Advances in
technology and science are arguably what the nineteenth century is commonly
remember for, however whilst the theories of Charles Darwin and the exploration
of resources such as steel and petroleum resulted in a second industrial
revolution, people from all backgrounds became evermore interested in the
supernatural. Despite advances in some aspects of society, rigid views remained
regarding the unyielding gender roles women were placed in. The ideals
respectable women were expected to possess manifested a double standard that
can be seen in many laws such as the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. These
ideas allow the interesting male- female relationships in Henry James’ Turn of
the Screw and Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover to be examined in several
ways whilst also making a statement about the society and time period they were
written in.

The themes
of power, love and sin are explored in both texts, sharing both similarities
and differences. Interestingly the subject of sexuality is one that displays
both similarities and differences in The Turn of the Screw and Porphyria’s
Lover. Arguably a closer reader of The Turn of the Screw is required to discuss
the theme of sexuality whereas Porphyria’s Lover is evidently sexual. It can
easily be seen that The Turn of the Screw is governed by women who mirror the
ideals of a Victorian society, despite the text largely following the governess
The Turn of the Screw shows how a working and self-sufficient woman of the
nineteenth century was largely dominated by men and even a male child. Thus,
theme of gender is shown to play an important role in the development of the
male-female relationships in James’ text, it is possible that sexuality is
never openly discussed as James wanted the reader to form their own
interpretation of the distorted network of relationships. Many critics have
voiced a Freudian reading of the text, Edmund Wilson was one of the first
critics to produce a Freudian reading of The Turn of The Screw, he suggested
several phallic symbols that potentially uncover the governess’ confined
thoughts. For example, “Flora’s toy boat, which she makes by pushing a stick
into a small flat piece of wood” for a Victorian reader Wilsons interpretation
of this section would have been deeply troubling he suggested that here Floras
actions “sexually arouses the lonely governess” her unexpressed sexual desires
mean that her “imagination is stimulated by the stick that Flora is playing
with” Wilson believes that Floras actions “somehow causes her to imagine the
ghosts”. Although a Freudian reading can be supported by evidence and critic it
is arguably the most basic interpretation, it is important to consider what
idea James himself had upon sexuality, Ingelbien stated that “For James, the
construction of sexuality was more than a man’s carnal knowledge of a woman”.
Most importantly Ingelbien expressed that “repression, sublimation, and lack of
satisfaction are as constitutive of the Freudian definition of sexuality as are
desire and fulfilment” this largely applies to James’ Turn of the Screw as the
themes mentioned in Ingelbeins statement are incorporated into the text, the
governess has always repressed her sexual thoughts because of this she often
loses her train of thought and replaces her overwhelming feelings with gentle
phrases that give only  partial answer Bersani
calls this “the sickness of uncompleted narratives” , thus showing how a closer
reading of the text can produce a different interpretation.

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Sexuality
is presented entirely different in Porphyria’s lover, however similarly to The
Turn of the Screw is allows the reader to explore male and female relationships
of the time through the themes of love power and sin. The deception of female
sexuality is particularly evident throughout the poem, this depiction suddenly
changes when the narrator murders porphyria with her own hair. Unlike the
governess porphyria defies expectations for women at the time, this may be the
first indication that Browning own views on female sexuality were very
different to the traditional ones of the society he lived in. Antos and Riley
suggested one reason as to why Browning uses Porphyria’s character to subvert
the idea of a traditional and passive Victorian woman they state that Browning
‘had a special aversion for domestic tyrants’ as his wife was mistreated by her
father, perhaps suggesting that the character of Porphyria and the outrage her
actions caused, was Browning’s way of belittling the society he lived in. The
fact that The Turn of the Screw predates Porphyria’s lover highlights the
shocking and blatant depiction of female sexuality in Porphyria’s lover.
Browning uses the theme of power the challenge the idea of gender roles,
Porphyria enters the narrators house during a storm, by using the theme of
nature Browning personifies the storm, the use of the word ‘sullen'(line 2)  suggests that Porphyria is accompanied by
strength and power another interpretation may suggest that by depicting the
storm as powerful Porphyria’s ability to glide in and “shut the cold out and
the storm” immediately introduces her as the driving pace of the story, her
independence is shown as the glided into the narrators house “When glided in
Porphyria” this imagery used by browning portrays Porphyria as almost ghostly
or spiritual, her raised position depicts her as unattainable, and ideal that
would seem bizarre to Victorina men. It is commonly known that the Victorian
idea of female sexuality was simply that it should not exist, Porphyria’s over
sexual behaviour is arguably what leads to her murder. However, another
interpretation may suggest that the narrator only murders Porphyria when she
confesses her love for him, displaying how nineteenth century ideals would mean
that by confessing Porphyria essentially surrenders her self to a social death
because of her affair. As previously mentioned, this highlights the double
standard presented to women at the time, whilst Porphyria is expected to hide
her emotions , the narrator cannot do this his insane passion and desire
ultimately leads  to Porphyria’s murder,
he become almost possessed by a dark desire which the reader is unsure if he
can control or not, his behaviour may also be a metaphor for the superiority of
men and their desires fundamentally showing that despite her dominance it would
have been out of the question for Porphyria to carry on her actions, she had to
be killed as she did not fit within the rigid views of society. Essentially
Browning pairs together, the themes of been unable to control emotion with
Insanity, Porphyria releases emotions that during the nineteenth century were
unacceptable, in doing so she become s the victim of her lover’s mental illness.
Therefore, meaning that the narrator of Porphyria’s lover is representative of
the society and rigid views of the nineteenth century.

Sin is a
theme that is featured in both poems, it highlights a link between female sexuality
and haunting phenomena as it displays the social and moral beliefs of the
Victorian society both James and Browning were writing in, yet it also exhibits
the nineteenth century fascination with the supernatural, particularly in The
Turn of the Screw. Sin is not evidently present in Porphyria’s lovers, however
many theorists have indicated that her sexually promiscuous behaviour alone would
have condemned her in society’s eyes, Elizabeth D Manson concluded that “it was
sinful” for a woman to act on her own sexual desires,  Richard Von Krafft-Ebing went as far to say
that only women who are mentally unstable would perform such a sinful act like
masturbation “Woman … if physically and mentally normal, and properly
educated, has but little sensual desire”. The protagonist governess in The Turn
of the Screw is sickened by sexuality alone, as suggested before it may be her
madness of the unknow sexual world that drivers her into seeing the Ghosts,
however some scholars have suggested other reasons. Degler believed that the
characters of The Turn of the Screw were representative of the Victorian
society they lived in in his article “What Ought To Be and What Was: Women’s
Sexuality in the Nineteenth Century. “he suggested that in men sexual desires
were to be ‘properly channelled’ where in women it was “not only scandalous…but
it would have been contrary to all observation”.

In conclusion,
there is evidently a relationship between female sexuality and haunting
phenomena in both texts. Although the female protagonists are received differently,
they both highlight the problems within the Victorian era, porphyria pays the
ultimate price because of her actions, her spiritual presence and death further
emphasise the interest and fascination with the supernatural that Browning’s audience
developed. whereas the governess manages to repress her disturbed thoughts,
never truly admitting her own sexual desires, arguably this leads to her intrusive
thoughts and visions. James similarity to Browning displays the problems with
the society he was writing in through Turn of the Screw and again highlight the
nineteenth century fascination with the paranormal, in a great time of change perhaps
superstition was a way for people to hold onto the past.

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