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  • The Turn of the Screw & In the Cage
  • Written by Henry James
    Introduction by Hortense Calisher
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  • The Turn of the Screw & In the Cage
  • Written by Henry James
    Introduction by Hortense Calisher
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The Turn of the Screw & In the Cage

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On Sale: August 22, 2012
Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-307-82409-7
Published by : Modern Library Random House Group
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This Modern Library Paperback Classics edition brings together one of literature's most famous ghost stories and one of Henry James's most unusual novellas. In The Turn of the Screw, a governess is haunted by ghosts from her young charges past; Virginia Woolf said of this masterpiece of psychological ambiguity and suggestion, We are afraid of something unnamed, of something, perhaps, in ourselves...Henry James...can still make us afraid of the dark.

In his rarely anthologized novella In the Cage, James brings his incomparable powers of observation to the story of a clever, rebellious heroine of Britain's lower middle class. Hortense Calisher, in her Introduction, calls it a delicious story, the more so because it confounds what we expect from James.


The Turn of The Screw

The story had held us, round the fire, sufficiently breathless, but except the obvious remark that it was gruesome, as on Christmas Eve1 in an old house a strange tale should essentially be, I remember no comment uttered till somebody happened to note it as the only case he had met in which such a visitation had fallen on a child. The case, I may mention, was that of an apparition in just such an old house as had gathered us for the occasion—an appearance, of a dreadful kind, to a little boy sleeping in the room with his mother and waking her up in the terror of it; waking her not to dissipate his dread and soothe him to sleep again, but to encounter also herself, before she had succeeded in doing so, the same sight that had shocked him. It was this observation that drew from Douglas—not immediately, but later in the evening—a reply that had the interesting consequence to which I call attention. Some one else told a story not particularly effective, which I saw he was not following. This I took for a sign that he had himself something to produce and that we should only have to wait. We waited in fact till two nights later; but that same evening, before we scattered, he brought out what was in his mind.

“I quite agree—in regard to Griffin’s ghost, or whatever it was—that its appearing first to the little boy, at so tender an age, adds a particular touch. But it’s not the first occurrence of its charming kind that I know to have been concerned with a child. If the child gives the effect another turn of the screw, what do you say to two children—?”

“We say of course,” somebody exclaimed, “that two children give two turns! Also that we want to hear about them.”

I can see Douglas there before the fire, to which he had got up to present his back, looking down at this converser with his hands in his pockets. “Nobody but me, till now, has ever heard. It’s quite too horrible.” This was naturally declared by several voices to give the thing the utmost price, and our friend, with quiet art, prepared his triumph by turning his eyes over the rest of us and going on: “It’s beyond everything. Nothing at all that I know touches it.”

“For sheer terror?” I remember asking.

He seemed to say it wasn’t so simple as that; to be really at a loss how to qualify it. He passed his hand over his eyes, made a little wincing grimace. “For dreadful—dreadfulness!”

“Oh how delicious!” cried one of the women.

He took no notice of her; he looked at me, but as if, instead of me, he saw what he spoke of. “For general uncanny ugliness and horror and pain.”

“Well then,” I said, “just sit right down and begin.”

He turned round to the fire, gave a kick to a log, watched it an instant. Then as he faced us again: “I can’t begin. I shall have to send to town.”3 There was a unanimous groan at this, and much reproach; after which, in his preoccupied way, he explained. “The story’s written. It’s in a locked drawer—it has not been out for years. I could write to my man and enclose the key; he could send down the packet as he finds it.” It was to me in particular that he appeared to propound this—appeared almost to appeal for aid not to hesitate. He had broken a thickness of ice, the formation of many a winter; had had his reasons for a long silence. The others resented postponement, but it was just his scruples that charmed me. I adjured him to write by the first post and to agree with us for an early hearing; then I asked him if the experience in question had been his own. To this his answer was prompt. “Oh thank God, no!”

“And is the record yours? You took the thing down?”

“Nothing but the impression. I took that here”—he tapped his heart. “I’ve never lost it.”

“Then your manuscript—?”

