The Turn of the Screw is a horror novella by the American-born British author Henry James. It was originally serialized in twelve parts in issues of the American magazine Collier's Weekly that are dated between January 27 and April 16, 1898. The entire story was republished in a slightly modified form, along with another Henry James novella entitled Covering End, in a book called The Two Magics that was published by The Macmillan Company in New York and by Heinemann in London in October 1898.
The novella's unnamed protagonist is a young woman who takes up a position as a governess to two orphans, a 10-year-old boy named Miles and his 8-year-old sister Flora, who live in a large English country house called Bly. Although Miles has been expelled from his boarding school for unspecified bad behavior, the governess finds both Miles and Flora exceptionally well behaved, beautiful and charming. She genuinely enjoys the children's company. The governess also quickly befriends the housekeeper at Bly, a middle-aged, working class, illiterate woman named Mrs. Grose. Shortly after her arrival at Bly, the governess sees a strange man looking down at her from one of the large building's towers. Soon afterwards, she sees the same man's face at a window. From the description that the governess gives of the man, Mrs. Grose says that he sounds like Peter Quint, a former servant at Bly who is now dead. Mrs. Grose reveals to the governess that Miles and Flora had formerly been under the care of Quint and a governess named Miss Jessel. Quint and Jessel had been in a relationship with each other and were both thoroughly wicked people. The governess becomes convinced that the ghosts of both Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are still present at Bly and pose a danger to the children. At first, she sees herself as the heroic defender of the children. She later comes to believe that Miles and Flora have been communicating with the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel all along and have been keeping that a secret from her. She still hopes to save the children, although she fears that the evil influence of the ghosts may have put them beyond saving. She thinks that getting the children to confess to the existence of the ghosts will be the first step towards their salvation.
Although The Turn of the Screw can be read simply as a ghost story, much of its enduring appeal is due to the fact that it is ambiguous enough to allow for different interpretations. Some critics have argued that the ghosts in the story are supposed to be real. Others have argued that The Turn of the Screw presents the story of a mad governess suffering from a dangerous delusion. In an October 2012 article for The New Yorker magazine, Brad Leithauser states, "if we choose to accept the reality of the ghosts, The Turn of the Screw presents a bracing account of rampant terror... And if we accept the governess's madness, we have a fascinating view of a shattering mental dissolution... But The Turn of the Screw is greater than either of these interpretations. Its profoundest pleasure lies in the beautifully fussed over way in which James refuses to come down on either side".
The wickedness of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel is generally described very vaguely.and few details are given about specific evil deeds that they carried out. It has been suggested that from the little information that Mrs. Grose gives her, the governess could have concluded that Quint and Jessel sexually abused the children in their care.
The Turn of the Screw has been adapted to other media multiple times. Among the best-known and most highly regarded of those adaptations are Benjamin Britten's 1954 opera The Turn of the Screw and the 1961 horror movie The Innocents, which itself heavily influenced the 2001 film The Others.
At Christmastime, a group of people gather at an English country house and begin telling ghost stories to each other. Some of the listeners are very impressed by one story which involves a young boy. A man known as Douglas asks, "if the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children-?" Most of the listeners are very keen to hear Douglas' story and ask him to tell it. Douglas replies that he cannot tell it. He will have to read it. A manuscript of the story is in a locked drawer in Douglas' London home. Douglas will arrange to have the manuscript mailed to him, although that will take several days. As a result of prompting by some of the listeners, Douglas says that the manuscript was written by a woman he met some forty years earlier who is now dead. Douglas somewhat grudgingly admits to having been attracted to the woman, although she was ten years older than him. The woman had been the governess to Douglas' younger sister. He met her when he came home from university for the summer vacation. The woman also clearly liked Douglas. For that reason, he is certain that he was the only person that she ever told about her horrible experience.
By the time that the manuscript arrives, some of the guests have left the country house. This means that Douglas has to tell his story to a smaller, although more appreciative audience.
