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I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth. (WH 337)1

The final sentence of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights epitomizes a phenomenon that constitutes both a structural key element and a thematic focus of the novel: ambiguity. Despite the efforts of the narrator Lockwood to dismiss any doubts about the possibility that Catherine2 and Heathcliff may “[slumber] unquiet[ly]” and thus roam the earth after their deaths, the closing lines of the novel foreground the fact that this pending issue is not resolved at all. While several critics have commented on this striking effect – such as McCarthy, who notes that “Brontë ends her ambiguous novel on a splendid note of ambiguity” (61) – the question how this is brought about begs quite a complex answer.3

The intricately constructed final sentence of Wuthering Heights contains several interdependent ambiguities that address the nature of the narrated world in the novel. The term “sleepers” that Lockwood employs is conventionalized to such an extent as a metaphorical expression for the dead that this meaning is one of the first to be mentioned in the OED (“sleeper, n.” I. 2.a.). Yet, Lockwood’s words reveal its literal meaning and thus foreground its inherent potential for ambiguity, not the least through its interaction with “slumbers.” Although part of the same semantic field, this noun is far less lexicalized as an expression for death because of its connotation of ‘light sleep.’ This seems to indicate that the state it describes is temporary, that Catherine and Heathcliff might wake at any time, and their afterlife might thus be much closer to a literal “sleep” than Lockwood proposes, an effect which is emphasized by the adjective “unquiet.”

The literal meaning of “sleepers” and “slumbers” is furthermore supported by yet another ambiguity in the same sentence. Lockwood’s description of the wind as “breathing” at the grave can be interpreted figuratively as a pathetic fallacy,4 which poetically describes the sound of the wind; but the ability to breathe also constitutes the decisive difference between the dead and those who merely sleep. A literal reading of “breathing” in this instance suggests that the wind may be breathing with the “sleepers.” The converging ambiguities of “sleepers”, “slumbers” and “breathing” are ontological, since they address the very nature of the narrated world of the novel. Yet, processes of sensory perception depicted within this world as well as the narration of Lockwood contribute significantly to these ambiguities. Lockwood’s claim that Catherine and Heathcliff do not merely slumber is based on his perception of the scenery as idyllic:

I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth. (WH 337; my emphases)

The chiastic construction of the “quiet” appearance of the grave as contrasted with the “unquiet slumbers” renders Lockwood’s sensory perceptions into an integral part of his strategy of dismissing the very possibility that Heathcliff and Catherine may roam the earth after their deaths. The serenity of the graves is indeed the only evidence about the nature of the “sleepers’” afterlife that is available to him in this instance; yet, it is not conclusive since the graves’ surface does not necessarily reflect the state of their inhabitants and appearance more generally is not necessarily a reflection of reality. Indeed, the visual and tactile evidence Lockwood presents is interspersed with his interpretation of it as revealed in his description of the wind as “soft” and the sky as “benign.” Lockwood’s own choice of words when he describes the wind as “breathing through the grass” may point in a different direction, as do the moths and the harebells he mentions, which are associated with the dead that do not rest in their graves in British legends (Briggs, The Fairies 63).5 In thus showing how the senses are crucial sources to attain knowledge about reality but are at the same time not sufficient, Brontë’s novel mimetically represents the problem of perception in the novel and exploits its inherent potential for ambiguity.

Lockwood’s words in Wuthering Heights not only draw attention to the fact that all perception in the novel is narrated but also foregrounds other ways in which the process of narration becomes productive for ambiguity:

I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth. (WH 337; my emphases)

Lockwood employs an indirect rhetorical question to dismiss the possibility of “unquiet slumbers” as ridiculous; yet, it indeed evokes the position of “any one” who can “imagine” just that. Rhetorical questions can serve as a means to underline a point by excluding another possibility as merely theoretical; the case is different for Lockwood’s indirect rhetorical question because there are indeed several characters in the novel who can and do “imagine unquiet slumbers.” Earlier in the very same chapter, Heathcliff is shown to be convinced that he perceives Catherine, who died nearly two decades earlier (WH 331–32); moreover, Joseph and a little boy both claim to have seen her and Heathcliff, who has died in the meantime (WH 336); the “country folks” would, according to Nelly “swear on their Bible that [Heathcliff] walks” (WH 336); and she herself displays a fundamental uncertainty concerning this issue (WH 336–37).6 Accordingly, Lockwood’s rhetorical question does not function as a mere affirmation of a universally accepted truth in the narrated world but rather as a reminder that this issue is a contested one, which may be tied to the ambiguity of “could” (WH 337): it seems to be employed as a subjunctive by Lockwood but in the context of the novel can likewise be read as a simple past form of “can.”

