Turn of the Screw -- Book Report

Essay by middles August 2004

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The Turn of the Screw, written by Henry James, is a psychological thriller that could also fall within the 'ghost story' tradition.

The Turn of the Screw is complex in that the 'action' is several degrees removed from the reader. A man named Douglas reads a manuscript written by his sister's governess. The manuscript forms the basis of the story, which is thus told from the governess's perspective. The narrator, however, belongs to the group of people to whom Douglas reads the manuscript. He transcribes Douglas's tale years after Douglas reads it aloud. The narrator's transcript, not the manuscript, is what we read.

In the transcript, the governess has a poor father, so she goes to London at the age of twenty to look for work. She accepts the position of governess at Bly, a large country estate.

Initially, the governess seems to be an unsophisticated woman; she finds that the estate is "a different affair" from the home she has just left.

Nevertheless, James has created a character of great contradictions - the story can be read in two ways, depending on your judgment of the governess's character.

Mile and Flora are the children being cared for by the governess (the niece and nephew of her employer). Miles is ten and has been expelled from school for unknown reasons. To the governess, Miles is an extraordinarily beautiful, clever child: "He was incredibly beautiful....Everything but a sort of passion of tenderness for him was swept away by his presence." Miles is affectionate to the governess, and takes care of his sister. However, he also demands his own independence towards the end of the novel. Eight-year-old Flora, like her brother, has an "unearthly, angelic beauty" that charms the governess.

Several weeks after arriving at Bly, the governess begins to...