The story concerns a young woman of 20, the youngest of several daughters of a country clergyman, who wants to take up her first teaching position. In answer to an advertisement, she goes to a house in Harley Street, London. The house belongs to a young, handsome and charming unmarried man. The man explains that he is looking for a governess because he is the guardian of his late brother's children, a boy named Miles and a younger girl named Flora. Both of the children's parents died in India. Although the young man's business keeps him in London, he believes that the children are best off in the country. For that reason, they live in his country home, a large house called Bly in Essex. Although he is only ten years-old, Miles has already been sent to boarding school. Nevertheless, the new governess will be responsible for Miles' education, as well as Flora's during the upcoming summer vacation. There are several servants at Bly who are overseen by the housekeeper Mrs. Grose. The children's previous governess, said to have been a highly respectable young woman, suddenly died.
The job that the young man offers the young woman is extremely well paid. It comes, however, with the strict condition that the governess should never contact her employer on any occasion. She is not to complain to him about anything or to ask him for any advice. She must make all decisions concerning the children by herself. She will receive all of her pay from her employer's lawyer. The young woman accepts the job. She never sees the young man again.
In June, on arrival at Bly, the governess is greeted by Mrs. Grose and the 8 year-old Flora. The governess immediately feels that she will have a good relationship with Mrs. Grose. The housekeeper is genuinely pleased that the governess has arrived. The governess has the feeling that Mrs. Grose is trying not to show how pleased she really is. The governess is also immediately charmed by Flora, declaring her to be the most beautiful child that she has ever seen. She looks forward to the task of educating the girl. Mrs. Grose is just as enamored of Flora as the governess is. She assures the governess that Flora's brother Miles is even more good-looking and charming than the girl.
Ordinarily, the governess will share her bedroom with Flora. On her first night at Bly, however, she sleeps alone. A few times during the night, she fancies that she hears the distant sound of a child crying. She is not, however, greatly troubled by those sounds.
On her second evening at Bly, the governess receives a letter from her employer. It includes a second unopened letter from the headmaster of Miles' boarding school. In his letter, the governess's employer tells her to read the headmaster's letter and deal with any matter arising from it by herself. The headmaster's letter states that Miles cannot return to his school after the summer vacation. He has been expelled for bad behavior, the details of which are not revealed. Mrs. Grose is very shocked when she hears the news. This prompts the governess to ask Mrs. Grose if she has never known Miles to be bad. Mrs. Grose happily admits that is not the case and makes it clear that she thinks it is unnatural for boys never to be naughty.
The governess asks Mrs. Grose about her predecessor. Mrs. Grose says that the previous governess was also young and pretty. Referring to her employer, the governess says that he seems to like pretty young women like herself. Obviously thinking about a different man, Mrs. Grose replies, "Oh, he did.. It was the way he liked everyone!" She then realizes her mistake and corrects herself by saying, "I mean that's his way - the master's". Although the governess presses her, Mrs. Grose insists that she was speaking about their employer all along. The governess asks if her predecessor died at Bly. Mrs. Grose replies that she did not. She died when she was at home for a vacation. Mrs. Grose says that she does not know what the cause of the young woman's death was.
When Miles returns to Bly, the governess is just as charmed by him as she had been when she first met his sister. She finds it almost impossible to believe tat Miles has been expelled from his school for bad behavior. She decides, however, not to write to Miles' headmaster about the matter and to continue teaching the boy herself after the summer vacation. She also decides to say nothing about the matter to Miles himself or to his uncle. Mrs. Grose wholeheartedly approves of those decisions. Miles says nothing about his time at boarding school, which the governess finds slightly strange.
In the weeks that follow, the governess thoroughly enjoys teaching and spending time with Miles and Flora. She happily admits to being under their spell. Her favorite time of the day, however, is the time that she has to herself after the children have gone to bed. It is during that time, in the summer evenings before sunset, that the governess strolls around the grounds of Bly. The governess has a romantic fantasy about suddenly seeing a man while going on one of those strolls. That fantasy comes true in an unexpected way. While on her stroll early one June evening, the governess looks back at the house. She sees the figure of a man standing at the top of one of the building's two tall towers, known as the Old Tower. The governess is certain that the man is not her employer or anyone else she has ever seen before. She notices that he is not wearing a hat, which suggests that he feels at home in the house. The two people are too far away to call out to each other. Nevertheless, the man certainly sees the governess. He keeps his eyes on her as he walks away.