Furthermore, the ambiguity of the verb “wonder” (WH 337) may reveal Lockwood’s own latent uncertainty. According to the OED, it can both mean “to be struck with surprise or astonishment, to marvel” about an object of wonder expressed in a clause (1.b.) or “to feel some doubt or curiosity” towards it (3.). The difference between these meanings may seem subtle, but its impact is crucial as concerns the speaker’s attitude regarding what is expressed in the clause, as a comparison to a syntactically and semantically very similar sentence from Bill Appleton’s novel Wide Boy may show:

In both novels, a narrator is observing a place, and the embedded rhetorical questions are nearly identical; yet, the respective choice of predicates, though they appear to be synonymous, leads to a decisive difference in meaning. The expression “was amazed,” used by Appleton’s narrator (WB 137), has only one non-obsolete meaning according to the OED, namely being “lost in wonder or astonishment” (“amazed, adj.” 4.). His embedding frame thus adds to the rhetorical question’s function of emphasizing the narrator’s belief in the absurdity of what is expressed in the question itself. The same mechanism can be applied to the last sentence of Wuthering Heights if ‘wonder’ (WH 337) is taken to express Lockwood’s surprise (OED “wonder, v.” 1.b.). Yet, “wonder” may also indicate Lockwood’s implicit doubts; in this case, his framing of the rhetorical question may express that he himself is undecided about the question of unquiet slumbers.

Instead of providing closure, the ambiguities of these final lines of Wuthering Heights draw attention to the equilibrium concerning the nature of the narrated world that is skilfully created in the novel. The interdependent ambiguities of “sleepers” (WH 337), of “slumbers” (WH 337) and of “breathing” (WH 337) are intricately connected to contrasting assumptions about the world. If a literal reading of the “sleepers” in the final sentence is adopted, Catherine and Heathcliff are assumed to merely slumber and regularly roam the heath where they encounter the living. This reading entails that the boundary between the realms of life and death in the world of Wuthering Heights must allow for permeability. If the “breathing” of the wind in the same sentence is not merely regarded as a pathetic fallacy but read literally as a result of the connection between the sleepers and the wind, then the boundary between human beings and the natural environment must be assumed to likewise be permeable in this world.

The significance of the dense final sentence of Wuthering Heights, which foregrounds these fundamental ambiguities, is emphasized by its rhythmic form that can be likened to that of a poem.7 It iconically represents the quietness and serenity of the scenery, which is only broken by the “fluttering” of the moths. A connection of experience in the novel and experience of the novel is thus established that may result in an impression of an immediate access to the scenery itself as Lockwood experiences it, in spite of the sensory perception and the narrative act that are superimposed on it in the fictional construct of the novel. The co-presence of these aspects is nevertheless equally foregrounded in the rhythm of Lockwood’s words through the parallelization of clauses initiated by predicates, which are accordingly emphasized:

I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth. (WH 337; my emphases)

Lockwood’s “linger[ing]” about the graves, which we must believe in if we are to accept the narrative, is thus juxtaposed with his processes of perception (“watch[ing]” and “listen[ing]”) and his reflections about these sensations (“wonder[ing]”).

The separate but connected aspects of the nature of the narrated world itself, the character’s sensory perceptions, and narration as means to attain knowledge about it, are not only foregrounded in the closing lines of Wuthering Heights but throughout the novel. The whole text is – in the fictional construct of the novel – part of Lockwood’s narrative and thus filtered through his interpretation of the narrated world as he perceives it and at times also part of the narratives embedded in his. The numerous and bewildering ambiguities of Wuthering Heights can be analysed as the interplay and interdependence of ambiguities regarding each of the three aspects. Thus, ambiguous perception is dependent on and influences both the world it concerns and the narration through which we learn about it. Ambiguous narration is dependent on and influences the perceptions on which it is based and the nature of the world it tells about and the ambiguous nature of the world about which we are told is dependent on and influences the way it is perceived and narrated. Each of these aspects is a source of ambiguity in Wuthering Heights, and each serves as a heuristic tool to show how the novel foregrounds sensory perception, narration and the narrated world itself. At the same time, each of them is intricately linked to the other, which means that their separation is not an ontological one. Rather, it unveils how the novel makes use of the inherent potential for ambiguity of each of these aspects and in the process sheds light on each of them.

