SPOILER WARNING: These book discussion questions are highly detailed and will ruin plot points, if you have not read the book.
Title:The Turn of the Screw
Author: Henry James
Page Count: 134
Genre: Literary horror
Tone: Ambiguous, leisurely, literary
Questions composed by MPPL Staff
1. The job: to tend to two orphans in a country mansion full of rarely-seen servants with absolutely no oversight from the children’s remaining family. Do you think this job was unusual for the Victorian era? Why did the governess take the job? Would you have taken the job?
2. Is the Governess the first person to her position or were there others before her?
3. How would you describe the Governess as a person? Do you think she cared for the children?
4. What did you think of the children’s uncle? Do you think he cared for the children? Why do you think he never wanted to be contacted about their conduct or progress?
5. There are several unnamed characters in this book – the Governess and the Uncle. Why do you think Henry James never named them? Did you notice the characters were unnamed? What power does a name have?
6. Who is Mrs. Grose? Do the children trust her? Does the Governess trust her? Does Mrs. Grose trust the Governess?
7. The Governess has an ideal start with Flora and then Miles comes home from boarding school for the summer. A letter appears shortly after from Miles’ school saying he was expelled. Why was he expelled? Did the Governess talk to Miles about his expulsion? Why or why not? Would you have talked to Miles about it?
8. Did the Governess write Miles’ uncle about his expulsion? Why or why not?
9. What are other examples of people being vague or unnecessarily mysterious in The Turn of the Screw?
10. Who is Mr. Quint? Who is Miss Jessel? How were they connected to one another? How did the Governess first come across knowledge of Quint and Jessel?
11. Do you think the ghosts of Quint and Jessel were real?
12. Do you think the children saw the ghosts of Quint and Jeseel?
13. Was the Governess a heroic woman trying to protect the children from evil influence…or do you think she was hallucinating and losing her mind?
14. Why do you think the governess was so slow to write the children’s uncle? Did she ever actually write him? If she did, what happened to the letter?
15. Did the children write their uncle? What happened to their letters? Is there a reasonable explanation for why the Governess did not post them?
16. Did you find the children, Miles and Flora, to be lovely or sinister?
17. Did the children ever turn on the Governess? If so, how and why?
18. Miles asks the Governess when he is going back to school. It is here that we start to see his personality. What is Miles like? How does the Governess respond to his inquiries?
19. Corruption is a word often used by the Governess. What do you think this word means to her and to this story?
20. The Governess and Mrs. Grose find Flora playing outside. The Governess swears she sees the ghost of Miss Jessel across a stream from them. Can Flora see the ghost? What happens to Flora and the Governess’ relationship after this sighting?
21. Where does Mrs. Grose take Flora?
22. What happens between Miles and the Governess while Mrs. Grose and Flora are gone?
23. Do you think Miles’ death was an accident? Do you think it could have been averted?
24. What are words you would use to describe The Turn of the Screw? What genre is it?
25. What makes a good suspense novel? What makes a good horror novel? Did The Turn of the Screw make a good horror or suspense novel?
26. What is the meaning of the title?
27. Have you seen (and would you recommend) any of the movies based on The Turn of the Screw?
Random House book discussion questions
The New Yorker review
SparkNotes for the book
Wikipedia page for the book
If you liked The Turn of the Screw, try…
The Woman in Black by Susan Hill
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
The White People and Other Weird Stories by Arthur Machen
This readalike is in response to a customer's book-match request. If you would like personalized reading recommendations, fill out the book-match form and a librarian will email suggested titles to you. Available for adults, teens, and kids. You can browse the book matches here.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Generally considered the first English sensation novel, The Woman in White features the remarkable heroine Marian Halcombe and her sleuthing partner, drawing master Walter Hartright, pitted against the diabolical team of Count Fosco and Sir Percival Glyde. A gripping tale of murder, intrigue, madness, and mistaken identity, Collins's psychological thriller has never been out of print in the 140 years since its publication. (catalog summary)
If you like The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, a classic of psychological suspense generally considered to be the first English mystery novel, you may want to read:
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
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A Dangerous Mourning by Anne Perry
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Dracula by Bram Stoker
Presents the tale of a bizarre Carpathian count who drinks human blood to stay alive, and the Englishman who knows his secret. (catalog description)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
In early nineteenth-century England, an orphaned young woman accepts employment as a governess at Thornfield Hall, a country estate owned by the mysteriously remote Mr. Rochester. (catalog summary)
Lady Audley's Secret by M.E. Braddon (eAudio only)
When beautiful young Lucy Graham accepts the hand of Sir Michael Audley, her fortune and her future look secure. But Lady Audley's past is shrouded in mystery, and Sir Michael's nephew Robert has vague forebodings. When Robert's good friend George Talboys suddenly disappears, he is determined to find him, and to unearth the truth. (catalog summary)
The Monk by Matthew Lewis
The Monk was so highly popular that it seemed to create an epoch in our literature', wrote Sir Walter Scott. Set in the sinister monastery of the Capuchins in Madrid, The Monk is a violent tale of ambition, murder, and incest. The great struggle between maintaining monastic vows and fulfilling personal ambitions leads its main character, the monk Ambrosio, to temptation and the breaking of his vows, thento sexual obsession and rape, and finally to murder in order to conceal his guilt. Inspired by German horror romanticism and the work of Ann Radcliffe, Lewis produced his masterpiece at the age of nineteen. (catalog summary)
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone, a priceless yellow diamond, is looted from an Indian temple and maliciously bequeathed to Rachel Verinder. On her eighteenth birthday, her friend and suitor Franklin Blake brings the gift to her. That very night, it is stolen again. No one is above suspicion, as the idiosyncratic Sergeant Cuff and the Franklin piece together a puzzling series of events as mystifying as an opium dream and as deceptive as the nearby Shivering Sand. (catalog summary)
The Murders in the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe
Between 1841 and 1844, Edgar Allan Poe invented the genre of detective fiction with three mesmerizing stories of a young French eccentric named C. Auguste Dupin. Introducing to literature the concept of applying reason to solving crime, these tales brought Poe fame and fortune. (catalog summary)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
Edwin Drood is contracted to marry orphan Rosa when he comes of age, but when they find that duty has gradually replaced affection, they agree to break the engagement off. Shortly afterwards, in the middle of a storm on Christmas Eve, Edwin disappears, leaving nothing but some personal belongings and the suspicion that his jealous uncle John Jasper, madly in love with Rosa, is the killer. And beyond this presumed crime there are further intrigues—the dark opium underworld of sleepy cathedral town Cloisterham, and the sinister double life of choirmaster Jasper, whose drug-fuelled fantasy life belies his respectable appearance. Dickens died before completing Edwin Drood , leaving its tantalizing mystery unsolved and encouraging generations of readers to try to work out what happened next. (catalog summary)
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house's current occupants. (catalog summary)
The Séance by John Harwood
Constance Langton grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for Constance's sister, the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance takes her to a séance: perhaps she will find comfort from beyond the grave. But the meeting has tragic consequences. Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest that will blight her life. (catalog summary)
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
One summer a young governess is sent to take charge of Miles and Flora, two beautiful, charming orphans living in a country house. But silence covers their past. Then the servants reappear who, before they died, had looked after the children. As winter closes in, the young governess struggles to keep her charges from the unnatural influences which they seem strangely to desire. (catalog summary)
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The passionate love of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff mirrors the powerful moods of the Yorkshire moors. (catalog summary)