The governess does not speak about the man to Mrs. Grose. She considers the possibility that there is another person in the house that she has not been told about, possibly an insane relative of her employer who is kept in confinement. She eventually concludes that the man she saw must have been some traveler who intruded into the house and then left without further incident.
One Sunday, it rains heavily. The governess decides not to take the children to church as usual that morning and to attend the evening service with the children and Mrs. Grose instead. Sunday is also the only day of the week when the children take tea in the dining room that is usually reserved for adults. While looking out of the dining room window on that rainy June afternoon, the governess suddenly sees the face of a man pressed against the windowpane and looking into the room. He is the same man that she previously saw at the top of the tower. He looks straight at the governess but continues to look around the room. The governess has the terrifying realization that he is not looking for her. He is looking for one of the children.
The governess goes straight outside to look for the man. The man, however, has vanished. She stands in the same place where the man had stood and puts her face against the windowpane also. At that moment, Mrs. Grose comes into the dining room. She gets such a terrible fright when she sees the governess standing at the window in the gray afternoon light that she faints. The governess is troubled by the fact that Mrs. Grose was that scared.
When Mrs. Grose comes round, she explains that her fright was due to the governess looking "awful" and "white as a sheet" when she stood at the window. She asks the governess what is the matter with her. The governess explains that she was frightened by a man at the window, a man that she saw once before at the top of the Old Tower. In response to Mrs. Grose's questions, the governess says the man was not a gentleman, was not wearing a hat, had short curly red hair, a long pale face, an unusual small beard and mustache that were not quite as red as his hair, arched eyebrows that were a darker color than his hair, small, fixed, sharp eyes and a wide mouth with thin lips. He was well-dressed but appeared to be wearing somebody else's clothes. Mrs. Grose recognizes the description as that of Peter Quint, their employer's former valet who is now dead.
Mrs. Grose appears to readily accept the idea that the governess has seen the ghost of Peter Quint. The two women discuss the matter for several hours. The governess feels certain that Quint was looking for young Miles. The expression on Mrs. Grose's face reveals that she readily accepts that idea. It is revealed that, although the children have never spoken to the governess about Peter Quint, their uncle had previously placed him in direct charge of their care along with the care of the entire house. Mrs. Grose knew Peter Quint to be a wicked man and could not bear the thought of him being placed in charge of the children. She did not dare, however, to say anything to her employer because of his hatred of complaints. It is revealed that Peter Quint was found dead one winter morning. He had apparently fallen and hurt his head while trying to walk up a steep icy slope on his way home drunk from a pub.
The governess enjoys taking on the role of the heroic protector of the children against the ghost of Peter Quint.
One afternoon, Miles remains inside to read while the governess and Flora play beside a large pond, which is known as the lake, on the grounds of Bly. The governess is aware that somebody is watching them from the other side of the lake. For some time, she resists the urge to look in that person's direction. When she looks, the governess sees not Peter Quint but a pale woman dressed in black. Although she is handsome, the woman looks thoroughly wicked. She does not look at the governess but instead looks directly and purposefully at Flora. Flora apparently sees the woman but says nothing about her to her governess. At that moment, the governess comes to the realization that both Miles and Flora have been aware of the presence of the ghost of Peter Quint and the female ghost all along and have chosen to say nothing about them.
The governess anxiously talks about the matter with Mrs. Grose. The governess says that she thinks that the female ghost she saw was that of her predecessor, whom Mrs. Grose says was called Miss Jessel. Mrs. Grose reluctantly admits that Miss Jessel was just as wicked as Peter Quint, that the two of them were having an affair and that Miss Jessel left Bly in disgrace. Mrs. Grose continues to insist, however, that she does not know what the cause of Miss Jessel's death was and says that she does not want to know.
Breaking down in tears, the governess says that she has been deluding herself by thinking of herself as the children's heroic protector. She now believes that the children are past the point of being saved.
Mrs. Grose begins to suspect that the governess may simply be making up her stories about having seen ghosts. The governess points out to Mrs. Grose that she has been able to give precise descriptions of Peter Quint and Miss Jesssel, two deceased people that she never met.
