The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

by Henry James


Widely recognized as one of literature's most gripping ghost stories, this classic tale of moral degradation concerns the sinister transformation of two innocent children into flagrant liars and hypocrites. The story begins when a governess arrives at an English country estate to look after Miles, aged ten, and Flora, eight. At first, everything appears normal but then events gradually begin to weave a spell of psychological terror.

One night a ghost appears before the governess. It is the dead lover of Miss Jessel, the former governess. Later, the ghost of Miss Jessel herself appears before the governess and the little girl. Moreover, both the governess and the housekeeper suspect that the two spirits have appeared to the boy in private. The children, however, adamantly refuse to acknowledge the presence of the two spirits, in spite of indications that there is some sort of evil communication going on between the children and the ghosts.

Without resorting to clattering chains, demonic noises, and other melodramatic techniques, this elegantly told tale succeeds in creating an atmosphere of tingling suspense and unspoken horror matched by few other books in the genre. Known for his probing psychological novels dealing with the upper classes, James in this story tried his hand at the occult - and created a masterpiece of the supernatural that has frightened and delighted readers for nearly a century.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780460019125
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date: 03/29/1977
Product dimensions: 5.08(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.33(d)

About the Author

Henry James (1843-1916) was a major figure of the realist movement in 19th-century literature. As an American-born writer who later emigrated to Britain, his novels focused on how Americans encountered Europeans. He pioneered techniques of unreliable narration, unusual use of point of view and the interior monologue to provide new layers to narrative fiction.

Date of Birth:

April 15, 1843

Date of Death:

February 28, 1916

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

London, England


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

Read an Excerpt

The Turn of the Screw

By James, Henry

Tor Books

Copyright © 1993 James, Henry
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780812533415