“Is in old faded ink and in the most beautiful hand.” He hung fire again. “A woman’s. She has been dead these twenty years. She sent me the pages in question before she died.” They were all listening now, and of course there was somebody to be arch, or at any rate to draw the inference. But if he put the inference by without a smile it was also without irritation. “She was a most charming person, but she was ten years older than I. She was my sister’s governess,” he quietly said. “She was the most agreeable woman I’ve ever known in her position; she’d have been worthy of any whatever. It was long ago, and this episode was long before. I was at Trinity, and I found her at home on my coming down the second summer. I was much there that year—it was a beautiful one; and we had, in her off-hours, some strolls and talks in the garden—talks in which she struck me as awfully clever and nice. Oh yes; don’t grin: I liked her extremely and am glad to this day to think she liked me too. If she hadn’t she wouldn’t have told me. She had never told any one. It wasn’t simply that she said so, but that I knew she hadn’t. I was sure; I could see. You’ll easily judge why when you hear.”

“Because the thing had been such a scare?”

He continued to fix me. “You’ll easily judge,” he repeated: “you will.”

I fixed him too. “I see. She was in love.”

He laughed for the first time. “You are acute. Yes, she was in love. That is she had been. That came out—she couldn’t tell her story without its coming out. I saw it, and she saw I saw it; but neither of us spoke of it. I remember the time and the place—the corner of the lawn, the shade of the great beeches and the long hot summer afternoon. It wasn’t a scene for a shudder; but oh—!” He quitted the fire and dropped back into his chair.

“You’ll receive the packet Thursday morning?” I said.

“Probably not till the second post.”

“Well then; after dinner—”

“You’ll all meet me here?” He looked us round again. “Isn’t anybody going?” It was almost the tone of hope.

“Everybody will stay!”

“I will—and I will!” cried the ladies whose departure had been fixed. Mrs. Griffin, however, expressed the need for a little more light. “Who was it she was in love with?”

“The story will tell,” I took upon myself to reply.

“Oh I can’t wait for the story!”

“The story won’t tell,” said Douglas; “not in any literal vulgar way.”

“More’s the pity then. That’s the only way I ever understand.”

“Won’t you tell, Douglas?” somebody else inquired.

He sprang to his feet again. “Yes—to-morrow. Now I must go to bed. Good-night.” And, quickly catching up a candlestick, he left us slightly bewildered. From our end of the great brown hall we heard his step on the stair; whereupon Mrs. Griffin spoke. “Well, if I don’t know who she was in love with I know who he was.”

“She was ten years older,” said her husband.

“Raison de plus6—at that age! But it’s rather nice, his long reticence.”

“Forty years!” Griffin put in.

“With this outbreak at last.”

“The outbreak,” I returned, “will make a tremendous occasion of Thursday night”; and every one so agreed with me that in the light of it we lost all attention for everything else. The last story, however incomplete and like the mere opening of a serial, had been told; we handshook and “candlestuck,” as somebody said, and went to bed.

I knew the next day that a letter containing the key had, by the first post, gone off to his London apartments; but in spite of—or perhaps just on account of—the eventual diffusion of this knowledge we quite let him alone till after dinner, till such an hour of the evening in fact as might best accord with the kind of emotion on which our hopes were fixed. Then he became as communicative as we could desire, and indeed gave us his best reason for being so. We had it from him again before the fire in the hall, as we had had our mild wonders of the previous night. It appeared that the narrative he had promised to read us really required for a proper intelligence a few words of prologue. Let me say here distinctly, to have done with it, that this narrative, from an exact transcript of my own made much later, is what I shall presently give. Poor Douglas, before his death—when it was in sight—committed to me the manuscript that reached him on the third of these days and that, on the same spot, with immense effect, he began to read to our hushed little circle on the night of the fourth. The departing ladies who had said they would stay didn’t, of course, thank heaven, stay: they departed, in consequence of arrangements made, in a rage of curiosity, as they professed, produced by the touches with which he had already worked us up. But that only made his little final auditory more compact and select, kept it, round the hearth, subject to a common thrill.

The first of these touches conveyed that the written statement took up the tale at a point after it had, in a manner, begun. The fact to be in possession of was therefore that his old friend, the youngest of several daughters of a poor country parson, had at the age of twenty, on taking service for the first time in the schoolroom, come up to London, in trepidation, to answer in person an advertisement that had already placed her in brief correspondence with the advertiser. This person proved, on her presenting herself for judgement at a house in Harley Street that impressed her as vast and imposing—this prospective patron proved a gentleman, a bachelor in the prime of life, such a figure as had never risen, save in a dream or an old novel, before a fluttered anxious girl out of a Hampshire vicarage. One could easily fix his type; it never, happily, dies out. He was handsome and bold and pleasant, off-hand and gay and kind. He struck her, inevitably, as gallant and splendid, but what took her most of all and gave her the courage she afterwards showed was that he put the whole thing to her as a favour, an obligation he should gratefully incur. She figured him as rich, but as fearfully extravagant—saw him all in a glow of high fashion, of good looks, of expensive habits, of charming ways with women. He had for his town residence a big house filled with the spoils of travel and the trophies of the chase; but it was to his country home, an old family place in Essex, that he wished her immediately to proceed.