The governess asks Mrs. Grose why, after she found out that Miles had been expelled from his school, she said that she could not claim that Miles had never been bad. This now strikes the governess as strange because Miles has been exceptionally well behaved since he returned from school. Mrs. Grose says that for several months, Miles was constantly in the company of Peter Quint. Mrs. Grose did not approve of this and told Miss Jessel about it. Miss Jessel told her to mind her own business. Mrs. Grose then spoke to Miles directly. She told him that it was unseemly for a young gentleman to spend so much time with someone of a lower social class. Miles pointed out to Mrs. Grose that she was also of a lower social class than him. He also denied that he had spent much time with Peter Quint. Mrs. Grose knew that to be a lie. The governess wonders if Miles' skill at lying means that he could be communicating with the ghost of Peter Quint and keeping that a secret from her.
The governess wonders if the children know that she knows they have seen the ghosts. She is careful to try to keep her knowledge about them and the spirits from the children. Miles and Flora continue to appear to be incredibly fond of their governess. They delight her by suddenly jumping out at her dressed as animals, famous people from history and even characters from the plays of William Shakespeare. The governess notices that Miles has a special talent for music. She realizes that he really needs to be sent to another school because he requires a better education than she can provide. The governess is also impressed by how much respect Miles has for his younger sister.
One night, the governess does not go to bed. She spends the whole night reading, although she keeps glancing up from her book to look at the bed where Flora is sleeping. Reminded of the noise she heard on her first night at Bly, she suddenly gets the feeling that somebody is moving about the house. She takes a candlestick and leaves her bedroom. As she approaches a tall window on the staircase, her candle blows out. The dawn light coming in through the window, however, makes the candle unnecessary. At that moment, the governess sees Peter Quint on the stairs. The ghost and the governess spend some time staring at each other in complete silence. Eventually, Peter Quint goes down the staircase into the darkness. The governess is certain that he has disappeared.
The governess returns to her bedroom. She finds that Flora is not in her bed, although she has drawn the curtains around her bed to make it appear as if she is still in it. The governess sees Flora emerge from behind a window blind. Flora says that she noticed that her governess had left the room and she was looking out the window for her. In response to the governess's questions, Flora says that she did not see anybody else outside. The governess, however, is certain that Flora is lying.
In the nights that follow, the governess often leaves her room again when she is certain that Fora is sleeping. She retraces the steps that she took on the night when she saw Peter Quint. She does not see him again. Almost two weeks later, however, she sees Miss Jessel seated on one of the lower steps. Miss Jessel is holding her head in her hands as if she is very sad. Her back is turned to the governess and she does not notice her. The governess only sees her for a short time before she vanishes.
When the governess returns to her bedroom, she sees that Flora is again out of bed and looking out of the window. Flora stays by the window and makes no attempt to leave it or to explain herself. The governess goes up to the empty bedroom in the Old Tower in order to get a good look at whoever is prowling around in the garden. She is shocked to discover that it is Miles.
The governess goes out into the garden. Miles willingly goes up to her. She leads him back inside and into his bedroom. Throughout most of this time, neither the governess nor Miles say a word to each other. In Miles' bedroom, the governess finally asks him why he went outside late at night. He replies that he did it just so that the governess would think him bad for a change. He explains that he told Flora to get out of bed and watch him out of the window in order to get the governess's attention. The governess mildly chastises Miles for risking his health by going out into the cold night air. He replies, "How otherwise should I have been bad enough?" and, "Think, you know what I might do!" The governess takes this as an allusion to the behavior that got Miles expelled from his school.
The following afternoon, the governess tells Mrs. Grose about how she found Miles in the garden the previous night. The governess goes on to say that she thinks that Miles and Flora are constantly talking about Peter Quint and Miss Jessel when they are alone together. The governess thinks that the children's extremely good behavior is either a complete charade or a result of their minds being elsewhere as a result of their total domination by Quint and Jessel. Mrs. Grose asks what the dead Peter Quint and Miss Jessel can do to the children now. The governess replies that the ghosts can destroy the children. So far, the ghosts have only appeared at a distance but they will come closer and lead the children to their doom. Mrs. Grose says that if the governess thinks the children are in danger, she should write to their uncle and tell him to take them away from Bly. Knowing that her employer, who had expressly told her not to trouble him n any way, would think her mad if she wrote such a letter, the governess bluntly refuses to write. She warns Mrs. Grose not to contact the children's uncle either, threatening to resign immediately if that happens.
A month passes. Summer comes to an end and autumn arrives. The governess does not see the ghosts of Peter Quint or Miss Jessel again. She does, however, often sense that they are present and that Miles and Flora are communicating with them. She does not mention her suspicions to the children, however, because she knows that they would only deny it. The governess finds herself constantly avoiding the subject of ghosts and feels that the children are doing the same thing. The children continue to say nothing about their pasts, even though they learn all about the childhood of their governess. The governess thinks that she can sometimes hear the children whisper to each other that she nearly got them to talk about Peter Quint and Miss Jessel but did not succeed.
One autumn Sunday morning on the way to church, Miles suddenly asks the governess when he is going to go back to school. He says that he wants to learn more and see more of life. He also strongly hints that he has grown tired of spending all of his time with a female governess and his little sister and that he wants male companionship. The governess and Miles linger for some time in the churchyard to discuss the matter. Miles asks the governess if his uncle knows that she is still in charge of his education. The governess replies that she does not think that his uncle cares. Miles replies that he can make his uncle care by getting him to come to Bly. The governess is horrified by the idea of having to discuss Miles' expulsion from school and the underlying reason behind it with the boy's uncle. She does not follow Miles into church and decides to run away.
The governess returns to the house, which is empty because all of the servants are at church, in order to collect her belongings. She goes into the schoolroom to fetch some of her possessions. When she goes into the room, she sees the ghost of Miss Jessel seated at the table. With a look of complete indifference, the ghost gets up, stands silently in front of the governess and then leaves the room. The governess shouts, "You terrible, miserable woman!" after her as she leaves the room. Once the ghost has gone, the governess feels that the room is much lighter. At that moment, the governess decides that she has to stay at Bly.
When the children and Mrs. Grose return home, they say nothing to the governess about her absence from church. Later that day, the governess finds out from Mrs. Grose that the children told her to say nothing about that, telling her that their governess would like it better that way. The governess tells Mrs. Grose that she went back to the house in order to speak to Miss Jessel. When Mrs. Grose asks if Miss Jessel spoke, the governess replies that she did. She said that she was suffering in Hell and wanted to take Flora with her.
The governess says that she has made up her mind to resolve the situation by writing to the children's uncle and asking him to come to Bly. She then intends to show him the letter from Miles' school about his expulsion. She also considers mentioning in her letter to her employer that he bears some responsibility for leaving the children in the care of the wicked Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Mrs. Grose points out that their employer barely knew Quint and Jessel and that she is more to blame for not having taken action. Not wanting Mrs. Grose to be punished, the governess suddenly does not know what to write. The illiterate Mrs. Grose says that she will get the bailiff to write a letter. The governess points out that would mean telling their strange story to someone else. Mrs. Grose reluctantly allows the governess to write the letter after all.
That night, the governess begins writing a letter to her employer. It is a stormy night and the governess does not know what to write. She goes out to check if Miles is out of bed again. When she comes to Miles' bedroom door, she is surprised to hear his voice call out to her and invite her to come in. The governess finds Miles in his bed but very much awake. He says that, rather than sleeping, he has been thinking about his governess and "this queer business of ours". The governess eventually chooses to interpret that as meaning her continued teaching of Miles and her not having sent him to school. Miles says that he does not want to go back to his previous school and wants to attend a different one. The governess tries to convince Miles that she is not afraid of seeing his uncle and discussing the issue of the boy's schooling with him. She tells Miles that she has started writing a letter to his uncle, which Miles says she should finish.
For the first time, the governess points out that Miles has never said anything about his school or his previous life. The boy responds by asking the governess if she is certain that is true. The governess asks Miles what happened at school and what happened at Bly before he went away to boarding school. Miles appears to be confused by the question. In desperation, the governess says that there is nothing she would not do for Miles and, "I just want you to help me to save you!" At that moment, a sudden gust of cold air blows out the candle. The governess then notices that the window is shut tight. Miles says that he blew out the candle.
The following day, the governess finishes her letter to the children's uncle but does not mail it.
