Instructors’ Teaching Experience

I’ve taught The Turn of the Screw several times now and I’ve found it to be a real showpiece text: it is a somewhat challenging text for students to read, but it allows you to do all kinds of fun, complex things and, by the end, students find themselves really, really into it. It really does all the things you want a Gen. Ed. Lit. text to do, and, on top of all of it, it is delightfully short. It’s that rare Victorian novel that you can teach in under two weeks. [Lindsey Row-Heyveld,]

Classroom Strategies

When I teach this on a Tuesday/Thursday schedule, I spend three class periods on the novel and a fourth class on a trial for the Governess.  The first day we spend some time on context familiarizing them with some cultural/historical elements that they might be unfamiliar with (like the complicated role of the Governess in Victorian society, the Gothic genre, etc.) and then we trace out the various frame narratives and discuss their purpose.  The first reading also includes the introduction the ghosts, so we also discuss those sections of the text in some detail.  The second day, I begin by dividing the class into small groups and assigning them each a question. These questions do not have clear answers provided by the text, but I ask the students to use the text to come up with a (tentative) answer and then we discuss how the possible answers to those questions influence the other possible answers.  The multiplicity of meanings here leads into a discussion of the Governess’s “confrontation” with Miles, where every line of dialogue can be interpreted several different ways.  The last day is all about the ending of the novel, which really riles up your students, but that riling leads to some good group close reading. Students tend to jump on the idea that either the children are demonic and/or the Governess is abusive, and discussion tends to center on that dichotomy (so it’s good to be prepared to help them see other possibilities, as well.)  The trial that I do is a pretty formal event, but the students do a great job with it and, afterwards, they know the text backwards and forward so it’s a great lead-up to a formal paper. [Lindsey Row-Heyveld,]

Discussion Questions

  • Why did Miles get kicked out of school?
  • What was the cause of Miss Jessell’s death?
  • Was Peter Quint’s death an accident?
  • What were Quint and Jessell doing with the children?
  • Are the children really ‘lost’ the way the Governess assumes? [Questions submitted by Lindsey Row-Heyveld,]