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Katan, M. (1966). The Origin of The Turn of the Screw. Psychoanal. St. Child, 21:583-635.

(1966). Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 21:583-635


The Origin of The Turn of the Screw

M. Katan, M.D.

Several years have elapsed since I wrote my "Causerie" (1962). I had received a request to discuss The Turn of the Screw. Not only the book but also the author himself was unknown to me. I accepted the challenge and, with no further information to guide me, arrived at the conclusion that the story was a description of a crucial phase of James's oedipal development. The analysis did not offer much difficulty, and the result was an elaborate construction, containing James's traumatic infantile experiences and their influence upon his later development.

At the end of my "Causerie" I promised to examine James's autobiography in order to obtain corroborations of my interpretations.

In order to delineate the extent of this task, I shall review my construction, which covers a number of successive phases. First, there were primal scene observations by the young Henry James and another sibling. The witnessing of these scenes had aroused the children to such a degree that sexual play resulted between them. Next, their mother got the notion that something very undesirable was going on between the two, and she tried to force the truth out of the children. This action on the mother's part had a deleterious effect upon the children as well as upon her husband.

The father, as I have deducted, felt quite helpless in this unprecedented situation and was probably also frightened by his wife's domineering attitude. He therefore left the handling of the children solely to her. Thus the children, upset by the mother's relentless prodding and receiving no support from the father to counterbalance the mother's harmful attitude, were indeed very badly off. The story pictures a disturbed latency, but the origin of this disturbance lies, of course, farther back. I drew the conclusion that the little Henry, at about the age of five, felt a strong resistance to assuming the masculine role. At the onset of his adolescence he had the same problem to struggle with, and at this time it led to a severe outbreak of castration anxiety.

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