This Coffeetown Press edition of Henry James's most famous, most widely read, and most frequently taught story presents the text as it appeared in 1908, with the author's final revisions. The Turn of the Screw, first published in serial format in 1898, is the chilling tale of a young woman who accepts a job as governess-that is, as teacher-of two lovely young children who seem to be haunted by the spirits of a former governess and her lover, both now dead. David Gorman's introduction is designed to help first-time readers of the tale by providing a brief historical backdrop to this tale of a haunted house and by laying out the central critical controversy that surrounds it: whether this ghost story is not about ghosts at all, or rather a probing of the psyche of a narrator who madly imagines that two ghosts threaten her young charges.
The story starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories 'round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don't know what she's talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children's uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers.