Why did James write The Turn of the Screw?
When Henry James began writing The Turn of the Screw, he was a quintessential struggling artist. The author's attempt at being a playwright failed terribly with the culmination, in 1895, of his very poorly received Guy Domville. To make matters worse, his earnings from previous novels were drying up, leaving the poor man in desperate straits. If he was to survive, James would need to drum up a popular piece of literature, and thankfully for him, The Turn of the Screw was just the ticket.
James lived in the era of spiritualism, a time in which superstitious beliefs and related entertainment was embraced by a not insubstantial subculture dedicated to attending public seances, hiring mediums, and generally pursuing knowledge of the supposed world of spirits and communication with the dead. It is within this context that Henry James wrote The Turn of the Screw, a chilling novel that enthralled as many as it utterly repelled through its dark, gruesome, ghostly tale.