He had been left, by the death of his parents in India, guardian to a small nephew and a small niece, children of a younger, a military brother whom he had lost two years before. These children were, by the strangest of chances for a man in his position—a lone man without the right sort of experience or a grain of patience—very heavy on his hands. It had all been a great worry and, on his own part doubtless, a series of blunders, but he immensely pitied the poor chicks and had done all he could; had in particular sent them down to his other house, the proper place for them being of course the country, and kept them there from the first with the best people he could find to look after them, parting even with his own servants to wait on them and going down himself, whenever he might, to see how they were doing. The awkward thing was that they had practically no other relations and that his own affairs took up all his time. He had put them in possession of Bly, which was healthy and secure, and had placed at the head of their little establishment—but belowstairs only—an excellent woman, Mrs. Grose, whom he was sure his visitor would like and who had formerly been maid to his mother. She was now housekeeper and was also acting for the time as superintendent to the little girl, of whom, without children of her own, she was by good luck extremely fond. There were plenty of people to help, but of course the young lady who should go down as governess would be in supreme authority. She would also have, in holidays, to look after the small boy, who had been for a term at school—young as he was to be sent, but what else could be done?—and who, as the holidays were about to begin, would be back from one day to the other. There had been for the two children at first a young lady whom they had had the misfortune to lose. She had done for them quite beautifully—she was a most respectable person—till her death, the great awkwardness of which had, precisely, left no alternative but the school for little Miles. Mrs. Grose, since then, in the way of manners and things, had done as she could for Flora; and there were, further, a cook, a housemaid, a dairywoman, an old pony, an old groom, and an old gardener, all likewise thoroughly respectable.

So far had Douglas presented his picture when some one put a question. “And what did the former governess die of? Of so much respectability?”

Our friend’s answer was prompt. “That will come out. I don’t anticipate.”

“Pardon me—I thought that was just what you are doing.”

“In her successor’s place,” I suggested, “I should have wished to learn if the office brought with it—”

“Necessary danger to life?” Douglas completed my thought. “She did wish to learn, and she did learn. You shall hear to-morrow what she learnt. Meanwhile of course the prospect struck her as slightly grim. She was young, untried, nervous: it was a vision of serious duties and little company, of really great loneliness. She hesitated—took a couple of days to consult and consider. But the salary offered much exceeded her modest measure, and on a second interview she faced the music, she engaged.” And Douglas, with this, made a pause that, for the benefit of the company, moved me to throw in—

“The moral of which was of course the seduction exercised by the splendid young man. She succumbed to it.”

He got up and, as he had done the night before, went to the fire, gave a stir to a log with his foot, then stood a moment with his back to us. “She saw him only twice.”

“Yes, but that’s just the beauty of her passion.”

A little to my surprise, on this, Douglas turned round to me. “It was the beauty of it. There were others,” he went on, “who hadn’t succumbed. He told her frankly all his difficulty—that for several applicants the conditions had been prohibitive. They were somehow simply afraid. It sounded dull—it sounded strange; and all the more so because of his main condition.”

“Which was—?”

“That she should never trouble him—but never, never: neither appeal nor complain nor write about anything; only meet all questions herself, receive all moneys from his solicitor, take the whole thing over and let him alone. She promised to do this, and she mentioned to me that when, for a moment, disburdened, delighted, he held her hand, thanking her for the sacrifice, she already felt rewarded.”

“But was that all her reward?” one of the ladies asked.

“She never saw him again.”
Henry James

About Henry James

Henry James - The Turn of the Screw & In the Cage
Henry James was born on April 15, 1843, on Washington Place in New York to the most intellectually remarkable of American families. His father, Henry James Sr., was a brilliant and eccentric religious philosopher; his brother was one of the first great American psychologists and the author of the influential Pragmatism; his sister, Alice, though an invalid for most of her life, was a talented conversationalist, a lively letter writer, and a witty observer of the art and politics of her time.

In search of the proper education for his children, Henry senior sent them to schools in America, France, Germany, and Switzerland. Returning to America, Henry junior lived in Newport, briefly attended Harvard Law School, and in 1864 began contributing stories and book reviews to magazines. Two more trips to Europe led to his final decision to settle there, first in Paris in 1875, then in London next year.

