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Comparing Equality In Henry James' The Turn Of The Screw And Edith Wharton's The Lady's Maid's Bell

1831 words - 8 pages

The Theme of Equality in Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Edith Wharton's The Lady's Maid's Bell


Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and Edith Wharton's "The Lady's Maid's Bell" share a common theme: all people are equal. Both authors generate this theme by bridging class barriers with a generous master and mistress who have revolutionary ideas. Although circumstances differ in both stories, the common theme remains easily discernable with the words and actions of both Mrs. Brympton in "The Lady's Maid's Bell" and the young master, Miles in The Turn of the Screw. Through their friendship, trust, and eventual love for their servants, both the master and mistress prove their modern ...view middle of the document...

Besides a friendship, the mistress and new maid develop a relationship of nurturing, love, and loyal devotion. Although Miss Hartley obviously cares for for her mistress, Mrs. Brympton unexpectedly begins to take care of Hartley. Concerned with Hartley's health and knowing about her illness, Mrs. Brympton insists "that [Hartley] should take [her] walk regularly, and often invent[s] errands for [her]: a yard of ribbon to be fetched from the village, a letter posted, or a book returned to Mr. Ranford" (Wharton 20). Further illustrating Mrs. Brympton's caring nature, Hartley once discovers her "mistress lying very weak and still, but she forced a smile when she saw [her]" (Wharton 25). Additionally, Mrs. Brympton also notices that Hartley looks "pale," and Hartley when says she "[has] a headache," the mistress thoughtfully says "she would not require [her] again that evening, and advise[s] [her] to go to bed" (Wharton 32). As a result of the care she receives from her mistress, Hartley begins to fill the loyal position of Emma, the former maid, to Mrs. Brympton, and a bond of love grows between them exemplifying the equality of Mrs. Brympton's servants. Their loyalty and devotion toward one another increase with Hartley's loss of subservience and lower-class status in the eyes of Mrs. Brympton.

As a result of Mrs. Brympton's compassionate nurturing, her handmaid becomes a loyal servant and friend, and Mrs. Brympton grows "more and more dependent on [Hartley]" (Wharton 29). She clearly needs her handmaid despite the occasional presence of her husband and her lover, Mr. Ranford, in her husband's absence. Mrs. Brympton has "grown attached to [Hartley], and seem[s] to like to have [her] about" (Wharton 29). No longer does Mrs. Brympton simply like her, or take care of her, but she truly needs and loves her servant. Hartley has become a sort of confidante for her mistress- a loyal servant outside of Mrs. Brympton's personal conflicts and struggles (including her mismatched husband and secret lover) in whom she can depend and confide. For example, Mrs. Brympton wordlessly admits her extramarital affair with Mr. Ranford by giving Hartley the task of going to the druggist and taking a note to Mr. Ranford specifically "before Mr. Brympton is up" (25). Faithfully upholding Mrs. Brympton's trust, Hartley completely denies Mr. Brympton's accusations that he saw her come home "through the shrubbery"; she responds, "No, sir, you didn't" (26). Mrs. Brympton's past and present relationships with her servants provide evidence that she sees more than a servant in her handmaid; she regards them with equality and love, and she treats them likewise. Not only this, but Hartley becomes a confidante, an outside loyalty, necessary, even irreplaceable, to Mrs. Brympton in the complicated and multifaceted life she leads.

Similar to Mrs. Brympton, the young master Miles, in The Turn of the Screw, demonstrates equivalent feelings of the equality between higher social...

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