The children do exceptionally well in their lessons that day. In the afternoon, Miles offers to play the piano for his governess. After listening to Miles play for some time, the governess suddenly realizes that Flora is not with them. She asks the boy where his sister is. He laughingly replies that he does not know. The governess is certain that Miles has been distracting her in order to allow Flora to get out of the house and meet up with the ghost of Miss Jessel. The governess tells Mrs. Grose this. After having searched the house for Flora, the two women go outside to continue the search for the girl. In response to Mrs. Grose's question, the governess says that she has left Miles in the schoolroom with Peter Quint and that she is not bothered by that fact.
Before she leaves the house, the governess leaves her letter to her employer on the hall table.
The governess leads Mrs. Grose towards the lake, the place where the governess first saw Miss Jessel, because she is certain that is where Flora has gone. The governess notices that the lake's only boat is missing, meaning that she and Mrs. Grose will have to take the ten minute walk around the large pond. On having reached the other side of the lake, the governess is not surprised to see the boat partially hidden. Mrs. Grose and the governess see Flora a short distance away. She picks some withered fern, making it appear as if that were the reason why she went out. She stands still and lets Mrs. Grose and the governess come to her. The three of them remain in silence for some time. Flora then asks the governess where Miles is. The governess says that she will answer if Flora first tells her where Miss Jessel is.
The governess then cries out that she can see Miss Jessel on the opposite side of the lake. She points in the direction of the ghost, certain that Mrs. Grose and Flora can see her too. The governess shouts at Flora to admit that she can see the ghost. Flora just looks at the governess sadly. Mrs. Grose tells the governess that she can see nothing. Turning to Flora, Mrs. Grose says that the late Miss Jessel is obviously not there and that it has all been a misunderstanding. Flora sadly says that she wants to get away from that place and from her governess. At that moment, Flora suddenly no longer looks beautiful to the governess and looks almost ugly instead. Before Flora leaves with Mrs. Grose, the governess cries out, "I've done my best but I've lost you!" The governess collapses face down on the ground. When she comes round, it is almost evening.
It has been arranged that Flora will sleep with Mrs. Grose that night. All of Flora's belongings have been moved out of the governess's room. Miles comes into the schoolroom. He sits with the governess for two hours. He says nothing to her, however, until he leaves and says, "Good night."
Very early the following morning, Mrs. Grose goes to the governess' bedroom. She has come to ask the governess to leave Bly because Flora says that she is frightened of her and never wants to speak to her or see her again. The governess insists on staying and manages to convince Mrs. Grose to take Flora away from the evil influence of Bly instead. The governess tells Mrs. Grose to take Flora to London and report the situation to the children's uncle. The governess wants to stay with Miles because she now believes that she can save him. She believes that Miles is on the point of confessing everything. Mrs. Grose says that she wants to leave Bly anyway. She goes on to say that, in spite of not having seen the ghost of Miss Jessel the previous afternoon, she still believes that the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel exist. Mrs. Grose thinks that the evil influence of Miss Jessel is the only explanation for the horrible and foul-mouthed way in which Flora has been speaking about her current governess.
It occurs to the governess that her letter to her employer should reach him before Mrs. Grose and flora do. Mrs. Grose says that will not happen because the letter has not been mailed. When Mrs. Grose returned home the previous afternoon, she noticed that the letter was no longer on the hall table. The only explanation must be that Miles took it. Mrs. Grose also concludes that Miles must have been expelled from his school because he stole letters there too. The governess is certain that Miles must have read the letter before destroying it. She comments that Miles will not have gained much information from it, however, because she simply used the letter to tell her employer that she wanted to speak to him. The governess tells Mrs. Grose that she is certain that she can get the boy to confess to the theft.
By the time that the governess comes downstairs for breakfast, Mrs. Grose and Flora have already left for London. Miles has already had breakfast and gone out for a walk. He remains outside and away from the governess all day.
The governess decides that she and Miles should have dinner in the dining room, the same dining room from the window of which she saw the ghost of Peter Quint on the rainy afternoon in June. After dinner, when the maid clears the table and leaves the room, Miles says, "Well - so we're alone!" The governess points out that they are not completely alone. Miles replies, "Of course we have the others", adding that, "they don't count much."
