The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1843 - 1916)

The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James (1843
- 1916)

Type of Work:

Early psychological thriller


England; nineteenth century

Principal Characters

The "governess," an unnamed twenty- year-old

Mrs. Grose, an older housekeeper

Flora, an eight-year-old girl

Miles, a ten-year-old boy

Story Overveiw

At Christmas time, a group of people in
an old country home swapped ghost stories. One story tl)at particularly
chilled tl-te group involved the visitation of a ghost to a young boy.

When it was finished, a man in the group, Douglas, asked: "If the child
gives the effect, another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children?"

Weeks later, when Douglas was able to obtain
the manuscript containing this second story, he read the narrative to his
listeners, after prefacing it with a bit of background.

The tale\'s author was a woman who had been
his sister\'s governess, and Douglas was the only person to whom she had
revealed her dreadful tale before her death ...

On a pleasant June afternoon, a young lady
of twenty, "the youngest of several daughters of a poor country parson,"
arrived in London to answer an advertisement for the position of governess.

The advertiser was a bachelor who had been left guardian to his young nephew
and niece. The uncle, a wealthy and charming gentleman, "beguiled" the
young woman instantly The terms of her employment were quite simple: she
was to take charge of the two children on his country estate of Bly in

Essex, and to "never trouble him . . . neither appear nor complain nor
write about anything." She would be replacing the former governess, a young
lady who had died under curious circumstances. While the mystery surrounding
the prior governess\' death did cause the woman to Pause and consider, she
nonetheless accepted the position and took the coach to Bly.

The new governess soon met stout Mrs. Grose,
the Bly mansion\'s head housekeeper, and little Flora, the bachelor\'s niece.

The girl was a "vision of angelic beauty," and the governess looked forward
to "teaching" and "forming" the child.

Miles, the little boy, was due home in
a few days for his school holiday, and according to Mrs. Grose, the governess
would be equally "taken" with Miles. Both children seemed incapable of
giving any trouble.

However, before Miles arrived, the governess
received two letters. The first was from her employer, instructing her
to handle the details of the second letter, sent from the headmaster of

Miles\' school. This second letter in effect stated that Miles was dismissed
from school, permanently. This news worried the governess, but Mrs. Grose,
upon hearing the report, could not believe it, and urged her to wait until
she met Miles before forming a judgement.

A few days later Miles arrived, and the
governess beheld his "positive fragrance of purity." In private she told

Mrs. Grose that the headmaster\'s accusation was "grotesque." Together they
decided not to bother Miles\' uncle further about the matter.

The governess enjoyed the summer days in
the country. It was the first time in her life that she "had known space
and air and freedom."

Then, while strolling through the garden
one day as the children napped, the governess allowed her imagination to
wander. She imagined how charming it would be to meet a handsome young
man around the turn of the path. Still deep in fantasy, she rounded the
corner of the garden and it was as though her "imagination had, in a flash
turned real." On one of the towers of the old mansion stood a figure; not
the man she had been dreaming of, but a strange fellow who stared at her
menacingly for a minute, then disappeared.

The next Sunday evening as the governess
entered the rain-shrouded dining room, she became aware of "a person on
the other side of the window and looking straight in." It was the same
man she had seen earlier, but at that instant she realized that "he had
come for someone else." She rushed out of the house to the spot where he
stood, but again he had vanished. She looked in through the window, as
he had done, and there she saw Mrs. Grose, peering out just as she herself
had stood a moment before. When the housekeeper asked for an explanation,
the governess told her the whole story. As she described the elusive stranger,
a flash of recognition crept into Mrs. Grose\'s face. The man the governess
had seen, she said, was Peter Quint, their employer\'s former valet, who
had died some time before.

The governess felt that Quint\'s hovering
presence boded evil for the children; that he wanted "to appear to