As with Wilson's landmark account, Stanley Renner's identification of female sexual hysteria to explain both the supernatural aspect to the story and the governess's subsequent behaviour (176) would appear to bear out Peter Barry's claim in Beginning Theory that psychoanalytic critics privilege "the individual 'psycho-drama' above the 'social drama' of class conflict" (105).
Certainly, Renner makes no reference to class conflict in this essay. Much less does he see it as a mere "ghost story"; rather, it is to him very much a projection of internal fears and anxieties - its "dramatization of a woman's psychosexual problem and the damage it does to the children in her charge" is, he confidently states, "the true - and clearly the richer - story [...] (175).
Nevertheless, the supernatural aspects of the story cannot be dismissed out of hand, as Renner notes - indeed, his particular reading of the story arises in response to one of the strongest arguments against a purely naturalistic interpretation: how did the governess manage to give a detailed description of a man she had never seen, unless she had genuinely seen a ghost (175)
Renner's analysis of the governess's spectral visions centres on two propositions: first, that she is a casebook sexual hysteric, and second, that her uncannily detailed description is based not on a personal encounter with a ghost as she believes, but is instead the imaginary product of what he argues was a significant cultural theory in nineteenth century Europe. This is physiognomy, a pseudo-science which held that a person's character could be inferred from their physical features.
"Not only is it reasonably certain that James knew about physiognomical theories and the use of such devices by novelists familiar to him," writes Renner, "but he also creates in his governess a character who fits the profile of the typical sexual hysteric, who has hysterical hallucinations, and whose mind projects her sexual fear in a form that draws on the very religious and physiognomical stereotypes with which a mind such as hers would logically be furnished." (187)
With this device, Renner seeks to situate his Freudian underpinnings within a broader (non-Freudian) social context that draws upon two other (arguably rival) forms of interpretation that were commonplace in the culture of the time, physiognomy and religiosity. With the exception of a reference to the Oedipal implications of Miles and Flora's burgeoning sexuality (194), Renner's reliance on standard Freudian categories - the "classic psychoanalytic symptoms, conditions or phases, such as the oral, anal, and phallic stages" (Barry, 105) - is minimal.
The central interpretation preferred by Renner is still centred on Freudian theories of repressed female sexuality and hysteria. However, this manifests itself by the governess conjuring up, as it were, a stereotypical representation of a "redheaded sex