The holiest and sweetest fountain of human innocence

The unnamed author of this third reaction to “Turn of the Screw,” which appeared in the January 5, 1899, issue of a publication called The Independent, lays it all out on the table in that first sentence. Note the strong emphasis on the  children’s innocence and vulnerability in this review.

“‘The Turn of the Screw’ is the most hopelessly evil story that we have ever read in any literature, ancient or modern. How Mr. James could, or how any man or woman could, choose to make such a study of internal human debauchery, for it is nothing else, is unaccountable. It is the story of two orphan children, mere infants, whose guardian leaves them in a lonely English country house. The little boy and little girl, at the toddling period of life, when they are but helpless babes, fall under the influence of a governess and her lover who poison the very core of their conscience and character and defile their souls in a way and by means darkly and subtly hinted rather than portrayed by Mr. James. The study, while it exhibits Mr. James’s genius in a powerful light, affects the reader with a disgust that is not to be expressed. The feeling after perusal of the horrible story is that one has been assisting in an outrage upon the holiest and sweetest fountain of human innocence, and helping to debauch at least by helplessly standing by the pure and trusting nature of children. Human imagination can go no further into infamy, literary art could not be used with more refined subtlety of spiritual defilement.”


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