An American-born writer and literary critic, Henry James contributed significantly to the realism movement, and his prolific prose helped to establish the use of interior monologue and unreliable narrators in fiction. He additionally wrote plays, and numerous works of nonfiction.
James was supposed by early biographers to have had a ‘neurotic fear of sex,’ although further revelations through letters have revealed a sexuality he sought, in his lifetime, to hide. The extent to which he repressed these feelings is disputed. In a letter to Howard Sturgis, an early author of Queer literature, he wrote: “I repeat, almost to indiscretion, that I could live with you. Meanwhile I can only try to live without you.”
The Turn of the Screw, first published in The Two Magics in 1898, tells an elaborate but ambiguous ghost story of a Governess who is dispatched to attend to a brother and sister, Miles and Flora, who have recently lost their parents. The grounds, they find, are haunted, and cursed by previous events of death and sexual abuse; the story that unfolds inspired heated debate in regards to the nature of reality being presented (whether the horror was that of the ghosts themselves, or all in the mind of the Governess), and the work has spawned dozens of adaptations through film and literature.
The original tale was allegedly inspired by an anecdote James heard from Edward White Benson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, about a woman named Mary Ricketts, who moved to Canterbury from Hinton Ampner in 1771 after apparitions of a man and a woman appeared every day to look in the windows and peer over her children’s beds at night.
The Turn of the Screw (1898)
The Letters of Henry James vol. 1, selected and edited by Percy Lubbock (1920)
The Letters of Henry James vol. 2, selected and edited by Percy Lubbock (1920)