Turn of the Screw

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A ghost story by H. James, published 1898.

The narrator is a young governess, sent off to a country house, Bly, to take charge of two orphaned children. She has been engaged by their uncle, a handsome man to whom she feels attracted. She finds a pleasant house and a comfortable housekeeper, Mrs Grose, while the children, Miles and Flora, are unusually beautiful and charming. But she soon begins to feel the presence of intense evil, and sees the figure of the ex‐valet Peter Quint and that of her own predecessor Miss Jessel. In fact they are both dead, and she learns of the guilty liaison that existed between them. She becomes convinced that, despite their denials, Miles and Flora are communicating with them. These terrible figures have returned to draw the children into their web of sin and evil, and the governess is determined to exorcize them. After a dramatic scene by the pond, where the narrator believes that Flora is meeting Miss Jessel, the little girl is taken off to safety by the housekeeper, and Miles, left with the governess, dies in her arms as she battles for his soul with the apparition of Peter Quint. It is left to the reader to decide whether these ghosts exist for anyone else in the story, or whether they are simply the hysterical fantasies of the young governess. James himself described this story as ‘a trap for the unwary’.

Subjects: Literature.

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