The Turn Of The Screw Henry James Book Review

Yo, spoilers.

The Turn Of The Screw, Henry James, Book Cover

The Turn Of The Screw

Sometimes, I get ambitious and think, self, let’s prove intellectual superiority by reading A CLASSIC, because you know, classics are hard. But then my brain got pwned by The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James. Last year, I read a retelling of The Turn Of The Screw – Tighter by Adele Griffin and really liked it and was all, sure I will love this shit, in relation to the source material. Plus, The Turn Of The Screw was number one on my goodreads TBR and I want to reduce it down to the ground. Turns out, I was NOT meant to fall in love with Henry James.

What I think happened in the plot:

In the beginning of The Turn Of The Screw, this stuffy dude is trying to date some chick. And then he hangs out with his friends and begins to read a ghost story from these letters and the womenfolk leave cuz of the ghosts. So, the ghost story opens with this governess who is unnamed going to Bly. She becomes  BFF with Mrs. Gorse, the cook. The governess starts off thinking the children she cares for – Flora and Miles- are perfect angels. But really, they are creepy as hell. There are no parental figures that live at Bly. Then, the governess starts to see a ghost of a red haired man without a hat – he’s Irish I think, so obviously boorish and evil. Also, she see the ghost of Miss Jessel, the previous governess who is a hussy and evil too. Then the governess is all, ghosts, y’all! And Mrs. Gorse is like what ghosts? I don’t see. Then Miles dies in her arms and I’m like that’s it? That’s the big build up?

I’d like to think my brain isn’t mush from reading nothing but YA and genre fiction (because there are MANY MANY MANY intelligent people who read nothing but YA and genre fiction), but I totally did not get The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James. I mean, one comment I got on here once seems to imply that I’m not smart enough to read challenging books because I read mostly YA and genre fic, (hey condescending asshole, what up), but maybe it’s just that The Turn Of The Screw really isn’t all that great. It’s a whole lot of build up for nothing.It doesn’t have the payoff that I thought The Woman In White did. I mean, I see how people could debate whether the governess is cray cray or not, but meh, The Turn Of The Screw is NOT a me-book and I’m smart enough to realize that. Also the whole time, I was like if this was a Dumas book, there would be some swashbuckling going down, or if this was Wilkie Collins, there would be some crazy shit, because BOOM that’s WHAT I LIKE in books I read, not saying that is what other people like or should like.

Anyways, you guys ever read a book that completely went over your head? Let me know below!

Disclosure: Purchased copy fo’ free on my Kindle.

Other Reviews of The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James:

Justice Jennifer Reads
Mina Burrows

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April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.
About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.


  1. Lois D. Brown says

    I’m a writer, book lover, and your newest blog follower! My blog is Life of Lois Feel free to stop on by.


  2. Yeah, this one was pretty nuts. I read it in college and I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason I kind of got the whole point of what was going on. It’s an important book because it pretty much started the whole use of the uncanny in literature, which in this case means you aren’t sure what’s real and what isn’t and whether or not the governess is actually seeing what she says she’s seeing or if she’s insane. I remember going into this thinking, eh I bet she’s really seeing the ghosts and this is a ghost story! But then when I got further in, it was a lot harder for me to make up my mind, and I think that’s the whole point. I kind of liked it, but most likely that’s because I was being guided in my reading and interpretation. I can definitely understand NOT getting it if I didn’t have a professor and a class to discuss it with.

    • See, that’s why I LIKED required reading in school, because with guided interpretation, I felt like I could understand the classics much better.

      I went into it thinking she was insane, but then my mind changed.

      Thanks for the explanation on how Turn of The Screw started the use of the uncanny, I did not know that and think that is really cool.

      • No problem. 🙂 It’s definitely easier to appreciate stuff when you know what the hell is going on, or that we’re not necessarily supposed to know what’s going on. I would definitely not have got it without help and would probably have abandoned it sometime in the middle. Kudos for finishing it.

  3. I am pretty sure this is one of the Henry James novels I was supposed to read for my American Lit class in college but I have never been able to finish a Henry James novel (I have tried many times) so I ended up getting the Cliffs Notes version.

    I wish I could like Henry James and maybe some day in a few decades I will pick up one of his books and it will click. If not, I’m not too disappointed. I love Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell and Shakespeare in addition to reading YA and genre fiction. Plus I love Downton Abbey so that has to count for something 😉

    My literary fiction goals this year include trying Wilkie Collins so I will be picking up a copy of The Woman in White. Don’t feel bad about not liking Henry James-I think you are in good company 🙂

    • I think you will really like Wilkie Collins, The Woman In White is fun — i mean figuring out who she is and unraveling the mystery. It rocks.

      I wonder if there is some sort of intellectual/societal pressure on us to like certain books – particularly classics, like a fear that if you don’t like a certain classic you won’t be perceived as intelligent. Like, with me, I wanted desperately to like The Turn Of The Screw and understand it, but I didn’t so now I’m UH OH.

