A young governess’ manuscript is read at a gathering in which ghost stories are being told – only this is not the typical ghost story. Hired by an enigmatic man to look after his orphaned nephew and niece, the unnamed governess tells of her journey to the country house Bly. She instantly falls in love with the
angelic children Miles and Flora. Nothing could be more perfect. She has a good salary and complete control over the servants. But why all the rules? What is the mystery behind the previous governess’ death? But these questions come much later.
One day, the governess spots an unknown man on the premises. A trespasser she presumes. But on giving the description to the housekeeper, she is never more surprised when the man is identified as Peter Quint – the master’s previous valet who is now dead. This apparently terrifying turn of events is accepted both by the young woman and the housekeeper! It isn’t long before the two make another startling discovery: the children know of the spirits. The governess soon begins seeing Peter Quint and her predecessor Miss Jessel walking about the grounds and the house. The children are interacting with the dead – with an evil too appalling to think of. The real evil is never made clear; it is left to our imagination. The governess guards the children hoping to save their souls. One day things come to a head with tragic consequences.
I don’t usually like critically analysing a book, but in some cases it is called for. The Turn of the Screw is a book that has baffled many critics. Many questions remain unanswered to this day: For example, the nature of the evil the children are involved in with the valet and the previous governess is never fully revealed. Then many critics are doubtful as to whether the children were really evil and interacting with spirits; they assume that the governess herself could have been hallucinating as no clear statement is made otherwise. Against this argument is of course the fact that the boy Miles actually asks for Peter Quint before dying. Their is also the letter from Miles’ headmaster indicating bad behaviour – somewhat odd considering his angelic demeanor at Bly.
It has never been proved that Henry James meant The Turn of the Screw to be anything other than the straightforward ghost story most assume it to be. I myself can never get over the odd children. Children are usually portrayed as either good or ‘naughty’ – rarely pure evil. The effect is to say the least horrible! Before I started this blog I had never been in the habit of articulating my impressions about a book. Of course I knew whether I liked it or hated it, but this book lay in between. I didn’t like it – but neither did I hate it. It was eerie and uncomfortable with a depressing atmosphere, but had a strong pull. For those interested in more critical analysis go here.