cold artistic calculation, an amusette to catch those not easily caught (the
"fun" of the capture of the merely witless being ever but small), the jaded, the
disillusioned, the fastidious. (qtd. in Felman 101)
Both Nabokov's "problem" and James' "amusette" are mechanisms designed to
engage the savvy participant, "those not easily caught," and both involve return to a
point of origin as part of the process of solving. There is furthermore a shared sense
of diabolical control: Nabokov makes the reader feel the "misery of the deceit,"
while James perpetrates an act of "cold artistic calculation."
In "Turning the Screw of Interpretation," Shoshana Felman employs James'
cryptic statement as a jumping-off point from which to discuss Edmund Wilson's
1934 essay "The Ambiguity of Henry James," an overtly psychoanalytic reading of
The Turn of the Screw that spawned violently partisan critical debate." Wilson
argued that the true content of the story is madness rather than the supernatural or
metaphysical, claiming that the ghosts are in fact hysterical projections of the
Governess's repressed sexual desire for the Master (Felman 103). Under Wilson's
critical model, Felman says, the reader "is called upon to answer" the narrative,
thematic, and rhetorical "questions"(104) posed by the ambiguity of James' text:
"The foremost critic of his time" (Boyd,
Edmund Wilson helped Nabokov to become
established in the American literary world (19). Their two decade, often contentious friendship ended
in 1964 when Wilson wrote a scathing attack on Nabokov's edition of Eugene
back, and a spectacular literary battle ensued (496-99). The Nabokov-Wilson Letters testifies to their many disagreements, including Russian prosody, Marxism, James, and Freud. A pattern gets played out in several letters: Nabokov mocks James's work, Wilson responds by timidly defending James and recommending more titles, and Nabokov mocks James again. Some of Nabokov's criticisms of James are as follows: "He writes with a very sharp nib and the ink is very pale," he writes unflatteringly in 1941; in 1952, Nabokov dismisses James's short fiction as "miserable stuff," James as a "complete fake," and says that Wilson "ought to debunk that pale porpoise and his plush vulgarities some day" (278); and in 1948, Nabokov mentions an article in The New Yorker containing "some awful Freudian
rot about 'father-writers"' "archetype" (200n.4).
referring to a piece by Cyril Connolly arguing that James is an