All of these possible conjectures demonstrate that “the whole story is to be doubted, and we can be certain of nothing.” This is why “we have had theory after theory proposed as the answer … and there is still no single explanation which satisfies everyone … The whole point about the puzzle is its ultimate insolubility”
This is the way to turn failure into success. And its author is Louis D. Rubin in One More Turn of the Screw (1964), as quoted by Edward J. Parkinson’s 1991 dissertation The Turn of the Screw ; a history of its critical interpretation 1898 – 1979. A book that, in its turn, is presented as
A valuable study for Jamesian scholars, as well as for students of literary theory – it can be seen as a study of the development of literary theory in the twentieth century with this particular literary work as a touchstone study.
The study would have been even more valuable, if its author had taken the trouble of judging developments, rather than merely presenting them in chronological order. True, he had no Holmes at his side to expose the puzzle’s ultimate insolubility as inadequate research, but he should at least have exposed the basic flaw at the root of all research in this field :
“Again and again, of course, the same incidents from the plot have been cited by different critics to support conflicting – often diametrically opposite – interpretations.”
This focus on supportive evidence is fatal – true science is in the attempt to prove one’s convincion (i.e. interpretation) wrong – and, because the resulting stalemate between conflicting interpretations prevents any future progress, it has effectively neutralized literary criticism as a branch of science.
How difficult it is to pick the right choice, is demonstrated by Dr. Parkinson in his very next lines (chapter VI), in which he refutes a correct observation. A matter of arguments that do not apply. And of poetic justice : even a correct observation is not entitled to have its basic facts wrong.