The Turn of the Screw – novella

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Almedia Theatre, Islington, adaptation

The Turn of the Screw, originally published in 1898, is a gothic ghost story novella written by Henry James.

The novella has had differing interpretations, often mutually exclusive. Many critics have tried to determine the exact nature of the evil hinted at by the story. However, others have argued that the true brilliance of the novella comes with its ability to create an intimate confusion and suspense for the reader.

Turn of the Screw novella

Plot teaser:

An unnamed narrator listens to Douglas, a friend, read a manuscript written by a former governess whom Douglas claims to have known and who is now dead. The manuscript tells the story of how the young governess is hired by a man who has become responsible for his young nephew and niece after the death of their parents. He lives mainly in London and is not interested in raising the children himself.

The boy, Miles, is attending a boarding school, while his younger sister, Flora, is living at a country estate in Essex. She is currently being cared for by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. The governess’s new employer, the uncle of Miles and Flora, gives her full charge of the children and explicitly states that she is not to bother him with communications of any sort. The governess travels to her new employer’s country house, Bly, and begins her duties.

Turn of the Screw Casebook

Miles soon returns from school for the summer just after a letter arrives from the headmaster stating that he has been expelled. Miles never speaks of the matter, and the governess is hesitant to raise the issue. She fears that there is some horrible secret behind the expulsion, but is too charmed by the adorable young boy to want to press the issue. Soon thereafter, the governess begins to see around the grounds of the estate the figures of a man and woman whom she does not recognise. These figures come and go at will without ever being seen or challenged by other members of the household, and they seem to the governess to be supernatural. She learns from Mrs. Grose that her predecessor, Miss Jessel, and another employee, Peter Quint, had a sexual relationship. It is also implied that Quint sexually molested Miles and the other members of the household. Prior to their deaths, they spent much of their time with Flora and Miles, and this fact has grim significance for the governess when she becomes convinced that the two children are secretly aware of the presence of the ghosts…

Turn of the Screw Madison Opera
Madison Opera adaptation


  • An opera, The Turn of the Screw, composed by Benjamin Britten in 1954
  • The Turn of the Screw (1959), an early live television play directed by John Frankenheimer and featuring Ingrid Bergman
  • The Innocents (1961), directed by Jack Clayton and featuring Deborah Kerr
  • The Nightcomers, a prequel to the actual novel, directed by Michael Winner and featuring Marlon Brando as Quint
  • Dan Curtis’s well-regarded TV movie The Turn of the Screw (1974) with Lynn Redgrave


  • Harold Pinter directed a Broadway version of the story renamed The Innocents. It starred Claire Bloom and a very young Sarah Jessica Parker as Flora. The production was poorly received and only ran for about two weeks in 1976.
  • Rusty Lemorande’s film The Turn of the Screw (1994) with Patsy Kensit and Julian Sands, which updated the story to the 1960s
  • The television movie The Haunting of Helen Walker/The Turn of the Screw (1995) featuring Valerie Bertinelli, Michael Gough, and Diana Rigg
  • Presence of Mind (1999), an Spanish-made film adaptation with Sadie Frost and Harvey Keitel
  • A British television adaptation The Turn of the Screw (26 December 1999) with Jodhi May and Colin Firth
  • A 2001 film, The Others starring Nicole Kidman, is cited as being inspired partly by The Turn of the Screw
  • BBC Radio 4 broadcast an adaptation in 2004 (later re-broadcast on BBC Radio 4 Extra on 14 November 2011) by Neville Teller, directed by Peter Leslie Wilde and starring Cathy Sara as the Governess and Joseph Tremain as Miles.
  • BBC Radio 4 (and later BBC Radio 7 broadcast in 2010 an adaptation by John Tideyman, directed by Glyn Dearman and starring Charlotte Attenborough as the Governess, Rosemary Leach as Mrs. Grose, Sam Crane as Miles and Jonathan Adams as the Storyteller.
  • The story has also been converted into a ballet by William Tuckett.
  • A 2009 BBC television drama starring Michelle Dockery and Sue Johnston, set during the 1920s: The Turn of the Screw
  • The Italian filmmaker Marcello Avallone will direct a 3-D adaptation of the novel. It will be the first Italian-produced and screened 3-D film.
  • A stage play, The Turn of the Screw, adapted by Rebecca Lenkiewicz and presented in a co-production with Hammer at the Almeida Theatre, London, in January 2013.


1898 version of the novella online


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