Christmas Eve. Guests round a fireside begin telling each other ghost stories. One of them relates a true incident involving the governess of his little nephew and niece. Strange events begin to take place, involving the housekeeper, a stranger who prowls round the grounds, a mysterious woman dressed in black and an unknown misdemeanor committed by the little nephew.
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James was published in 1893 and it remains one of the best-known and admired works of this great American writer. One of the factors that makes it so appealing is that the structure and ending are open to the reader's interpretation. Over the years, many critics, readers and scholars have provided their own theories about the ending and all of them may be valid from a certain viewpoint. However, the real “horror” in this book is the nameless, ambiguous sense of evil that pervades the story and brings out all that is deeply frightening to us.
Henry James came from a distinguished family. His father was a philosopher, while his brother William James was a famous developmental psychologist. His sister, Alice was also a writer, but is known mostly for the personal diaries she kept in the last years of her life. Though James was born in America, he considered England to be his spiritual home and constantly traveled between the two countries. His novels focus on the interaction between Europeans and Americans. He was also a brilliant literary critic and prolific letter writer.
The Turn of the Screw was his second novel and in it he gives expression to his life long interest in ghost stories and Gothic themes. However, he avoided the conventional screaming/slashing type of horror and preferred to keep the fear factor extremely subtle and understated, which paradoxically increases the sense of horror! He seeks to invest the ordinary, everyday happenings of daily life with a sinister significance and this is what makes The Turn of the Screw so extraordinarily effective.
Henry James' elaborate and often roundabout way of describing events makes the unraveling of the mystery even more difficult. Hence, the reader has plenty of work to do in James' novels and nothing is provided on a platter!
James himself constantly revised the story and made several changes. Though these are minor in nature, they add to the complexity of the plot and give readers many more facets from which to try to find the right solution.
The Turn of the Screw is certainly a great read if you enjoy mysteries and ghost stories.