The governess explains to Miles that Flora had to be sent away because Bly suddenly disagreed with her. Miles says that he is glad that Bly agrees with him. The governess says that she is also happy at Bly and, even though she knows that she has nothing more to teach Miles, she is happy to stay on at Bly as his friend. Miles asks her if she would really do that. She reminds him how in his bedroom on the night of the storm she said that there was nothing she would not do for him. Miles says that he thinks she said that because there was something that she wanted him to tell her. The governess admits that is true and says that she would still like Miles to tell her something. Miles looks uncomfortable and as if he wants to leave the room. Telling an obvious lie, he says that he has to speak to a servant named Luke. The governess says she will let Miles go if he answers one small question. She asks him if he took her letter the previous afternoon.
At that moment, the governess again sees Peter Quint appear outside. He advances towards the window in front of which Miles is standing with his back facing it. Miles admits to having taken, read and destroyed the letter. When Miles makes that confession, Peter Quint moves away from the window but continues to prowl around outside.
The governess asks Miles if he also stole at his school. Miles says that he did not. He says that the reason for his expulsion must have been certain unpleasant things that he said to his friends which they then repeated to other friends. The governess finds herself suddenly replying to Miles by sternly saying, "Stuff and nonsense!' She then clearly sees the face of Peter Quint at the window again. She runs to Miles and shouts, "No more! No more!" She holds Miles to prevent him from looking out of the window.
To the governess's surprise, Miles asks, "is she here?" He explains that he means Miss Jessel. The governess says that there is someone horrible at the window but it is not Miss Jessel. Miles asks, "it's he?" When the governess asks who he means, Miles replies, "Peter Quint - you devil!" The governess tells Miles that, now that he has confessed to the existence of the wicked ghost, Peter Quint no longer matters. He has lost his hold on Miles and the boy is now safe. Miles, however, has died.
The English-language opera The Turn of the Screw, with music by the British composer Benjamin Britten and libretto by the British playwright and art critic Myfanwy Piper, was first performed at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice, Italy on September 14, 1954. It continues to be regularly performed at venues around the world. Filmed versions of the opera were released in France in 1974, in Germany in 1990 and in the United Kingdom in 1994 and 2004. The opera is a largely faithful adaptation of Henry James' story, although the events of the novella are necessarily somewhat condensed and abridged. In the opera, Miles is already at Bly when the governess arrives there and there is no reference to his expulsion from boarding school. Another difference from the novella are the conditions that the governess agrees to before accepting her job. In the opera, the governess agrees never to write to her employer about the children, never to ask about the history of Bly House and never to abandon the children.
The Trinidadian-born playwright William Archibald adapted The Turn of the Screw for the stage as The Innocents. The play was first performed at the Playhouse Theater on Broadway on February 1, 1950. It ran for a hundred and forty-one performances and won the 1950 Tony Award for Best Scenic Design. A Broadway revival of the play, directed by Harold Pinter, opened at the Morocco Theater on October 21, 1976 but closed after only twelve performances.
The play The Innocents was adapted as the 1961 British horror movie of the same name. The film was produced and directed by Jack Clayton. It stars Deborah Kerr as the governess Miss Giddens, Michael Redgrave as her employer, Peter Wyngarde as Peter Quint, Clytie Jessop as Miss Jessel, Megs Jenkins as Mrs. Grose, Martin Stephens as Miles and Pamela Franklin as Flora. The screenplay is credited to William Archibald and Truman Capote. In recognition of their work on the movie, the two writers jointly received the 1962 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay. Although it was adapted from the 1950 play The Innocents rather than directly from The Turn of the Screw, the film The Innocents successfully captures the spirit of the novella and remains largely faithful to its plot. There is rather more emphasis on sexuality in the movie than in the novella. In the film, Mrs. Grose tells the governess that Peter Quint was the dominant partner of Miss Jessel in an abusive relationship. She tells the governess that she often saw the two of them having sex in empty rooms in broad daylight and that she cannot be certain that the children did not see them doing the same thing. Mrs. Grose also tells the governess that Miss Jessel committed suicide after Peter Quint's death by drowning herself in the lake at Bly. Although the film was not a great critical or commercial success when it was first released, it is now considered to be a classic of Gothic cinema.
