The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

by Henry James
3.4 54

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Overview

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Turn of the Screw is a novella written by Henry James. Originally published in 1898, it is a ghost story.
Due to its ambiguous content, it became a favourite text of academics who subscribe to New Criticism. The novella has had differing interpretations, often mutually exclusive. Many critics have tried to determine the exact nature of the evil hinted at by the story. However, others have argued that the true brilliance of the novella comes with its ability to create an intimate confusion and suspense for the reader.

An unnamed narrator listens to a male friend reading a manuscript written by a former governess whom the friend claims to have known and who is now dead. The manuscript tells the story of how the young governess is hired by a man who has become responsible for his young nephew and niece after the death of their parents. He lives mainly in London and is not interested in raising the children himself.

The boy, Miles, is attending a boarding school, while his younger sister, Flora, is living at a country estate in Essex. She is currently being cared for by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. The governess's new employer, the uncle of Miles and Flora, gives her full charge of the children and explicitly states that she is not to bother him with communications of any sort. The governess travels to her new employer's country house and begins her duties.

Miles soon returns from school for the summer just after a letter arrives from the headmaster stating that he has been expelled. Miles never speaks of the matter, and the governess is hesitant to raise the issue. She fears that there is some horrid secret behind the expulsion, but is too charmed by the adorable young boy to want to press the issue. Soon thereafter, the governess begins to see around the grounds of the estate the figures of a man and woman whom she does not recognize. These figures come and go at will without ever being seen or challenged by other members of the household, and they seem to the governess to be supernatural. She learns from Mrs. Grose that her predecessor, Miss Jessel, and another employee, Peter Quint, had a sexual relationship with each other and have both died. It is also implied that Quint sexually molested Miles and the other members of the household. Prior to their deaths, they spent much of their time with Flora and Miles, and this fact has grim significance for the governess when she becomes convinced that the two children are secretly aware of the presence of the ghosts.

Later, Flora leaves the house while Miles plays music for the governess. They notice Flora's absence and go to look for her. The governess and Mrs. Grose find her in a clearing in the wood, and the governess is convinced that she has been talking to Miss Jessel. When she finally confronts Flora, Flora denies seeing Miss Jessel, and demands never to see the governess again. Mrs. Grose takes Flora away to her uncle, leaving the governess with Miles. That night, they are finally talking of Miles' expulsion when the ghost of Quint appears to the governess at the window. The governess shields Miles, who attempts to see the ghost. The governess tells him that he is no longer controlled by the ghost, and then finds that Miles has died in her arms.

Throughout his career James was attracted to the ghost story genre. However, he was not fond of literature's stereotypical ghosts, the old-fashioned 'screamers' and 'slashers'. Rather, he preferred to create ghosts that were eerie extensions of everyday reality—"the strange and sinister embroidered on the very type of the normal and easy," as he put it in the New York Edition preface to his final ghost story, "The Jolly Corner".
The Turn of the Screw is no exception to this formula. In fact, some critics have wondered if he didn't intend the "strange and sinister" to be embroidered only on the governess's mind and not on objective reality. The result has been a long-standing critical dispute about the reality of the ghosts and the sanity of the governess.

Beyond the dispute, critics have closely examined James's narrative technique for the story. The framing introduction and subsequent first-person narrative by the governess have been studied by theorists of fiction interested in the power of fictional narratives to convince or even manipulate readers.

The imagery of The Turn of the Screw is reminiscent of the gothic genre. The emphasis on old and mysterious buildings throughout the novella reinforces this motif. James also relates the amount of light present in various scenes to the strength of the supernatural or ghostly forces apparently at work.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940015544527
Publisher: Balefire Publishing
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 163
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Henry James (15 April 1843 – 28 February 1916) was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr. and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James.

