the turn of the screw
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As told from an objective authorial perspective, in which the unnamed narrator himself speaks about his own transcription of the manuscript into the book his reader holds in his/her hands, it seems at first glance to provide the reader with trustworthy background information necessary for the story.
However, it is important to note that all the information provided about the governess comes not from the narrator but solely from Douglas, a man whom the characters themselves note was clearly in love with the governess. We hear from Douglas - rather than see for ourselves - that the governess was a young innocent whose employer took advantage of her inexperience. Douglas's words, unsurprisingly condemnatory of a man loved by this woman, shape the reader's assumptions as s/he begins the governess's narrative and demand s/he question the reliability of the story's narrators. Because of Douglas's emotional connection to the governess, we cannot be wholly certain about her innocence nor about the gentleman's conniving.
If we do accept Douglas's retelling of the governess's encounter with her employer, however, her tenuous position with regards to both gender and class becomes apparent. Her profession places her between two worlds. She seeks to align herself with the upper class world of her employer, who sees her, unlike the housekeeper Mrs. Grose, as the appropriate companion for his young wards. At the same time, she eschews identification with the servants, whom the employer enumerates alongside buildings and livestock - "a cook, a housemaid, a dairywoman, an old pony, an old groom, and an old gardener." The governess's desire to align herself with the upper class, however, are threatened by her employer's dismissal of the previous governess's death as a hindrance rather than a tragedy and by her need to accept the job because of a salary which "much exceeded her modest measure."
This opening section also reveals the origin of the book's title. Telling a ghost story in which a child is visited by a ghostly apparition, Griffin gives the already frightening tale one "turn of the screw." By telling a story about two children who encounter ghosts, Douglas says that he seeks to give the screw two turns. On this objective level, then, it seems that James intends his book as a ghost story. Douglas recalls that when he met the governess, he was a student at Trinity College - a college which, as James himself knew, was the center for psychical research in late nineteenth century Britain. At the same time, we must separate James's intention from that of Douglas, for whom the explanation of ghosts rather than madness renders the governess innocent, and remember that a biased character, rather than an objective author, frames these events.