An Operatic Contribution to a Literary Conversation: Locating Henry James' Ambiguity in Benjamin Britten and Myfanwy Piper's "The Turn of the Screw"
Athanasiou, Evangeline Katerina
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In 1954, Benjamin Britten and Myfanwy Piper’s chamber opera, "The Turn of the Screw," premiered at the Venice Biennale. They adapted their story from the late eighteenth-century Henry James novella of the same title. Soon after its publication in 1898, James’ "The Turn of the Screw" sparked a literary debate focusing on the credibility of the main narrator, a young governess who claims to see ghosts while in charge of two children isolated in a country house. During the 1950s, when Britten’s musical career was steadily advancing, the literary debate moved in the direction of reconciling the argument over the governess’ credibility. This study primarily expands upon musicological scholarship from Philip Rupprecht as well as literary scholarship by Shlomith Rimmon, along with various other studies concerning music, literature, and adaptation. Through a textual and musical analysis of James’ ambiguity as realized in Britten and Piper’s "The Turn of the Screw," this study demonstrates that the opera should be considered among the contributions to the mid-century critical trend toward the synthesis of the two dominating interpretations of the novel from the twentieth century.