James alternated between America and Europe for the first 20 years of his life, after which he settled in England, becoming a British subject in 1915, one year before his death. He is primarily known for the series of novels in which he portrays the encounter of Americans with Europe and Europeans. His method of writing from the point of view of a character within a tale allows him to explore issues related to consciousness and perception, and his style in later works has been compared to impressionist painting.

James contributed significantly to literary criticism, particularly in his insistence that writers be allowed the greatest possible freedom in presenting their view of the world. James claimed that a text must first and foremost be realistic and contain a representation of life that is recognisable to its readers. Good novels, to James, show life in action and are, most importantly, interesting. The concept of a good or bad novel is judged solely upon whether the author is good or bad. His imaginative use of point of view, interior monologue and possibly unreliable narrators in his own novels and tales brought a new depth and interest to narrative fiction. An extraordinarily productive writer, in addition to his voluminous works of fiction he published articles and books of travel, biography, autobiography, and criticism, and wrote plays, some of which were performed during his lifetime with moderate success. His theatrical work is thought to have profoundly influenced his later novels and tales.

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1843

Date of Death:

February 28, 1916

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

London, England

Education:

Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63

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The Turn of the Screw 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
James' prose wasn't spun out on a word processor for reading in an airport or bus station. It takes effort to follow the tightly constructed sentences. But those who do will be rewarded with a great read. No disembodied hands, moving furniture or gore, just spine-tingling horror. Having seen the film actually helps, since it was so well cast you can picture the actors as you read the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked it BUT it was a hard read. The writing and trying to "read between the lines" of what the teacher and maid are saying. But I did and I loved the gothic air.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I find Henry James' writing to be a bit dry but regarless, I still enjoyed this book. James does an excellent job of alluding to a controversial topic that was not openly talked about in Victorian England. He cleverly goes around the topic to avoid strict criticism, and does it in exquisite prose. It takes a little time to interpret but is worth it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
To fully understand this book, a lot of outside-source comprehension is needed. I bought it for a quick read, but found out I made a mistake. It's power and complete insanity was too much to handle for a one-night-read. So I threw it on the ground and went to bed. Upon waking up I stepped off the bed only to slip on the book and end up with a bed headache. When trying to read the rest, I found the pain was too unbearable. I guess it was just bad luck. If you want a classic horror story, this is a good read. . . I guess.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Not only is this book fun and spooky, it is a classic and beautifully written. I definitely learned a lot of new vocabulary; it is a challenging read for such a short book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read as a teen and as an adult. Great prose, dark and haunting.
Prettystarfairy81 More than 1 year ago
I was looking for a spooky story to read and this book came highly recommended on various lists on various websites. Since I saw other books that I had read on these lists, I took it that this would be a great read. I couldn't have been more wrong! As much as I enjoy flowery prose, this took it to the next level of ridiculousness! I had a hard time following the story and instead of feeling sad that the book was ending, I felt relieved.
The_Book_Wheel_Blog More than 1 year ago
Last week was gloomy and rainy, so I was in the mood for a good, short ghost story. I’m a big wuss when it comes to this genre, but Rory at Fourth Street Review assured me that, as far as horror goes, this one isn’t so bad. She’s right, although if I had seen this version of the cover before reading the book, I definitely wouldn’t have picked it up. Despite its scant 120 pages, The Turn of the Screw is by no means a quick read. It’s been several years since I read Henry James and I forgot how long it takes to read his books. Regardless, it was a good one. The book centers around a woman (the narrator) who takes a job as governess to two young children, Miles and Flora, only to encounter ghostly evils that are trying to capture their attention. The problem is that the children are not only unafraid of the ghosts, they seem to want them around. This, of course, makes them susceptible to embracing the evil that is courting them. This book is a classic, so I’m not going to write a lengthy review or analysis of the story, but I will say that it’s a great book to curl up with on a dark and stormy day. It’s a good, old-fashioned ghost story, complete with a sprawling estate and creepy children. Plus, it’s in the public domain and you can read it for free! Allison @ The Book Wheel
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