In chapter 1, ambiguities of perception in Wuthering Heights are discussed that emerge as a result of the tension between sensory perception and reality as well as appearance and reality. Contrasting interpretative possibilities are juxtaposed in each of these passages. In some of them, sensory perceptions are either based on physical reality or originate in the characters’ minds; in others, several ways in which the characters sensory perceptions can be interpreted coexist, as in Lockwood’s remarks on the “quiet earth” (WH 337). In many of the novel’s ambiguities of perception, contexts are evoked that can be tied to contemporary discourses about how the senses can be tricked and about “rational” explanations for ghostly apparitions that correspond to interpretative possibilities for the ambiguities. They range from nightmares, to vivid memories, and physical and mental illnesses, to misinterpretation of auditory and tactile perceptions.

Chapter 2 debates how narrative transmission becomes a source of ambiguity in Wuthering Heights. Frequently, contrasting readings for the novel’s ambiguities are presented within the text and tied to different narrative voices, as in the closing lines in which Lockwood’s dismissal of “unquiet slumbers” (WH 337) is juxtaposed with the position of those who have affirmed their belief in just this. The embedded syntactic structure of the final sentence integrates those voices in Lockwood’s narrative and thus inverts this technique found throughout large parts of the novel, where Lockwood’s voice becomes part of the narrative embedded in his. The novel’s multiperspectivity contributes significantly to its ambiguities; instead of a hierarchy of narrative voices which might result from the novel’s nested structure of embedded narratives, all of the narrators are shown to frequently err in their interpretations and an equilibrium is thus established between several distinct interpretative possibilities that are proposed by them. Ambiguity emerges in the narratives as a process, in which more and more local ambiguities of words, phrases, sentences and text passages are connected to global ambiguities, which persist throughout the text.8 Furthermore, embedding ambiguities present different possible speakers for the same utterance to the reader.

In addition to these epistemic problems, the nature of the narrated world itself is both constituted through the ambiguities of Wuthering Heights and becomes functional for them. Throughout the novel, ontological ambiguities not only address the possibility of a permeability between the realm of the living and that of the dead, and between human beings and nature, but also a union between Catherine and Heathcliff that transcends the boundaries of their selves as epitomized in Catherine’s famous claim “I am Heathcliff” (WH 82; cf. chapter 3.1). Moreover, passages like the merging of Catherine’s old room at the Heights with her new room at the Grange challenge the laws of space and time, and various ambiguities pose the question if Heathcliff can be regarded as a human being. The sheer number of intricately connected ambiguities suggest that the world of Wuthering Heights challenges boundaries and established categories; accordingly, its very nature could be regarded as ambiguous.

The interconnected ambiguities discussed here are ambiguous in the sense that they ask the reader to think in alternatives as two or more distinct meanings emerge in the given context for the same words, sentences, text passages, or texts. Accordingly, ambiguity is regarded as a feature of language which differs from related concepts like vagueness, indeterminacy and openness because it requires a distinctness of coexisting meanings.9 Unlike the type of ambiguity that Christoph Bode has postulated as a defining feature of every literary text (“Aesthetics” 75),10 ambiguity in this more narrow sense is a specific phenomenon that can occur in works of literature and in language in general.11 In the closing lines of Wuthering Heights, words like “slumber,” “sleeper,” “breathing,” and “wonder” (WH 337) are ambiguous because they can be interpreted in several distinct ways in the given context. Such local ambiguities of words, phrases, sentences, and text passages are frequently tied to global ambiguities, which emerge as a result of distinct, interdependent local ambiguities in the novel. The ambiguity of “sleepers” and “slumbers” at the end of Wuthering Heights (WH 337), for instance, evokes earlier local ambiguities in the novel such as those in Heathcliff’s dream of “sleeping the last sleep, by that sleeper [i.e. Catherine], with [his] heart stopped, and [his] cheek frozen against hers” (WH 289; compare chapter 3.2) and the ambiguous depiction of Lockwood’s encounter with Catherine as a nightmare or as an apparition in the third chapter of Wuthering Heights (compare chapter 1.1). Each of these instances is locally ambiguous, but each of them also addresses the underlying question of the nature of Catherine’s (and later Heathcliff’s) afterlife in the novel.

