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Summary Article: Turn of the Screw, The
from The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English

A short novel by Henry James, first published in Collier's Weekly, and then with another story, ‘Covering End’, in a volume entitled The Two Magics, in 1898.

The story is about a governess who takes charge of two children at the lonely country house of Bly. Her employer, the children's uncle, has given her strict orders not to bother him with any of the details of their education or behaviour. The children, Flora and Miles, are attractive and intelligent, but also seem strained and secretive. Shortly after her arrival the governess sees two former members of the household, the steward Peter Quint and the previous governess Miss Jessel; later she learns that both of them are dead. She is convinced that the children see the ghosts too, but they display a remarkable talent for evading questions about them. She challenges Flora directly and provokes a hysterical reaction which makes the girl ill. When she confronts Miles, Peter Quint appears at the window. She is determined to exorcize his influence, but despite her efforts to shield Miles from the apparition, the frantic and terrified boy dies in her arms. The fact that, after a brief introductory section, the story is told from the point of view of the governess raises doubts about whether the ghosts are ‘real’ or merely her hallucinations.

The Cambridge Guide to Literature in English, © Cambridge University Press 2000

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