James's first major novel, Roderick Hudson, appeared in 1875, but it was Daisy Miller (1878) that brought him international fame as the chronicler of American expatriates and their European adventures. His novels include The American (1877), Washington Square (1880), Princess Casamassima (1886), and the three late masterpieces, The Wings of the Dove (1902), The Ambassadors (1903) and The Golden Bowl (1904). He also wrote plays, criticism, autobiography, travel books (including The American Scene, 1907) and some of the finest short stories in the English language.

His later works were little read during his lifetime but have since come to be recognized as forerunners of literary modernism. Upon the outbreak of World War I, James threw his energies into war relief work and decided to adopt British citizenship. One month before his death in 1916, he received the Order of Merit from King George V.


"[James] is the most intelligent man of his generation."
--T. S. Eliot
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. In The Turn of the Screw, the misbehavior of the children, Miles and Flora, as the story progresses makes us suspect that they are not as innocent as they seem. And yet the source of their misbehavior is left ambiguous: Is it natural mischievousness or has it been instigated by an evil, corrupting force in the form of the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel? Trace through the story the changes in the way the governess views the children and their misbehaviors. How does the uncertainty about the children, and their possible awareness of the ghosts, intensify the governess's predicament?

2. In the beginning chapters of the story, the governess recounts several unsettling events: The children's uncle insists that he not be bothered with anything relating to the children's care; we learn of the death of the governess's predecessor, Miss Jessel; and we learn that sweet and charming Miles has been expelled from school. These are just some of the forebodings that set the stage for the supernatural events that soon follow, and so when the governess first relates the appearance of a ghost it doesn't seem entirely unexpected. To what degree is the governess a force of sense and reason in these unsettling surroundings, and to what degree does she become a destabilizing force herself as the story progresses? How does our answer to this question affect our understanding of the story's ending?

3. Any interpretation of The Turn of the Screw hinges on the question, debated vociferously by critics, of whether the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are real or whether they are figments of the governess's imagination. What are the implications of the governess's imagining them? If we read this not as an actual ghost story but as a story about the governess's perceptions of ghosts, what sort of psychological underpinnings are suggested? Could it be in these dimensions that the real horror of the story may lie?

4. The heroine of In the Cage works, literally, in a cage-behind bars in a telegraph office-but lives in a "caged" situation in more ways than just this one. How else is she caged in? She is a highly observant, intelligent woman. What are the effects on her perceptions of reality of her "caged" situation? What are the effects on her use of her imagination and its interplay with reality?

5. In the Cage is one of the few of Henry James's novels or novellas that center on the situation of a heroine of the lower or lower-middle class. Most often, James's heroines are members of the upper or upper-
middle class-heroines caught in difficult, even "caged," situations, but situations that are the result of their own moral and emotional choices and these choices' far-reaching, sometimes unforeseen, impact. The heroine of In the Cage is in large part defined, from the very beginning, by her lack of any choices, a consequence of her low social position. In the heroine's climactic interaction with Captain Everard, when he comes to Cocker's to retrieve the lost telegram, how does the heroine make use of the choice open to her at this juncture-that is, the choice of how much to admit to remembering about the telegram? How does she make use of the power that the choice gives her in relation to Captain Everard? Why does she act as she does, and what do her actions say about her attitude toward the Captain?

6. On one of the occasions when the heroine and Mrs. Jordan are discussing their respective clients, Mrs. Jordan says, "Yes, but the great difference is that you hate yours, whereas I really love mine." In actuality, the lines aren't quite so clearly drawn. Why does Mrs. Jordan make this comment? What sort of complex mix of feelings do the heroine and Mrs. Jordan have for their clients? And for each other? How does James use his heroine's relationship with Mrs. Jordan to show the complicity of both in upholding the hierarchical social structure within which they live? What are the advantages to them of their complicity?

7. If we make the assumption that the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw are a product of the governess's imagination, how might we think about the similarities in the imaginations of the governess and the heroine of In the Cage? Is there any sense in which, psychologically-like those of the heroine of In the Cage-the governess's perceptions create a "caged" situation for her? How do the heroine's perceptions of Captain Everard and the governess's perceptions of the children's uncle similarly contribute to the psychological traps these two characters may, in a sense, lay for themselves?

  • The Turn of the Screw & In the Cage by Henry James
  • May 08, 2001
  • Fiction - Classics
  • Modern Library
  • $6.95
  • 9780375757402

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