Global ambiguity emerges through the interaction of local ambiguities centred around the question if the narrated world allows for an afterlife that is closer to actual “sleep” than commonly assumed and for an interaction between the living and the dead. This global ambiguity also in turn influences local ambiguities: when the question of “unquiet slumbers” (WH 337) is raised, all previous local ambiguities become a context for reading this sentence and an interpretation of these earlier ambiguities can, vice versa, be influenced retrospectively through the ambiguity of “sleepers” and “slumbers” (WH 337). To do justice to this phenomenon as it unfolds in the reading process, chapter 1 resorts to an approach of analysing ambiguities of perception chronologically on the level of discourse. Accordingly, these ambiguities are traced as they emerge in the text and, in their interaction with one another and with other text passages, contribute to the global ambiguity regarding the nature of the narrated world that culminates in the closing lines of the novel.

Wuthering Heights has sparked a lively scholarly debate since its publication in 1847, in which a co-presence of meanings and the novel’s curious resistance to analysis is frequently addressed, but none of the critical texts has offered an in-depth analysis of its ambiguities. Queenie Leavis has claimed in an influential early reading of Wuthering Heights that “some things in [Brontë’s novel] are incompatible with the rest, so much so that one seems at times to find oneself in really different novels” (25). More recently, Simon Marsden has argued that Emily Brontë “never sought to find truth in a middle ground between polarities” in Wuthering Heights (242).12 Joseph Caroll notes that the novel “powerfully evokes unresolved discords” (254) and goes on to remark that Wuthering Heights “has proved exceptionally elusive to interpretation” (241), another aspect which has been raised time and again since 1847. A review of Wuthering Heights, which appeared in January 1848 in Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Newspaper, calls it “a strange sort of book – baffling all regular criticism” (qtd. in Newman, Wuthering Heights 347) a view that is shared by Dorothy van Ghent, who claims that it is “of all English novels, the most treacherous for the analytical understanding to approach” (The English Novel 153). In her review of the critical reception of the novel, Heather Glen concludes that “Wuthering Heights has become a veritable battleground for competing interpretations” (“Critical Commentary” 352–53).

Those who have employed the term ambiguity in their readings of the novel do not elaborate on what they mean by it and how this effect is attained, such as McCarthy (61); or they use it as synonyms of related terms like uncertainty, indeterminacy, plurality, or openness, which frequently results in an indistinct mixture of several separate phenomena that are treated together. Kermode, for example, mentions most of these terms interchangeably in his discussion of the novel, and as a result does not differentiate between very different phenomena. Other critics have addressed the ambiguity of the novel without ever referring to the term “ambiguity”, or without providing a thorough analysis of the phenomenon, such as Jordan, who notes that “Emily Brontë […] does not explain mysteries away-in the fashion of Ann Radcliffe or Jane Austen” (2). Bowen similarly claims that “[t]he novel brings […] two fields of understanding together, and neither is allowed to trump the other” (209).13 Janet Gezari has likewise argued that “Brontë’s novel has demonstrated its capacity to generate an unusual ‘plurality’ of readings, different for different times and readers, and yet not cancelling each other out” (“Introduction” 5). The most perceptive approach to the novel’s global ambiguity so far has been proposed by J. Hillis Miller, who notes in Fiction and Repetition that Wuthering Heights is not merely open to interpretation as many, if not all novels are, but observes “striking” inconsistencies (50) between different readings of Wuthering Heights in the scholarly debate of the novel. For him,

[t]he error [in all these approaches] lies in the assumption that the meaning is going to be single, unified, and logically coherent. My argument is that the best readings will be the ones which best account for the heterogeneity of the text, its presentation of a definite group of possible meanings which are systematically interconnected, determined by the text, but logically incompatible (51).

