I've just finished reading "The Turn Of The Screw" by Henry James, a nineteenth century classic novella which can be read on various different levels. I read the 2003 edition, "The Turn Of The Screw: Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism", which includes the "Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives", edited by Peter Beidler - I enjoyed both Henry James' story, and this edition's analyses, immensely.
To begin with a short summary of the plot - set in the 1840s, written by James in 1897, and published in 1898 - a young woman is employed as governess to two children, Flora and Miles, by their absent uncle. She is to live at their magnificent country mansion, and is directed not to contact their uncle in London at all, but to take on all responsibility for their care. She learns that their previous governess died tragically, after falling pregnant to another 'lower' servant, who also died suddenly. And she begins to see apparitions of these two 'sinister' ghosts - written in the first-person, the reader sees the governess's viewpoint, ruminations and thoughts - the text draws the reader into her firm beliefs that these two ghosts are intent on 'grasping' and 'possessing' the two 'angelic' children. If you want to know more - I can recommend you read it.
Did James intend "The Turn Of The Screw" to be a simple ghost story? Should we presume that the ghosts, as we see them through the eyes of the governess, are real? Is this fictional world's reality truly as she sees it? Or, as analyses have suggested, are we in fact reading the story of a nineteenth century woman's psychological break-down in reaction to Victorian sexual repression? And did James intend to critique the rigid class system, and rigid gender roles, of Victorian England, as modern analyses further suggest?
If you've read "The Turn Of The Screw" - what did you think?