The Turn of the Screw, a ghost story novella by Henry James, was first published in 1898. It is described as a masterpiece in storytelling, and because of how it creates an atmosphere of terror; it is considered a central text in the horror genre. The story is about a guest named Douglas reading to other guests a story from a written record. An unknown narrator remembers some friends gathering at an old house to listen to one another’s ghost stories, and then introduces Douglas, who tells them about a story that involves two children and a governess. As Douglas reads the story, the point of view shifts and the story is narrated by a different character. It is precisely his sister’s governess who narrates her mysterious experience in which she claims she has a ghost encounter.
The manipulation of point of view through the narrators is what makes this novella a masterpiece; James’s use of point of view not only alters the scheme of a traditional ghost story but also connotes an effort to involve the reader in the story in order to question the narrator’s reliability. As said above, a first narrator introduces the reader to the story as well as explains the nature of it through a character named Douglas, but it is the presence of a second narrator what establishes a difficulty to the reader. The interior voice of the manuscript, so to speak, embodied in the figure of the governess, makes problematically decide whether the apparitions are real or mere delusions. This is because the governess' point of view does not provide conclusive evidence about her experience; hence, the conflict remains a mystery and open to the interpretation of the reader.
Throughout the story two first-person narrators can be distinguished: an unknown narrator and the governess. The unknown narrator stands for the figure of the narrative voice that introduces Douglas’s story, but also for the figure of the implied author; he tells the reader the origin of the story (its background) and functions as a first narrative point of view in the novella. A fact easily identifiable since the beginning of the novella when it can be seen the interest of the implied author in differentiating Douglas’s story from a naive story told by the fire:
This I took for a sign that he had himself something to produce and that we should only have to wait […] 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 […] “The story will tell,” I took upon myself to reply […] “The outbreak,” I returned, “will make a tremendous occasion of Thursday night;” and everyone so agreed with me that, in the light of it, we lost all attention for everything else. (James 3-7)
In the previous quotation it can be observed that the implied author is “charmed” by a story that has not been told yet, but only introduced, to the point of taking “upon himself to reply”, as if Douglas's story...