Hillis Miller never uses the term ambiguity in his chapter on Wuthering Heights, but the phenomenon he describes comes very close to the concept of ambiguity used here in that it addresses the co-presence of distinct, contrasting meanings.

Ambiguity in this narrow sense can be found in many literary texts but Wuthering Heights is special in how pervasive and interdependent its ambiguities are, as a comparison with Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw shows. James’s story is frequently quoted as a prime example of literary ambiguity14 and is one of the texts on which Shlomith Rimmon bases her influential concept of narrative ambiguity. Like Brontë’s novel, The Turn of Screw contains ambiguous passages in which the dead may appear to the living but for which an alternative interpretative possibility is likewise established in the text, as in the following instance:

Miss Jessel stood before us, on the opposite bank exactly as she had stood the other time, and I remember, strangely, as the first feeling now produced in me, my thrill of joy at having brought on a proof. She was there, so I was justified; she was there, so I was neither cruel nor mad. She was there for poor scared Mrs Grose, but she was there most for Flora. (212)

The governess, whose embedded narrative constitutes the main part of The Turn of the Screw, either indeed sees her dead predecessor Miss Jessel, or she merely imagines doing so. The narrator shows herself firmly convinced that Miss Jessel “was there,” and she concludes from this that she herself “was neither cruel nor mad” (212). Yet, in dismissing this alternative reading of herself as distracted, she evokes this exact interpretative possibility, much like Lockwood raises the possibility of “unquiet slumbers” (WH 337) in the closing lines of Wuthering Heights. In the governess’ ensuing conversation with the housekeeper, it turns out that at least her assumption that Miss Jessel “was there” (212) for Mrs Grose was false, which undermines the premise of her argument that she cannot merely have imagined the apparition.

While there are thus similarities in the type of ambiguities that occur in Wuthering Heights and The Turn of the Screw, the passage analysed here is only one of a handful of local ambiguities in James’s story, all of which can be subsumed under what Rimmon has called the “central enigma” (122) or the “central permanent gap” (126) of James’s story, namely the question “whether the ghosts are objective supernatural evil beings which appear to the governess and children alike or whether they are hallucinations of the governess’s deranged mind” (131). According to Rimmon, The Turn of the Screw is organized into two “mutually exclusive systems of clues designed to fill [this gap]” (126), a structure which for her is constitutive for ambiguous works in general (13). The narrative ambiguity of James’s short story thus hinges on one interpretative key:

[I]n The Turn of the Screw […] the reliability of the first-person narrator becomes a central issue. Take the governess as a reliable interpreter of events, and you have one story. Take her as an unreliable neurotic fabricator of non-existent ‘ghosts of the mind’ and you are reading a diametrically opposed narrative. (119)

The ambiguities of Wuthering Heights are much more complex than those in James’s story in that they cannot be subsumed as parts of two “mutually exclusive systems” (Rimmon 126). Instead, global ambiguities that emerge as a result of interdependent local ambiguities in Wuthering Heights go far beyond the question whether or not ghosts exist or if one character has been deluded into believing in them; they address a number of fundamental assumptions about how the world is known and perceived, about the nature of the narrated world as such, as well as about the means to communicate about it. As a result, problems of ambiguity are much more pervasive in Wuthering Heights than in The Turn of the Screw: they leave us wondering not only about knowledge, narration and the world we live in but also about the way these features of the novel are related. In that way, they even transcend epistemic scepticism and narrative fallibility, as they make it possible to assume that the world is different from our general assumptions about it. Unlike in the case of The Turn of the Screw, genre assignation does not help us arrive at a sufficient explanation in Wuthering Heights (compare chapter 4.1).15 Brontë’s novel could be regarded as much more radical, and in this sense more modern than James’s story (although written and published more than sixty years earlier) in that it challenges fundamental assumptions about the nature of its own world and that of the reader, turning it into a reflection on epistemology, narratology, and ontology. The pervasiveness of ambiguities in Wuthering Heights as a structural key element and a thematic focus is singular and may contribute to the impression of uniqueness of Brontë’s novel that has been noted time and again since its publication in 1847. The critic in the Eclectic Magazine in 1878, who has called it “one of the most extraordinary and powerful productions in the whole range of English literature” (“The Brontës” 297), turns out to be only a case in point.