I remember the whole beginning as a succession of flights and drops, a little see-saw of the right throbs and the wrong. After rising, in town, to meet his appeal I had at all events a couple of very bad days---found all my doubts bristle again, felt indeed sure I had made a mistake. In this state of mind I spent the long hours of bumping swinging coach that carried me to the stopping-place at which I was to be met by a vehicle from the house. This convenience, I was told, had been ordered, and I found, toward the close of the June afternoon, a commodious fly in waiting for me. Driving at that hour, on a lovely day, through a country the summer sweetness of which served as a friendly welcome, my fortitude revived and, as we turned into the avenue, took a flight that was probably but a proof of the point to which it had sunk. I suppose I had expected, or had dreaded, something so dreary that what greeted me was a good surprise. I remember as a thoroughly pleasant impression the broad clear front, its open windows and fresh curtains and the pair of maids looking out; I remember the lawn and the bright flowers and the crunch of my wheels on the gravel and the clustered tree-tops over which the rooks circled and cawed in the golden sky. The scene had a greatness that made it a different affair from my own scant home, and there immediately appeared at the door, with alittle girl in her hand, a civil person who dropped me as decent a curtsey as if I had been the mistress or a distinguished visitor. I had received in Harley Street a narrower notion of the place, and that, as I recalled it, made me think the proprietor still more of a gentleman, suggested that what I was to enjoy might be a matter beyond his promise.
I had no drop again till the next day, for I was carried triumphantly through the following hours by my introduction to the younger of my pupils. The little girl who accompanied Mrs. Grose affected me on the spot as a creature too charming not to make it a great fortune to have to do with her. She was the most beautiful child I had ever seen, and I afterwards wondered why my employer hadn't made more of a point to me of this. I slept little that night-I was too much excited; and this astonished me too, I recollect, remained with me, adding to my sense of the liberality with which I was treated. The large impressive room, one of the best in the house, the great state bed, as I almost felt it, the figured full draperies, the long glasses in which, for the first time, I could see myself from head to foot, all struck me--like the wonderful appeal of my small charge--as so many things thrown in. It was thrown in as well, from the first moment, that I should get on with Mrs. Grose in a relation over which, on my way, in the coach, I fear I had rather brooded. The one appearance indeed that in this early outlook might have made me shrink again was that of her being so inordinately glad to see me. I felt within half an hour that she was so glad---stout simple plain clean wholesome woman--as to be positively on her guard against showing it too much. I wondered even then a little why she should wish not to show it, and that, with reflexion, with suspicion, might of course have made me uneasy.
But it was a comfort that there could be no uneasiness in a connexion with anything so beatific as the radiant image of my little girl, the vision of whose angelic beauty had probably more than anything else to do with the restlessness that, before morning, made me several times rise and wander about my room to take in the whole picture and prospect; to watch from my open window the faint summer dawn, to look at such stretches of the rest of the house as I could catch, and to listen, while in the fading dusk the first birds began to twitter, for the possible recurrence of a sound or two, less natural and not without but within, that I had fancied I heard. There had been a moment when I believed I recognised, faint and far, the cry of a child; there had been another when I found myself just consciously starting as at the passage, before my door, of a light footstep. But these fancies were not marked enough not to be thrown off, and it is only in the light, or the gloom, I should rather say, of other and subsequent matters that they now come back to me. To watch, teach, "form" little Flora would too evidently be the making of a happy and useful life. It had been agreed between us downstairs that after this first occasion I should have her as a matter of course at night, her small white bed being already arranged, to that end, in my room. What I had undertaken was the whole care of her, and she had remained just this last time with Mrs. Grose only as an effect of our consideration for my inevitable strangeness and her natural timidity. In spite of this timidity--which the child herself, in the oddest way in the world, had been perfectly frank and M brave about, allowing it, without a sign of uncomfortable consciousness, with the deep sweet serenity indeed of one of Raphael's holy infants, to be discussed, to be imputed to her and to determine us--I felt quite sure she would presently like me. It was part of what I already liked Mrs. Grose herself for, the pleasure I could see her feel in my admiration and wonder as I sat at supper with four tall candles and with my pupil, in a high chair and a bib, brightly facing me between them over bread and milk. There were naturally things that in Flora's presence could pass between us only as prodigious and gratified looks, obscure and round-about allusions.
"And the little boy--does he look like her? Is he too so very remarkable?"
One wouldn't, it was already conveyed between us, too grossly flatter a child. "Oh Miss, most remarkable. If you mink well of this one!"--and she stood there with a plate in her hand, beaming at our companion, who looked from one of us to the other with placid heavenly eyes that contained nothing to check us.
"Yes; if I do--?"
"You will be carried away by the little gentleman!"
"Well, that, I think, is what I came for--to be carried away. I'm afraid, however," I remember feeling the impulse to add, "I'm rather easily carried away. I was carried away in London!"
I can still see Mrs. Grose's broad face as she took this in. "In Harley Street?"
"In Harley Street."
"Well, Miss, you're not the first--and you won't be the last."
"Oh I've no pretensions," I could laugh, "to being the only one. My other pupil, at any rate, as I understand, comes back to-morrow?"
"Not to-morrow--Friday, Miss. He arrives, as you did, by the coach, under care of the guard, and is to be met by the same carriage."
I forthwith wanted to know if the proper as well as the pleasant and friendly thing wouldn't therefore be that on the arrival of the public conveyance I should await him with his little sister; a proposition to which Mrs. Grose assented so heartily that I somehow took her manner as a kind of comforting pledge--never falsified, thank heaven!--that we should on every question be quite at one. Oh she was glad I was there!
What I felt the next day was, I suppose, nothing that could be fairly called a reaction from the cheer of my arrival; it was probably at the most only a slight oppression produced by a fuller measure of the scale, as I walked round them, gazed up at them, took them in, of my new circumstances. They had, as it were, an extent and mass for which I had not been prepared and in the presence of which I found myself, freshly, a little scared not less than a little proud. Regular lessons, in this agitation, certainly suffered some wrong; I reflected that my first duty was, by the gentlest arts I could contrive, to win the child into the sense of knowing me. I spent the day with her out of doors; I arranged with her, to her great satisfaction, that it should be she, she only, who might show me the place. She showed it step by step and room by room and secret by secret, with droll delightful childish talk about it and with the result, in half an hour, of our becoming tremendous friends. Young as she was I was struck, throughout our little tour, with her confidence and courage, with the way, in empty chambers and dull corridors, on crooked staircases that made me pause and even on the summit of an old machicolated square tower that made me dizzy, her morning music, her disposition to tell me so many more things than she asked, rang out and led me on. I have not seen Bly since the day I left it, and I dare say that to my present older and more informed eyes it would show a very reduced importance. But as my little conductress, with her hair of gold and her frock of blue, danced before me round corners and pattered down passages, I had the view of a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite, such a place as would somehow, for diversion of the young idea, take all colour out of story-books and fairytales. Wasn't it just a story-book over which I had fallen a-doze and a-dream? No; it was a big ugly antique but convenient house, embodying a few features of a building still older, half-displaced and half-utilised, in which I had the fancy of our being almost as lost as a handful of passengers in a great drifting ship. Well, I was strangely at the helm!
All new material copyright ; 1993 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.


