A Turn of the Screw: A Gothic Tale

1. Introduction

Henry James’s ‘A Turn of the Screw’ is a novella that was first published in 1898. The story is set in an old estate called Bly, which is located in Essex, England. The tale follows a young governess who is hired to take care of two children, Flora and Miles. Soon after she arrives at Bly, the governess begins to see ghosts of the former employees of the estate, Miss Jessel and Peter Quint. The governess becomes convinced that these ghosts are trying to possess the children and she must do whatever it takes to protect them.

‘A Turn of the Screw’ is essentially a simple ghost story, effectively placing it within the realm of the gothic genre that was popular at this point in time. The gothic genre is characterized by elements such as haunted locations, supernatural occurrences, and an atmosphere of fear and suspense. In this essay, I will be discussing the various gothic elements present in James’s novella and how they contribute to the overall atmosphere of the story.

2. What is the Gothic genre?

The gothic genre is a type of fiction that emerged in the late 18th century. Gothic works are typically set in haunted locations such as castles or monasteries and often involve supernatural occurrences. These stories often contain an element of romance and are full of suspense, fear, and dread. Gothic fiction was extremely popular during James’s time and many notable authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley wrote works within this genre.

3. Elements of the Gothic in James’s ‘Turn of the Screw’

As mentioned earlier, ‘A Turn of the Screw’ contains many elements typical of gothic fiction. One such element is the setting of the story. Bly, the estate where the tale takes place, is isolated from the rest of civilization and surrounded by dark woods. This makes it the perfect location for a ghost story as it adds to the feeling of isolation and fear experienced by the characters. Another gothic element present in ‘A Turn of the Screw’ is its use of supernatural occurrences. The ghosts of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint are constantly appearing to the governess and later on to Flora and Miles as well. These hauntings create an atmosphere full of suspense and dread, which are both key components of gothic fiction.

In addition to these elements, ‘A Turn of the Screw’ also contains several motifs commonly found in gothic literature. One such motif is that of madness. The governess slowly begins to lose her grip on reality as she becomes more and more obsessed with protecting Flora and Miles from Quint and Jessel’s ghostly influence. This ultimately leads to her downfall as she becomes just as possessed by Quint and Jessel as the children are. Madness is a common theme in gothic fiction as it often add to the feeling of suspense and fear present in these stories. Another motif present in ‘A Turn of  Screw’ is that death. This is evident in both Quint’s and Jessel’s deaths which leads to their haunting presence at Bly. Death is often used as a tool to create an atmosphere full of fear and dread, which are essential parts of any good gothic tale.

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, ‘A Turn of the Screw’ is a classic gothic tale that contains many of the genre’s characteristic elements. These elements work together to create an atmosphere full of suspense and fear, which is essential to any good ghost story. If you are a fan of gothic fiction or simply enjoy a good scare, then I would highly recommend ‘A Turn of the Screw.’


The main elements of the Gothic in James’s story are darkness, mystery, death, and the supernatural.

These elements contribute to the atmosphere of the story by making it suspenseful and creepy.

The Gothic influence the characters and their actions by making them more paranoid and fearful.

Fear is a major theme in this tale and it is used to create suspense and tension.

There is a sense of foreboding or doom throughout the story as the characters are constantly living in fear of something bad happening to them.

Supernatural events do take place within its pages, which further adds to the eerie atmosphere of the story.

'The Turn of The Screw' reflects some typical features of Victorian literature more generally speaking such as its focus on morality, religion, and social class structure

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