  4. It’s definitely not your intelligence level! That book just flat-out sucks. You know I’m a huge classics reader and that book put me to sleep when I was 22 and then again at 32. Blagh.

    • Ha ha, I love how you lay it out so candidly. It’s very reassuring that you did not love The Turn of the Screw, it kind of feels like I have a sort of permission not to love it, even though it is a classic.

  5. The book’s ambiguous ending is supposed to be a mirror, I think. Are you the kind of person who has enough suspension of belief to think there are ghosts? Or are you the kind of person who automatically assumes someone who claims interaction with the supernatural is crazy? Or are you the kind of person who hears “evil man associated with small children” and jumps to the “pedophile” conclusion? James came from a family of psychologists- I think he was more concerned with what the book exposed about your own mind than he was about giving a pat ending.

    *also, I loved it, and I have no idea if she was crazy- my mirror says “this reader is too lazy to care, but appreciates what you’re trying to do there, Henry*

    • Ha! I like your mirror.

    • I am the type that automatically jumps to the pedophile conclusion. I hope that doesn’t mean anything to terrible.See, this is why I am so glad I know smart people because your explanation of the mirror raises my appreciation of the Turn of the Screw. I wouldn’t have gotten that out of this book on my own.

  6. I read this book because it appeared in an episode of Lost. I thought it was brilliant, thought-provoking, and very engaging. Haha. I’m kidding. I didn’t get it at all. Sometimes these things just fly over your head (I just had this experience with Mansfield Park).

    I like your description, and your plot summary, though. I don’t think people who read mostly YA are dumb; we just like a different medium and most of the time we’re looking for a good story, not an allegory or something that needs to examined for greater meaning.

    • I read Mansfield Park 3 times before I liked it. Now Fanny holds a special spot in my heart, cause the worst of the Austens actually turned me onto the author.

      Not that I’m implying you should read Mansfield Park 3 times…No one should do that unless you have to do so for college credit or some such outside motivator. ‘Cause it wasn’t so fun the first two times around, lol.

    • Naw, I don’t think YA readers are dumb either– being one, but I just wonder if people assume I have mush for brains because I don’t often venture to classics or literary type books.

      Also, I love that the subtitles for your Mansfield Park reviews are: The Charlie Sheen Chronicles. THAT is hilarious.

  7. First, I didn’t realize Tighter was a retelling of this. Silly me and thanks for that heads up.

    I just read Sense and Sensibility, because I thought I’d challenge myself to read something outside of my norm. Also I’ve been following Adam’s (see above comment) #JaneAustenHeadSpin challenge pretty closely and laughing my ass off at it every day. So I gave it a go. And…Outside of the Jekyll and Hyde that I read around Halloween, it’d been a while since I read anything classical, ya know?

    It wasn’t over my head. But I didn’t love it. I finished it. But I sure didn’t love it. Maybe in another time, perhaps. But I sure love my YA and genre fiction, and I am PERFECTLY FINE with that. Why? Because life is too short and I’m busy as hell and that’s what I like to read.

    So, Jane Austen: I read one of her books. I appreciate it, but I’m definitely not on the bandwagon. Mad props for reading this one. Now you get to read something fun!!! YAYYYY!!!

    • Asheley, I love your attitude. I like Jane Austen, but I read her back at a time in my life where I probably read 3 classics a month and was in high school – therefore less lazy, etc than now, plus the environment of teachers and all. These days, I’m not sure if I could get through that.

      And yes, there is something to be said for reading what you like to read 😀

      ALSO I am so glad Adam commented because I went to look at his blog, and yo he is totally WINNING at book blogging.

  8. Even though I was an English major in college, there were some books that went far over my head and I didn’t really “get” them until we started discussing them in class. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by by James Joyce about did me in.

    • I didn’t take any english classes in college – AP english counted as college credit and then I tested out of the composition classes. Now I am kind of wishing that I did take it.

      Also, James Joyce, I am IMPRESSED.

  9. I can understand why you didn’t like it. I read this for a LIT class last year, and I enjoyed it, but I mostly just loved the suspense. The end did bother me, because you’re not really sure what happened. And it was all a little crazy. But classics are so subjective. Some people love some of them and others hate them.

    • I like what you said — about classics being subjective. I mean, there are some classics I just want to make out with, they are so awesome — mainly The Count Of Monte Cristo, Les Miserables, and To Kill A Mockingbird.

      I feel like I probably would have liked Turn Of The Screw more if I had to read it for class because at least the reading would be guided by in class discussion and an essay.

  10. So, I’m reading this for a horror class right now and these comments definitely helped me out – haha, maybe I’ll spout some of this off in class tomorrow and sound smart instead of just confused/bored like I would have been otherwise…