Haunted Houses in Literature: Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw (1898) was a novella written by Henry James that was originally published in 1898. The ghost story provides plenty of possible interpretations that have intrigued critics for many years. One popular topic of debate is the true core of the evil mentioned to in the story. James’ ability to present a suspenseful tale is another highlight of his writing ability. In this article, you will learn more about the themes and plot of “Turn of the Screw.”

The Plot

Listening to a male friend read a manuscript written by a former governess (who is now dead) that the friend claims to have known is a narrator whose name is not revealed. The manuscript shares the tale of how the young governess was hired by a man who was entrusted with the care of his young nephew and niece following the death of their parents. Since he lives most of the time in London, the man is not interested in taking care of the children.

Miles is a boy that attends a boarding school, while his younger sister, Flora, lives at a country estate in Essex. It is a housekeeper named Mrs. Grose who currently takes care of the girl. The uncle of the children gives the housekeeper full charge of the kids. He does not want to be bothered at all with the details of their care. The governess travels to her new employer’s country house to start caring for the kids.

Miles joins his sister for the summer and will not return to the school since he has been expelled. He does not share the details of this reprimand and the governess does not pry. She fears that a dark secret is behind the expulsion and does not want to press the issue with the boy, who is quite charming. It isn’t too long before weird occurrences start to take place. The governess begins to see figures of a man and woman that she does not recognize. They start appeared around the grounds of the estate. The governess believes that the figures are supernatural beings ”“ they come and go as they please and no one ever confronts them. The governess also learns more history about the estate and the children she has been hired to take care of. Strange events continue to occur and the presence of the ghosts are becoming increasingly apparent.

Themes in the Tale

Henry James has consistently shown an interest in writing ghost tales. He turned his back on the stereotypical ghost that appears in many literary pieces ”“ those that slash people to death or scream in the middle of the night. James was more concerned with presenting ghost characters that have eerie connections to the living. When you read the story, you also start to wonder if the ghosts were a reality or the governess was really losing her sanity. In his tale, the old and mysterious building plays an important role in the novella.