All quotations from Wuthering Heights in this study are taken from the Penguin Classics edition (2003; ed. Pauline Nestor).


To avoid any confusion between the characters, I will follow many other critics in calling the mother “Catherine” and the daughter “Cathy” throughout my study.


Several critics have pointed out the ambiguity of the final sentence, but do not provide an analysis of how and why it is ambiguous, such as Stoneman, Hillis Miller, Kullmann (Vermenschlichte Natur) and Williams.


The term “pathetic fallacy” goes back to an 1856 essay by John Ruskin, in which he criticises a tendency in Romantic poetry for attributing “human emotions, sentience, or conduct […] to objects, animals, or natural phenomena” (Burwick 217).


Compare Grudin, who has likewise noted that the moths and harebells in the closing lines of Wuthering Heights “suggest another connection with the very beliefs Lockwood is attempting to discredit” (404).


See chapter 2.1 for an in-depth analysis of this passage with a focus on the narratological concept of multiperspectivity.


Compare Jeremy Cott’s article “Structures of Sound” for a detailed analysis of the phonetic structure of the closing lines of Wuthering Heights.


The term “local ambiguity” refers to ambiguities that concern smaller units of the text, such as words, phrases or text passages in this study and not (as it has also been employed) to ambiguities that are eventually resolved. For the latter phenomenon, the phrase “temporary ambiguity” is used.


Compare Esme Winter-Froemel and Angelika Zirker’s definition that ambiguous utterances “can be assigned two (or more) distinct interpretations”(290). See Pinkal for a discussion of the difference between ambiguity, vagueness and underspecification. Chapter 4.2 contains a detailed overview of theoretical approaches to ambiguity.


For a critique of the use of the term ambiguity in the broad sense of the term that Bode proposes compare, for instance, Bauer et al. (65) as well as Berndt and Kammer, who argue: “Es ist deshalb […] gerade für ein auf die Spezifika literarischer Ambiguitätsreflexion zielendes Interesse keineswegs notwendig, ja nicht einmal sinnvoll, den eng und präzise gefassten Begriff der strukturalen Ambiguität und die von ihr erzeugten diagnostisch produktiven Krisen einer unscharfen Mehr- und Vieldeutigkeit des offenen Kunstwerks zu opfern” (24).


My definition of the term ambiguity is thus also much narrower than the one Empson has proposed in Seven Types of Ambiguity: “any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language” (1).


Marsden is concerned with intertextual relationship between Wuthering Heights and the Bible and Brontë’s interaction with concepts of Christianity in the nineteenth century. One example he gives for the co-presence of “polarities” in Wuthering Heights is Heathcliff, whom he regards as representing “Christ or Satan […] predicated upon the notion that these are not mutually exclusive categories” (246). Compare also 144n9.


Bowen never clearly specifies what he means by the “two fields of understanding” in Wuthering Heights but notes that “the novel is fascinated by what lies at the limits of the human. It is haunted by the forces of death and the diabolical; the compulsive demands of the infantile, sovereign, and sublime; and the derangements wrought on human action and purpose by radical excess and evil. The book is full of animals, spirits, and ghosts, and those, like Heathcliff, about whom we can never be sure. If we ask a simple question of the book- why, for example, is Heathcliff so appallingly vengeful to those such as Hareton Earnshaw who have done him no harm - we can find explanations in the unlucky chances of life. He is an orphan, brutalized by Hindley, relegated to the status of a servant, and estranged from his beloved Catherine. But the novel matches such social, historical, and psychological explanations by suggesting that he may be diabolical, a vampire, or a ghoul” (209).


Rimmon has claimed that James’s short story “has been so firmly linked with ambiguity that even people who have not read it know that it is somehow supposed to be ambiguous” (116). For discussions of the ambiguity of The Turn of the Screw, compare for instance Brandt, Dry and Kucinkas, Jeanne Allen, and Deledalle-Rhodes.


Rimmon notes about The Turn of the Screw that “[t]he endless debates as to whether the ghosts are objective supernatural evil beings which appear to the governess and children alike or whether they are hallucinations of the governess’s deranged mind can now be said to hinge on whether we classify the story as merveilleux or étrange. Or, in fact, the other way round: the genre to which the story belongs is determined by the degree and kind of substantiality attached to the ghosts” (119).