jolt to see beyond the bothersome everyday things. With very best wishes.

Lazywell said...

Mystery solved, oxford-reader.

It's Brympton d'Evercy or Brympton House near Yeovil in Somerset. http://www.brymptonhouse.co.uk

JaneGS said...

Nice comparison of Bly with Manderley. I read Turn of the Screw in the fall and found myself thinking about it obsessively for a few weeks. Now with your post, I'm wondering whether the governess was crazy before she went to the house or whether it's gloom unhinged her.

Justine Picardie said...

I've been equally obsessed by Manderley and Bly -- and the nameless narrators of Rebecca and Turn of the Screw. You can read each book with a myriad different interpretations -- did the house drive its inhabitants crazy, or were they already unbalanced, and are the ghosts emanating from an external or internal landscape?

kairu said...

Thank you, Justine, I have made my dentist appointment for tomorrow morning (at the unbearable hour of 7:00am, the only way I can go and still get to work at a reasonable time). I will also find some James to read, though not Turn of the Screw before bedtime; too haunting.

enid said...

I finished Turn of the Screw and it's haunting me. I have started Portrait of a woman and am loving it. I love the opening lines about tea time. Thanks for recommending James.

Justine Picardie said...

Enid, v. glad to hear that you are enjoying James; Kairu, how was the dentist?
Back in London, still freezing, but less snow.

oxford-reader said...

Nothing to do with dentists, Henry James or houses, but I've finally finished Zuleika Dobson, so look out for my review, and possible actresses to play her soon. If I'm snowed in tomorrow, I'll write it then. Oxford is beautiful in the snow!

kairu said...

Justine, the dentist was very kind and gentle (she has the most comfortable chairs imaginable, one could almost fall asleep if one's mouth were not full of frightening instruments and evil-tasting goop). I have to get my wisdom teeth removed (not that they ever gave me any wisdom), which requires visiting another doctor, but ah, well.

Have you read Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking? It might be too raw for you, still, but it is beautiful and haunting. She goes over and over in her mind, if they had moved to Hawaii her husband (the writer John Gregory Dunne, who passed away with shattering suddenness in 2003) might not have died, if they had not moved to New York from California he might still be alive. It is all too human to try to unravel your past to a fixed turning point (if I had left work ten minutes earlier, I would have parked somewhere else and not scratched the car next to me, if I had gotten up five minutes before I would not have gotten a speeding ticket). We all do it. Our lives are made up of these linked turning points, twisted together like the daisy chains you made while sitting on a lawn as a child.

Curling up in bed with What Maisie Knew, since I cannot find A Portrait of a Lady.

terry cusack said...

Ashley said
I di watch Turn of the Screw and it was not filmed at my late fathers home Culverthorpe Hall as indeed Middlemarch was filmed. I looked up the locations on the film and it was on locations in Oxford and Hertfordshire. I have been in touch with Sir Simon Marsdon and Culverthorpe is in his book "Haunted Mansions and houses" he lists only 3 in Lincolnshire and most in Ireland. My father is buired in the Vaults there and if you read up on Culverthorpe Hall you will find the tragic tale of a baboon who threw the baby heir to the estate over the parapitt...apparently he is buired in a casket in one of the lakes? Yes I do think the place is haunted.

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