Christmas Eve. Guests round a fireside begin telling each other ghost stories. One of them relates a true incident involving the governess of his little nephew and niece. Strange events begin to take place, involving the housekeeper, a stranger who prowls round the grounds, a mysterious woman dressed in black and an unknown misdemeanor committed by the little nephew. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James was published in 1893 and it remains one of the best-known and admired works of this great American writer. One of the factors that makes it so appealing is that the structure and ending are open to the reader's interpretation. Over the years, many critics, readers and scholars have provided their own theories about the ending and all of them may be valid from a certain viewpoint. However, the real “horror” in this book is the nameless, ambiguous sense of evil that pervades the story and brings out all that is deeply frightening to us. Henry James came from a distinguished family. His father was a philosopher, while his brother William James was a famous developmental psychologist. His sister, Alice was also a writer, but is known mostly for the personal diaries she kept in the last years of her life. Though James was born in America, he considered England to be his spiritual home and constantly traveled between the two countries. His novels focus on the interaction between Europeans and Americans. He was also a brilliant literary critic and prolific letter writer. The Turn of the Screw was his second novel and in it he gives expression to his life long interest in ghost stories and Gothic themes. However, he avoided the conventional screaming/slashing type of horror and preferred to keep the fear factor extremely subtle and understated, which paradoxically increases the sense of horror! He seeks to invest the ordinary, everyday happenings of daily life with a sinister significance and this is what makes The Turn of the Screw so extraordinarily effective. Henry James' elaborate and often roundabout way of describing events makes the unraveling of the mystery even more difficult. Hence, the reader has plenty of work to do in James' novels and nothing is provided on a platter! James himself constantly revised the story and made several changes. Though these are minor in nature, they add to the complexity of the plot and give readers many more facets from which to try to find the right solution. The Turn of the Screw is certainly a great read if you enjoy mysteries and ghost stories.
On Christmas Eve, an unnamed narrator and some of their friends are gathered around a fire. One of them, Douglas, reads a manuscript written by his sister's late governess. 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 deaths of their parents. He lives mainly in London but also has a country house, Bly. The boy, Miles, is attending a boarding school, while his younger sister, Flora, is living in a country house in Essex, where she is cared for by Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper. Flora's uncle, the governess's new employer, is uninterested in raising the children and gives her full charge, explicitly stating that she is not to bother him with communications of any sort. The governess travels to Bly and begins her duties.
Miles 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 there is some horrible secret behind the expulsion but is too charmed by the boy to want to press the issue. Soon after, around the grounds of the estate, the governess begins to see the figures of a man and woman whom she does not recognize. The figures come and go at will without 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 the governess's predecessor, Miss Jessel, and another employee, Peter Quint, had had a close relationship. Before their deaths, Jessel and Quint spent much of their time with Flora and Miles, and the governess becomes convinced that the two children are aware of the ghosts' presence.
Without permission, Flora leaves the house while Miles is playing music for the governess. The governess notices Flora's absence and goes with Mrs. Grose in search of her. They find her on the shore of a nearby lake, and the governess is convinced that Flora has been talking to the ghost of Miss Jessel. When the governess finally confronts Flora, the girl denies seeing Miss Jessel, and asks not to see the new governess again. Mrs. Grose takes Flora away to her uncle, leaving the governess with Miles, who that night at last talks to her about his expulsion. The ghost of Quint appears to the governess at the window. The governess shields Miles, who attempts to see the ghost. The governess tells Miles he is no longer controlled by the ghost, and then finds that Miles has died in her arms.
Henry James is best known for a number of novels dealing with the social and marital interplay between émigré Americans, English people, and continental Europeans. Examples of such novel...More about Henry James
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