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The Hidden Life: Benjamin Britten's Homoerotic Reading of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw

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Benjamin Britten claims that his adaptation of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw is merely the "recreation" and faithful translation of James's novella into an opera. Close examination of Britten's opera, though, reveals that besides layering the narrative with emotionally-laden musical motifs and staging the ghosts, Britten's "adaptation" is a strikingly "new" text wherein the villain is not the ghost Peter Quint but rather the oppressive Governess, who in the opera represents the repressive and homophobic Victorian and 1950s culture of the United Kingdom. The opera focuses upon the relationship of the children and the ghosts, thereby offering a variation upon The Turn of the Screw that builds upon the homo-erotic connotations implicit in the relationship of Miles and the ghost of Peter Quint as rendered by James. Britten's adaptation foregrounds the issue of homosexuality latent in James's text and posits a new perspective of the "duel" over Miles: namely, the cultural conflict between hetero-sexuality and homosexuality as represented by the figures of Peter Quint and the Governess, articulating the "horror" as the marginalized and criminal status of homosexuality.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2002

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