Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Caroline Reitz

Committee Members

David Humphries

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


Henry James, ghost story, tale of the fantastic, trauma, Victorian childhood


The novella Turn of the Screw by Henry James was first published in 1898 as a serialized novel in Collier's Magazine. The short novel is characterized by its concise language. James chooses words carefully and consciously. The linguistic compression forces the reader to deal intensively with the main protagonists of the novel: the Governess, the children, Miles and Flora, and Mrs. Grose. Nothing is as it seems. James aims to challenge the reader by forcing them to constantly question what they read.

Countless essays have been written about the text since the novel was published. The figures, especially those of the Governess, are analyzed and interpreted. Are the supernatural phenomena appearing in the novel real or are they a reflection of an overheated imagination of the Governess? Are the children evil and in league with the silent ghosts, Quint and Miss Jessel? In this work, an attempt is made to look at the work of another writer from the point of view of a writer. The structure of the novel as well as the language used are examined more closely, along with the figure of the nameless Governess. Why did James refuse to give his main character a name? The Governess is the central figure of the text. Many approaches to interpretation inevitably revolve around the question of whether she is trustworthy or not.

In the novel it becomes clear that the Governess is completely unable to cope with the situation of caring for the children on the imaginary estate of Bly. Focused on herself, she is unable to offer empathy and warmth to children who are suffering the trauma of losing all their caregivers. Due to her own traumas, which James hinted at but never points out, she withdraws more and more into her own world. This retreat is manifested by the appearance of the ghosts Quint and Miss Jessel. Only the Governess can see them.

In addition, the almost tender depiction of the children's characters in the novel makes James' work special. He does not see children as incomplete adults, as was customary at the time, but recognizes their independence and thus develops a ground-breaking view of how childhood is portrayed in literature. Miles and Flora are not perfect angelic beings, rather they are normal children with their positive and negative sides. They play pranks; sometimes they cheat; they are not always obedient; they are sad, happy, and curious; they look for encouragement and recognition from the adults in the novel. The only person able to give them all of this is Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper. The fact that a person who is inferior to them because of her social position "shows warmth" and "does the right thing" can certainly be seen as a criticism of the strict hierarchy in Victorian society.