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Literature and Pathology Abstract 2009

Screwing Children: The Pathological Romance of Henry James's Female Pedophile

Reading the relationship between Henry James's governess and Miles in The Turn of the Screw as a romance reveals the length that most critics have gone to in order to dismiss the issue of female pedophilia -- not only in the novella but as part of the larger social consciousness.  Examining the "monstrosity" of the governess as latent pedophilia suggests that the cultural imagining of femininity as a genre is at stake.  A pathological reading of the text considers recent anatomical pathologizing and psychological studies of female pedophilia in conjunction with affect theory challenges previous analyses that attempt to argue the governess, and her "unnatural" desires, away.  By muting the history of both child sexuality and unacceptable forms of female desire, like pedophilia, critics have displaced the governess from the text as "other."  However, these readings are rivaled by James's narrative style in which the silences, pauses, and emotional register of the governess story make her "unmentionable" feelings more articulated.  In what is perhaps the first literary romance of the female pedophile, The Turn of the Screw offers a unique intersection between the social sciences and literature.