The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a novella. The story is about a young lady who gets an opportunity to work as a governess at a beautiful but mysterious estate. This book has gothic, horror, and mystery elements to the story. It is slightly difficult to explain the story because of the way it is structured but I’ll try to cover major points.
The story begins at a party held on Christmas Eve where one of the attendees Douglas says he has access to a governess’s account of a ghost story when she worked for a wealthy family. He starts reading the written account of the governess and at that point the narration of the story shifts to the governess’s point of view. The Governess who is also the narrator remains unnamed throughout the story. She is responsible for the well-mannered young girl Flora and a 10-year-old boy Miles at their uncle’s estate the Bly. The uncle is their guardian. Miles has been suspended from his school due to his troublesome behavior just days prior to the governess’s arrival.
One day while taking a walk, the governess notices a man looking at her from one of the towers. She spots him staring at her again through the window the next time and that is when she enquires about him. Mrs. Grose works at the Bly and becomes a kind of like a confidant for the governess. The governess tells Mrs. Grose about the strange man looking at her twice. Mrs. Grose tells her about the previous governess Miss Jessel and her relationship with Peter Quint a valet both of whom are now deceased. She also finds out that Miles and Quint shared a good bond but Miles tried to lie about his relationship with Peter to Mrs. Grose. Miles’s behavior is slightly creepy at times which made you think he is up to something.
The governess sees a stranger, a woman by the lake when she is there with Flora. She believes that Miss Jessel and Peter Quint are a threat to the kids. Once Flora goes out of the house alone and she is seen talking to Miss Jessel near the lake by the governess but Flora claims to have not seen Miss Jessel at all; Flora falls ill after that is taken to London to her uncle’s place. The governess is suspicious that Miles distracted her by playing the piano so that Flora could leave. Quint is seen outside the window by the governess and she tries to protect Miles from it but then his heart stops.
The horror element is the main theme of the story. The possibility of the supernatural is left up to the readers I felt. No one sees the ghosts except the governess or at least doesn’t admit to it, so it depends on the reader to choose whether to believe her or not. The atmosphere of the story has an air of mystery and eeriness which reminded me of the gothic tradition. The governess finds the Bly and children extremely beautiful to look at but as the story progresses you can tell that the exterior doesn’t match what is going on inside. There is a lot of secretive behavior by the characters. The lying and concealing of relationships is something that happens regularly in the book. The need to repress information for whatever reasons leads to a lack of open communication which causes more problems than it solves.
The way the story ends is surprising and sad. I did not predict that the story will end abruptly in such a way. It came out of nowhere. The plot itself is interesting, starts as a haunted house type of a story but changes along the way. The story feels a little dragged in some places but when it picks up pace, it goes up a notch. Overall, I liked reading this book. It has a lot of elements to it that keep you invested in the story.
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