The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw is a novella written by Henry James. Originally published in 1898, it is a ghost story that has lent itself well to operatic and film adaptation.

Due to its style, The Turn of the Screw became a favorite text of New Criticism. The reader is challenged to determine if the protagonist, a nameless governess, is reliably reporting events or instead is some kind of neurotic with an overheated imagination. To further muddy the waters, her written account of the experience -- a frame tale -- is being read many years later at a Christmas house party by someone who claims to have known her.

The account lends itself to many different interpretations, including those by Freudian psychologists and those trying to determine who or what exactly is the nature of evil within the story.


An unnamed narrator listens to a manuscript read by a male friend from a former governess whom the latter claimed to know and who is now dead.

A young governess is hired by a man who has found himself responsible for his niece and nephew after the death of their parents. He lives in London and has no interest whatsoever in the children. The boy is at a boarding school. The girl, Flora, is living at his country home where she is cared for by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. He gives the governess full charge of the children and makes it clear he never wants to hear from her again regarding them. The governess travels to her new employer's house and begins her duties. Shortly thereafter, the boy, Miles, turns up after being expelled from his school. For some mysterious reason, the headmaster feels he is a threat to the other boys.

The governess begins to see and hear strange things. She learns that her predecessor, a Miss Jessel, and her lover Quint, a clever but abusive man, died under curious circumstances. Gradually, she becomes convinced that the pair are somehow using the children to continue their relationship from beyond the grave. The governess takes action against the perceived threat with tragic consequences.

Derivative work

An opera, The Turn of the Screw, was written by Benjamin Britten in 1954.

The Turn of the Screw has been put on film at least five times. The best regarded version, entitled The Innocents, is directed in 1961 by Jack Cardiff and stars Deborah Kerr.

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