Excerpted from The Turn of the Screw by James, Henry Copyright © 1993 by James, Henry. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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"Flosnik assumes the upper- and lower-class accents of nineteenth-century England, delivering the different voices with the rendition of a theatrical performance." —-AudioFile

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The Turn of the Screw 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 65 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.
SJ_McQuiston 5 months ago
I’m going to admit that my disappointment in this book is my own fault. It was built up as such a scary book, and I was all psyched up to sleep with my lamp on or make my dog sleep next to me, I was really looking forward to that little thrill of fear, and it never got there for me. I love an unreliable narrator, and the governess in this book is about as unreliable as they come. I will say, I thought she was a little excitable right off the bat. You can’t help but question everything you’re told, and the author seems to be purposefully vague a lot. While I like that the story messes with your head and makes you question the sanity of the narrator, I don’t like that I was left with a ton of questions. I won’t tell you what the questions are because it would be a big spoiler, but I think answering some of those questions might have given the text more of an edge. Not a bad read, but not as scary as I was hoping.
anya_b on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
maybe it was because i had to read it for class, but i really did not like this all.
jackkane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
'The Turn of the Screw' isn't really about ghosts. James explores the debilitating effects of the sexual repression pervasive under the absurd 'morals' of the Victorian age. The governess is clearly unstable - the 'turn of the screw' is a reference to her insanity. The spooks in the novel are pedophilia and patriarchal repression, both the direct product of Victorian mores.I found James's style too heavy. Between his long, tortuous sentences, and the subject matter, the novel is a tough read - despite its brevity. To James's credit, his execution of the unreliable narrator technique is impressive.The most remarkable aspect of the book is the sensitive subject matter, and James's success in avoiding censorship.'The Innocents' (1960) with Deborah Kerr is a great screen adaptation of 'Turn of the Screw.' Look it up, it's well worth watching!
Well-ReadNeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Read with Shutter Island.
amerynth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Terrific and short little ghost story -- ends with lots of unanswered questions. As I was reading, the tone really reminded me of the movie "The Others." After finishing the book I found out that the movie is in fact very loosely based on the book. This is one of the books referenced on "Lost" as well.
Cecrow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At the start I was having 'Jane Eyre' flashbacks - a governess, a pleasant young girl as her charge, a housekeeper for her primary company, a love interest in the handsome but absent landowner, an isolated manor in the English countryside. Henry James knows this; he is winking at us when the narrator begins to wonder whether there could be "an insane, an unmentionable relative kept in unsuspected confinement?" In short order though (and with benefit of the prologue), this tale resolves into a ghost story rather than a romance. The author aimed to build suspense through that prologue's promise of a horrific tale to follow, etc. Maybe this worked at the time but now it leads to false expectations of something schlocky. Encountering an unexplained stranger in my own house at the dead of the night would be deeply chilling, even more so if it had a mysterious influence on my children; but today's reader of modern horror is spoiled by the likes of Stephen King¿s in-your-face approach. TotS's relatively mild scenes won¿t incite the same horror ... unless you read slowly, absorbing every turn of the narrator's thoughts, placing yourself in her shoes and opening your mind to its widest expanse of empathy for her. Then you can still find at least a wisp of its carefully crafted spell.Henry James has a style all his own that I admire, but it does require an extra level of patience. I've long confused this work with 'The Taming of the Shrew' for being similarly named, but now that I've read one I think I can keep them straight.
beidlerp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great edition of the FIRST edition of Henry James's most popular story.
Sandydog1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A little novel about a dear little boy and a dear little girl, who are plagued by ghosts of of their previous caretakers, who may or may not have taken part in little perversions. The little children live in a mansion full of little rooms, run by a governess who may be a little crazy. The plot suffers from a little bit of ambiguity. I guess it's time to read a dozen critical essays on this classic. Until then, 3 - more than a little generous - stars.
hemlokgang on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A suspense novel........a thriller..........and eloquent writing! A spectacular ending which left me speechless (a rare occurrence!)! Great book!
kronos999 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting gothic ghost (maybe?) story. Wonderful unreliable narrator who may be mad and imagining the whole thing. Or maybe the ghosts are real. Or perhaps she is mad, but isn't imagining it at all.
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
