The Turn of the Screw

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The Turn of the Screw Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Henry James

Henry James was born into a wealthy family, the second of five children born to a prominent theologian, Henry James Sr. His father placed high value in his children’s education (James’s brother, William James, became a pioneer of psychology and philosophy). The family spent many years in Europe’s major cities: the first twenty years of James’s life were spent travelling between Europe and the United States, and in these cities he was tutored by some of the countries’ best known intellectuals. After a brief time spent at Harvard Law School in 1862, James—who had always been a voracious reader—turned to literature, which later became his profession. While traveling through and living in Europe, he wrote his first novels, often choosing characters who, like him, lived lives caught between Europe and the United States. He later established for himself a strong reputation as both a novelist and essayist, and he kept company with some of the greatest writers and thinkers of his time, among them Stephen Crane, Edith Wharton, Joseph Conrad, Ivan Turgenev, and Robert Lewis Stevenson. Startled by the outbreak of World War 1, James chose to become a British subject in July of 1915 as a gesture of protest against America’s refusal to enter the war. His health declined, and after suffering a stroke, James died, and his ashes were buried in the Cambridge Cemetery in Massachusetts.
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Other Books Related to The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw grows out of the Gothic literary tradition. Works in this genre include Anne Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, Matthew Gregory Lewis’s play The Castle Spectre, and other similar works which feature ghost-haunted upper-class families in small communities sealed off from the outside world. But this book does not belong to the Gothic tradition. James and his contemporaries, such as William Dean Howells and Stephen Crane, were called Realists. James paid particularly close attention to making the psychologies of his characters “realistic”, and The Turn of the Screw exemplifies this Jamesian brand of Realism sometimes called psychological realism. Several books grew out of this attempt to realistically depict characters’ psychologies, including modernist novels such as Virginia Woolfe’s Mrs. Dalloway up to the contemporary novel, such as the Spanish novelist Javier Marias’s A Heart So White.
Key Facts about The Turn of the Screw
  • Full Title: The Turn of the Screw
  • When Written: 1896-1897
  • Where Written: Rye, East Sussex, England
  • When Published: 1898
  • Literary Period: American Realism
  • Genre: Novella; Ghost Story
  • Setting: England’s Countryside
  • Climax: Miles death at the end of the novel
  • Antagonist: Deliberately unclear
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for The Turn of the Screw

Christmas Tale. Henry James began working on The Turn of the Screw when he was commissioned by a London newspaper to write a ghoulish Christmas tale for a special issue. The inspiration for his work came from a similarly plotted and structured story he’d heard an acquaintance of his once tell. He admired his acquaintance’s subtlety in telling the story, and the lack of resolution, and he emulated this ambiguity in his own rendition._

Horror Today. In the 2013 film Insidious: Chapter 2, the young protagonist, Dalton Lambert—a boy tormented by ghosts—is seen reading The Turn of the Screw.