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Henry James

Henry James was born in Washington Place, New York in 1843. His father was a prominent theologian and philosopher, and his elder brother William was also a famous philosopher.

He attended schools in New York, and later in London, Paris and Geneva, entering the Law School at Harvard in 1862.

James began to contribute reviews and short stories to American journals in 1865. In 1875, after two visits to Europe, he settled in Paris where he met Flaubert and other literary figures. The following year he moved to London. In 1898 he left London to live in Rye, Sussex, and became a naturalised citizen in 1915. He was awarded the Order of Merit, and died in 1916.

In addition to many short stories, plays, books of criticism, autobiography and travel, he wrote 20 novels. The first was Roderick Hudson in 1875. Others include The Europeans, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, The Wings of the Dove, and The Ambassadors.

Henry James was inspired to write "the tale," as he called The Turn of the Screw, after a visit with his friend, the Archbishop of Canterbury, E.W. Benson, at his country residence at Addington Park. James said the Archbishop told him a "small and gruesome spectral story" that he had been told years before concerning dead servants and children.

The Turn of the Screw was first published in serial form in an American periodical, Collier's, in 1898. It appeared in book form in a volume called The Two Magics, The Turn of the Screw and won glowing praise:

One of the most engrossing and terrifying ghost stories we have ever read...
Athenaeum
 

The reader is bound to the end by the spell -- an imaginative masterpiece...
The Critic
 

It is a most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale, like an Elizabethan tragedy. I am greatly impressed by it.
Oscar Wilde

James was in his late fifties when the novel was published in a large volume with his other tales -- The New York Edition of the Novels and Tales of Henry James -- which appeared from 1907 to 1909.

The story, which James described in a letter to his neighbor H.G.Wells as a "pot boiler," has puzzled and fascinated readers for decades. It provoked much debate among literary critics over the ambiguity of whether the ghosts were real or merely hallucinations of the governess.

The novel has been adapted for the screen several times including a 1959 television version starring Ingrid Bergman as the Governess, and in 1961 as a feature film, The Innocents, starring Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave.  


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