OK, if they made you re-instate your English Major status every few years by reading something revered yet wretched, this one would qualify me to keep my badge. My husband was on a gothic/horror/ghost story kick, and as an old English Major himself, he decided he ought to read this "masterpiece of the supernatural". He struggled through the 87 pages of the Dover Thrift Edition, moaning like a lost soul himself, and then suggested I read it and tell him what the hell he was missing. I'd already had about enough of it, from listening to him grouse, but I agreed to give it a go. James' prose is overwrought; he could have dropped a handful of words from every page and they'd not have been missed. Short as it is, I heartily wish an editor had tossed the manuscript back to him with the terse directive, "Again. Half as long." I don't like his style, he didn't scare me a bit, and I have no idea what to make of the ending. So why do I have this ridiculous desire to see a good film version of the story?
christinelstanley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The actual plot was good, but the narrative dragged on tediously. I am used to this style of writing/language since I read a lot of old classics so it was not that to put me off! I continued to the end since I really did want to see what what happened, but this was not an enjoyable read for me!
bderby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
James explores both the supernatural and the psychological in this ghost story. It would do well to teach this text to students who are familiar with Jane Eyre as there are parallels between Jane Eyre and the governess in this novella. This is a good James text to cover with secondary students because of its short length. Since it is so short, James's notoriously dense prose will be easier to delve into. Don't expect to be finished with this text quickly just because it is short; it will take just as long to unpack the details (and sometimes the plot) from this James work than it would to explore a longer text by an author with an easier writing style.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I chose this chilling short story by Henry James as the 2nd of my three annual Halloween choices. It is the story of a young governess who is hired to take care of two orphaned children, Miles and Flora, at a large manor house in the Essex countryside. The children have been handed over to their estranged uncle, who wants little to do with them or any contact with them. The governess whom he hires is more than happy to adopt the two innocent youngsters as her own, and grows to love them dearly. However, she begins to see strange things happening about the house where she now lives, and continually sees a mysterious man and woman lingering about the estate. Both the man and woman have a horrifying, terrible expression and atmosphere to them, and when she describes them to her friend Mrs. Grose, the woman recognizes them instantly. They were lovers who once lived at the house, but they both died a few years ago, even though no one knows how. The governess becomes convinced that the ghost couple is after little Flora and Miles, though she can't understand why. The children insist that they do not to see the ghosts, but the governess is convinced that they are lying due to how frightened they appear whenever she questions they about it. The harder that the governess tries to protect her charges, the farther distanced from her they become.I very much enjoyed this brief, chilly tale, and I loved the antiquated way that it was written, which really gave it a cold, "ghost story" air that more modern writing simply cannot capture.In the beginning of the story, it didn't occur to me that the governess' ghosts may not be real, but by the middle of the book, I was convinced that they were simply figments of her imagination. However, at the very end, I didn't know what to think.I love stories that end just when the plot isn't quite closed out yet, leaving the reader to wonder - what happened? This story was certainly one of those, and I still can't decide if the heroine was crazy, or if the "horrors," as she called them, were really there. Perhaps they were, only they were real flesh and blood people who she wanted to think of as ghosts. Miles and Flora play their part well as the innocent, helpless little children who are very in need of protection as they drift obliviously toward horrific danger.Nowadays, every horror movie seems to cast an obligatory child, but when Henry James wrote "The Turn of the Screw," such themes weren't yet common.I especially loved Miles, who is a more filled out character than his younger sister Flora. He is a charming boy, who wants very badly to be "bad," in spite of how good he is. He even stages an event where he goes outdoors at night, and schemes at how to get the governess to witness his little crime, in an attempt to show her how "bad" he is.However, Miles is also a very wise character. Even though he never exactly tells his governess anything - he is always frustratingly vague - his little hints at deep, perceptive topics make him even more interesting.The unnamed main character was a bit annoying, and I felt that she was at times contradictory. She is normally terrified of the ghosts she is seeing (which is understandable), while at other times she speaks of them lightly and does things that make it seem as if she doesn't fear them at all.Her fierce protection of Miles and Flora was touching, and I couldn't help but wonder what made her care for them so much and so quickly, as if they really are her own family. Was she abandoned as a child? Did she always want children, but never got married? Speaking of speculation - there is much of it to be done within James' short story. There is, of course, the matter of the alleged ghosts. Are they imaginary? Real people mistaken as spirits? Or are they ghosts, after all? I think that everyone will ask these questions, but there are so many more to wondered about, if you look deeper.For instance, it seems apparent by the end that Miles and Flora are extremely a
