Ever since its very beginning, psychoanalysis has allowed itself to be inspired by knowledge supposedly present in (pre)literary genres like myths and fairy tales. However, with time, the tables were turned and its theories were systematically and rigorously applied to every story to hand, including the fairy tale. After Freud set an example in 1913 with two of his articles, Freudians and Jungians alike became convinced they could use psychoanalytic theory to penetrate the true heart of the tale. For a long time, the elaborate interpretations made by Bruno Bettelheim and Marie-Louize Von Franz were quite influential. But although their orthodox methods have indeed made a considerable contribution to our understanding of the fairy tale, they are nonetheless flawed on various levels. Therefore, it may be time to search for new ways to approach the fairy tale from a psychoanalytic perspective, for instance, in collaboration with socio-historicism or indeed by a purposeful exploration of Lacanian theory.
The Turn of the Screw (1898) is one of the most Gothic short stories ever written by modernist author Henry James. Its effect on the reader can be quite unnerving, uncanny even. Though Sigmund Freud’s essay on The Uncanny (1919a) has often been used by scholars of Gothic literature to define and explain certain thematic aspects of these stories (the double, castration anxiety, repetition compulsion, and so on), the uncanny in The Turn of the Screw goes further than the usual suspects. Rather then confining it to the eerie appearance of ghosts or the declining mental state of the tale’s female narrator, the uncanny in James’s complex story can be traced back to something more fundamental that is both tangible and elusive at the same time: the actual text supporting the story – or failing to do so. Reconsidering Freud’s notion of the uncanny from a basic Lacanian perspective will help to explore a dark, distressing dimension of textual language that can otherwise be easily overlooked.