The 1971 British film The Nightcomers is a prequel to The Turn of the Screw. It was directed by Michael Winner. It stars Marlon Brando as Peter Quint, Stephanie Beacham as Miss Jessel, Thora Hird as Mrs. Grose, Verna Harvey as Flora and Christopher Ellis as Miles. Due to the sexual nature of the film, the Miles and Flora who appear in The Nightcomers are visibly several years older than the children described in The Turn of the Screw. The film portrays Peter Quint and Miss Jessel as being in a sadomasochistic relationship. Miles and Flora spy on their violent lovemaking and try to imitate what they see. Mrs. Grose decides to get rid of the bad influence of Quint and Jessel by getting them fired. Not wanting Peter Quint and Miss Jessel to be separated and believing that they will be reunited in death, Miles and Flora decide to help Quint and Jessel by murdering them. The film ends with the arrival of a new governess (played by Anna Palk) who is presumably the woman whose story is told in The Turn of the Screw.
The Turn of the Screw was adapted as an episode of the American TV series Omnibus that first aired on CBS on February 15, 1955. It was adapted as the third episode of the American TV series Startime. The episode, which stars Ingrid Bergman as the governess, was first shown on NBC on October 20, 1959. A British television adaptation of The Turn of the Screw was first broadcast on the ITV network on December 25, 1959. The Turn of the Screw was adapted as the second episode of the French TV series Nouvelles de Henry James. The episode was first shown on TF1 on December 25, 1974. The first episode of the short-lived American horror anthology series Nightmare Classics is an adaptation of The Turn of the Screw. The episode first aired on the Showtime channel on August 12, 1989. The Turn of the Screw was adapted as the Italian TV movie Il mistero del lago which was first shown on Canale 5 on January 7, 2009. A British TV movie based on The Turn of the Screw was first broadcast on BBC One on December 30, 2009.
Other screen adaptations of The Turn of the Screw include The Turn of the Screw (USA 1974) starring Lyn Redgrave as the governess, Otra vuelta de tuerca (Mexico 1981), The Turn of the Screw (West Germany 1982), Otra vuelta de tuerca (Spain 1985), The Turn of the Screw (France/UK 1992) starring Patsy Kensit as the governess, The Haunting of Helen Walker (USA 1995) starring Valerie bartinelli as the governess and Diana Rigg as Mrs. Grose, Presence of Mind (Spain/USA 1999) starring Sadie Frost as the governess, Lauren Becall as Mrs. Grose and Harvey Keitel as the children's uncle, The Turn of the Screw (UK/USA 1999), The Turn of the Screw (USA 2003), In a Dark Place (Luxembourg/UK 2007) and The Turning (USA 2020). The 2001 Spanish-American film The Others, directed by Alejandro Amenábar and starring Nicole Kidman, shows influences from Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and the 1961 movie The Innocents but is not a direct adaptation of either work.
The Turn of the Screw was adapted as an episode of the American radio series Favorite Story. The episode first aired on KFi in Los Angeles on September 17, 1949. A British radio play based on The Turn of the Screw, in which the part of the governess is played by Charlotte Attenborough, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on January 1, 1993 as part of the Christmas Spirits series. The program has been repeated several times since then on BBC Radio 4 and the digital channels BBC Radio 7 and BBC Radio 4 Extra.
Notes and references
- Brad Leithauser, "Ever Scarier: On The Turn of the Screw", The New Yorker, October 29, 2012.
- Siri Hustvedt, "What Lies Beneath", The Guardian, January 18, 2003.
- The implication is that the unmarried Miss Jessel left Bly after she became pregnant with Peter Quint's child.
- Miles' comment about "the others" who "don't count much" may refer to the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. It may also refer to the many servants living and working at Bly.
- The governess, unnamed in Henry James' novella, was given the name Miss Giddens in the 1950 play The Innocents. She retains that name in the 1961 film based on the play. When the play was revived on Broadway in 1976, her name was changed to Miss Bolton.
- The other episodes of Nightmare Classics are based on Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and the short story "The Eyes of the Panther" by Ambrose Bierce.
- Other episodes of Christmas Spirits are based on The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain and A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Told After Supper by Jerome K. Jerome, "The Canterville Ghost" by Oscar Wilde and Blithe Spirit by Noel Coward.