The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw

eBook - 2012
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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.
Publisher: [Place of publication not identified] : Dover Publications, 2012
ISBN: 9780486110547
Characteristics: 1 online resource
text file
Additional Contributors: TotalBoox - Distributor
TBX - Distributor


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Nov 25, 2017

Having read this many years ago, I decided to revisit it and found it just as trying a read as I remembered; although it has its rewards for the tenacious reader. The narrator seems to have never met a run-on sentence she didn't like.

As a self-confessed Grammar Nazi, I was surprised to find James' governess use the term "literally" more than once in what I believe is an incorrect manner (she says she "literally slept at her post" when she had not really fallen asleep.) I thought the misuse of this word was modern, as when someone says they "literally lost their mind" when they mean figuratively.

There are also some obscure words ("asseverate") to add to your vocabulary. The edition I read (Wordsworth Classics that also contained The Aspen Papers) has notes in the back to explain references that were probably understood by readers in 1898.

P.S. Although it contains a major spoiler, check out the satiric You Tube video in which Hitler rails against his staff as he asseverates his interpretation of the story.

May 22, 2017

The longest 87 pages of my life!

Jul 18, 2016

I read this (as a 30-year-old) in my pursuit of classic literature that I did not read in high school or college. I enjoyed this short story. It was sufficiently creepy and written in such a manner as to pique my interest in the conclusion. I have to add that I love unreliable narrators. Is the governess sane or not? Great story for a debate in a class/book club.

Mar 26, 2016

The story was less interesting now than when I was first exposed to it, by reading it, as a teenager. The narration and recording are somewhat poor: there is a section of 2 or 3 minutes when the tapes it was taken from seem to have been damaged (the volume suddenly goes down and fluctuates a bit, then returns to normal), and there a several mispronunciations, like saying "specious" in a way that it rhymes with "precious".

Jan 30, 2015

A compelling psychological novel with ghosts, this story is both creepy and intriguing. As always, James’ first interest is in the psychological relationships between his characters, in this case a naïve young governess, unnamed, and her two young pupils, Miles and Flora, at an isolated Essex mansion. The governess is charmed by the children’s apparent good natures and beauty, and ascribes to them an innocence that seems idealized, but completely typical of the late Victorian thinking about children. (And James himself had no children of his own to compare the ideal with.)
The governess soon discovers that the children have a dark side, which seems to be associated with their previous governess, Miss Jessel, and her lover, the valet, Peter Quint. She and the children see these dead beings, although no one else in the house seems to do so. The housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, however, knows things are not right with the children. What is interesting is that the governess is unwilling to confront the children directly with her believe that they are happily communing with the evil dead for fear of finding out that they are not as innocent as they appear. Not only would this disturb her illusions about the children, but she would then have to deal with their choice, and she has no idea how to do so. As long as she can, she prefers to live with the illusion of goodness rather than have to deal with evil. That’s a situation that’s easy enough to identify with.
But of course it leaves her vulnerable, and the children know it. They use her unwillingness to confront them to manipulate her into going along with their continuing relationship with their former guides. Because she won’t admit there is anything wrong, she cannot object to their play, even when they seem to be meeting with their evil partners. She tries to protect them, but they or the ghosts can see what she is doing and find ways around her care. When finally she is forced to act, she finds that the evil is more powerful than her attempt to overcome it.
This all takes place in the first-person narrative of the governess, so she is describing what she sees and how she feels. She feels that she is being manipulated by the children, but she has no way to know what they are really thinking. She reads their looks and glances and reacts to them, but as readers we know only her interpretation of what she sees. She sees shadows and figures, and to her they appear as the ghosts of the Miss Jessel and Peter Quint. She thinks that the ghosts are manipulating the children, but it sometimes appears that the children are the manipulators. If it isn’t all in her own head.
The picture of the innocence of the children, their good breeding, manners and charm as a mask hiding their corrupted true nature gives the story an extra layer of intrigue, one that James also explores in his other writing.
What I like here is the psychology of the relationships and James’ ability to portray their shifting dynamics. At times, the governess tries to take charge, but loses control when one of the children shows that he or she knows that is going on, or suggests that the governess has shown bad judgement. The governess accepts the shifting power and loses it. This is a theme that James uses in other novels, and through it James illustrates how subtle social power is exercised. Of course, his characters could reject the social conventions that are at work, but that would be inconceivable to them. In this way, the ghosts are a bit of an excuse. They set up a situation in which the characters work out their relationships, and the extremity of the situation makes the dynamics unavoidable. But the relationship are created by the social situation and how the characters act in it. That, I think, is what interests James, and it’s what I read his books for.

Jul 12, 2014

The story was ok. But it dragged a bit, and I kept getting bogged down with the 'old' English writing.

Aug 01, 2012

So creepy and SO GOOD!

babyunicorn26 Jul 09, 2012

Amazing story -- great read if you loved "The Others"!

ANNE E CROLY Sep 26, 2011

TOTS will grab you and you will find it so compelling that you will keep flipping the pages. At the end of this extremely well-written short story you will gasp, as I did. Added later:
I read this in a college book group and it was fascinating to hear what others thought of the book -- the opinions were very wide ranging!
The real question boils down to:do you think the governess sees the ghosts or not?
I think James is playing a joke on us because the title reads: TOTS!


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babyunicorn26 Jul 09, 2012

A lonely governess discovers a horrible secret about two foundlings raised by evil servants in this Gothic horror classic.


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babyunicorn26 Jul 09, 2012

"I hesitated; then I judged best simply to hand her my letter – which, however, had the effect of making her, without taking it, simply put her hands behind her. She shook her head sadly. "Such things are not for me, miss."

My counselor couldn't read! I winced at my mistake, which I attenuated as I could, and opened my letter again to repeat it to her."


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