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Turn of the Screw may be the first entry in the very specific sub-genre of the ambiguous ghost story, a sub-genre with includes the much better The Haunting of Hill House and The Little Stranger. Here, an unnamed governess takes on a suspicious job caring for two orphans on a remote estate. Her employer, the children's uncle, leaves specific instructions not to trouble him with any decisions, so she is basically on her own. Once the governess arrives at the house, she soon starts seeing apparitions, whom she identifies as the ghosts of the previous governess and her employer's valet, both of whom died under mysterious circumstances. She perceives that the children know of the ghosts and determines that the four of them have some sinister relationship.The governess's account is suspect for many reasons. For one, she describes her charges as beautiful, perfect, angelic creatures, praises which they clearly don't deserve; in fact, they are hardly characters in their own right, and seem merely to exist for the governess to lavish unwarranted praise upon. Clearly, she is subject to emotional excesses, as she has accepted this ludicrous position and developed a bizarre crush on her employer with absolutely no prompting. Finally, no one seems to see these "ghosts" but her, and the reader has no proof that the children are aware of them other than her say-so.Henry James would rather not write a simple, straightforward sentence if he could compose one that twists and turns and wanders off to nowhere instead -- or perhaps this is yet another example of the governess/narrator's instability. It's a short book, though, so the overwrought writing style is bearable. The ending, however, comes across as melodramatic to a 21st-century reader. Still, The Turn of the Screw is worth reading for its part in developing this unique sub-genre, which marries the haunting of houses and the haunting of minds.
zinkel101 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Turn of the Screw is the classic story of the unreliable narrator. A governess is given charge of two children on a rather isolated estate in England. She has taken the job because it was offered by a man she has romanticized, a man she wants to impress, a man who is conspicuously absent at the estate. The two precocious children are mysterious in their beauty, their behavior, and their background. They have a bond with each other, as well as with one staffmember that borders on collusion. They have secrets, revealed in bits about their previous governess and a licentious groundskeeper who had inappropriate relationships, implied in a Victorian manner. The two predecessors, though dead, figure prominently in the story as the heroine must protect the children from their ghosts. James's method of relating the story through a third generation narrator brings into question whether the ghosts are "real" or the illusion of the governess, who, throughout the story, is defending herself. The opening chapter may be overlooked for its importance as it only introduces the thrilling tale, but much has been speculated on James's intent in using a narrator who is the friend of a man who once loved the governess, who may edit the story to defend him who may have edited the story that came from the governess herself. Love may make you do crazy things, which is why the governess's great threat is questionable in the first place. The story may be my favorite of James's works because it is different from his longer novels. He uses the unreliable narrator, in a style like Poe's, and implied psychology, leaving ambiguity for the reader to interpret.
timsreadinglist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Against my better judgment, I read this, my second Henry James story. So tedious! The exquisite sensitivities of his protagonist are absurd and prevent her from achieving a simple solution on every page. The protagonist and James' prose were exasperating enough to overwhelm the psychological tension and creepiness that this story is supposed to exhibit so well. William remains my favorite of the James brothers, for sure. I'll do my best to avoid Henry in the future.
saskreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I know this is supposed to be a classic psychological gothic-type mystery, but I just didn't find it very effective. Yes, there is a big scary secret revealed, but from my point of view (as a reader and movie-watcher in the 21st century), it just wasn't as unnerving as it was meant to be. Perhaps it should be viewed as the predecessor of all the psychological thrillers around today.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a turn of the century ghost story(maybe) Its very creepy and atmospheric. I loved this story. It kept you constantly turning pages. You also had to think while reading. It was very deep. Now huge spoiler alert! Stop reading now! You have been warned! I cant give this story more stars because there is no real end. You have to decide what you think the end is. I DONT WANT TO! I really just like a good story wrapped up with a nice bow. Pack all the nightmares possible in but tell me what freaking happens! It might be a ghost story, it might be a suspenseful murder mystery, or everyone might be crazy! Uuugh!
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.