Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Bly. Country house in Essex to which an unnamed young governess, the daughter of a clergyman, is sent to look after two orphaned children whose wealthy uncle lives in London. The large house has two extensive floors, two towers, and grounds that include a pathway to a lake—elements characteristic of residences in gothic stories.

The house is managed by Mrs. Grose, an illiterate but talkative housekeeper, who oversees at least two maids and two servants. The governess has her own room, in which the child Flora has a bed. Flora’s brother, Miles, has a bedroom across the hall. In the schoolroom and nursery, the governess instructs her charges and also listens to Miles at the piano. A winding staircase has a casement window at its landing. Among other downstairs rooms is a dining room with a large window. Several rooms are empty.

Strange sounds that the governess hears in the house make her increasingly aware that apparitions are present that only she seems to see. On one occasion, while she happens to be thinking of her absent employer, the children’s uncle in London, she looks up at one of Bly’s towers and sees, or believes she sees, the ghost of Peter Quint, who in life was the uncle’s valet. Drunken and vicious, he was also the lover of Miss Jessel, the former governess who also is now dead. Miss Jessel appears frequently to the governess and to the children, who refuse to admit the appearances. The governess suspects the children of seeking out the ghosts but can prove nothing.


Lake. Body of water on the estate where the governess, accompanied by Mrs. Grose, finds Flora playing with a mast on a tiny wooden boat. When the apparition of Miss Jessel appears by the child, Flora turns on the governess viciously and the latter faints. Each ghostly sighting causes the governess to jump to various conclusions, accurate or otherwise, depending on one’s evaluation of her psychological makeup.

The first appearances of the two evil ghosts, Mr. Quint and Miss Jessel, occur respectively on a tower and beside a lake, locations that could signify male and female sexuality, respectively. At the time of Miss Jessel’s appearance, Flora, who is being watched by the governess, is engaged in a game involving joining together two pieces of wood, a game that could also have sexual overtones to the governess.

Harley Street

Harley Street. Fashionable London street that later became famous as a region of well-to-do physicians’ offices. The children’s uncle lives on Harley Street, where he interviews the governess twice before hiring her. She is impressed by him and grows enamored.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

The Growth of Towns
The governess's employer, the uncle of Miles and Flora, is conspicuously absent from the story,...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Bly, a "country home, an old family place" in the country, is a classic setting for a ghost story. When the...

(The entire section is 773 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Closer in length to a novella than to a novel, The Turn of the Screw is made up of a brief prologue and twenty-four short chapters....

(The entire section is 694 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The Turn of the Screw is an intriguing puzzle that stimulates readers to unravel its mysteries. If the ghosts are real, the governess...

(The entire section is 647 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In January of 1895 Edward White Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, told Henry James a story about young children in an old country-house...

(The entire section is 409 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

1850s: Cholera rages through London and Paris, taking many lives and putting many people on guard against illness.


(The entire section is 284 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

In The Turn of the Screw, Miles dies at the end, presumably from fright. Research the known causes of heart failure in young children...

(The entire section is 265 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In its uniqueness, The Turn of the Screw rightfully stands beside other nineteenth-century gothic and supernatural masterpieces like...

(The entire section is 122 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

James's talent in the genre of the supernatural, which culminated most perfectly in The Turn of the Screw, is evident throughout his...

(The entire section is 232 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In 1961, for Twentieth-Century Fox, Jack Clayton directed a very successful film version of James's story entitled The Innocents using...

(The entire section is 300 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

The Turn of the Screw was adapted as a television movie and shown by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in 1959. The production...

(The entire section is 424 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Although James was American-born, he was an Englishman by preference, and many of his stories, including The Turn of the Screw, take...

(The entire section is 471 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Edel, Leon, ed. Henry James: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1963. Covers much of James’s output; ignores the early critical controversy surrounding The Turn of the Screw and focuses instead on explication of James’s symbolic imagery and artistic techniques.

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw. Edited by Robert Kimbrough. New York: W. W. Norton, 1966. An excellent collection of source materials. Covers James’s background sources in his own words and presents a number of his letters regarding The Turn of the Screw. Presents chronologically a variety of critical reactions, from early criticism (1898-1923) through the years of the Freudian controversy (1924-1957) to more recent articles.

Tompkins, Jane P., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Turn of the Screw” and Other Tales: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Two essays treat The Turn of the Screw, placing the work in the context of James’s other shorter fiction.

Wagenknecht, Edward. The Tales of Henry James. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1984. Thorough discussion of sources and history for The Turn of the Screw. Attacks Freudian readings as serious misinterpretations; presents the novel as a straightforward ghost story designed for sophisticated readers.

Willen, Gerald, ed. A Casebook on Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw.” New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1960. Fifteen essays debate the Freudian readings. The essay that started the entire controversy, Edmund Wilson’s “The Ambiguity of Henry James,” is also included, along with an extensive postscript by the same author. Somewhat dated, but recommended for the vigor of the debate.

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Beidler, Peter G., Ghosts, Demons, and Henry James, University of Missouri Press, 1989, p. 237.


(The entire section is 789 words.)