Peter's Reviews > The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
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's review
Dec 16, 2015

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bookshelves: gothic, victorians, 1001, read-2012
Read in July, 2012

The Turn of the Screw is a ghost story novella by Henry James. The narrator, an unnamed young woman, accepts a job looking after two orphaned children Miles and Flora at Bly House - a country pile, mainly because she takes a fancy to their uncle (who is also their guardian). His only stipulation is that she never contact him regarding the children, just go and look after them and let him get on with his life in London. The governess arrives at the country house and befriends the housekeeper Mrs Grose. The children are perfect little angels - creepily perfect in every way, so when Miles returns from his boarding school with a letter saying he has been expelled, the governess wonders what terrible thing the boy has done. Then she starts to glimpse strange figures wandering the grounds of the house.

The book is very nicely written and succeeds in creating some exceedingly creepy scenes, between the governess and the children - I don't know how much of this is deliberate and how much is period language. Some of the ghost scenes are brilliantly scary too. It has quite a modern style, in that, as the children deny her stories, you begin to wonder about the reliability of her as a narrator, is she paranoid and insane or are these things really happening? In that respect it was a little like The Yellow Wallpaper.

I was relieved that it was only a novella, and so the scenes were pretty concise, compared to other rambling victorian novels I've read recently. It would have got four stars, but the ending was a little lame, after all the winding up, all the turns of the screw, it doesn't quite pay off with the action a modern writer might give it. In fact, I think the ending of Florence and Giles is a little bit better, though less believable.

Florence and Giles, by John Harding, was the main reason I wanted to read this book.
They are similar and I wanted to compare the two. Very similar it turned out. Florence and Giles live in a Blye House an almost identical house in New England, with the housekeeper Mrs Grouse. They are orphans, whose absent uncle sends a governess to look after them, the book is narrated by Florence also an unreliable narrator, who may not be telling the whole truth about events. there are many other similarities although the twist at the end turns out very different. But it is interesting that John Harding obviously took all the main elements of Henry James's story and refashioned them into something different. Both books are worth reading.

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Mark Had never heard of the Harding book. Will definitely take a look at it now though cos it sounds fascinating. thanks

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