Henry James (1843-1916) was born in New York City but spent much of his childhood traveling through Europe with his parents. As an adult he’d go on to be counted among the giants of literary history. His novella, The Turn of the Screw, is still recognized as one of the greatest ghost stories ever written. While James wrote a large variety of well received tales in various genres, here we’re only interested in his ghost stories.
1. “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes” (1868) – Two 18th Century sisters compete for the affections of a young suitor named Arthur in Massachusetts. The older sister Rosalind, who loves to wear dresses and adornments, becomes jealous when Arthur chooses her sister Perdita to marry instead of her. The wedded couple have a baby girl soon afterward and are enjoying a happy life until she becomes deathly ill. On her deathbed, Perdita makes her husband swear he’ll lock her clothes and jewelry in a chest to save for their daughter when she becomes old enough. Most of this excellent story focuses on the social drama and jealousies between the two sisters, but when the supernatural elements are finally unleashed at the end, it’s swift and chilling.
2. “Sir Edmund Orme” (1891) – A young man develops a close relationship with the mother of the girl he loves after they discover they’re the only two who can see the specter of a man who was Sir Edmund Orme in life. The daughter seems uninterested in the young man and is completely unaware of Orme’s ghost which hovers near her so often.
3. “The Real Right Thing” (1892) – A young author is asked by the widow of a man he greatly admired to write a book about his life. He’s honored to undertake the endeavor and is permitted to work in the man’s former study. As the author sets to work, he feels the dead man’s presence with him. At first, he believes it’s there is to sanction the work, but later he begins to suspect the ghost may actually be against this delving into his past.
4. “The Turn of the Screw” (1898) – This novella has often been hailed as one the best ghost stories of all time and was well adapted into the film The Innocents in 1961. The story centers around a young governess who takes the job of overseeing a young brother and sister at their family estate. The children’s uncle isn’t going to be staying at the house and even leaves strict instructions that any issues dealing with them must be handled by the governess herself and to not involve him. During her stay, the governess comes to adore the children but begins to fear they are being haunted by the ghosts of two former residents of the house who are in contact with and are attempting to corrupt them. The story slowly builds toward the spectral intrusions and their influence on the children, leaving open the possibility the whole thing is imagined by the governess. You can read my review of The Innocents film here: https://horrordelve.com/2015/07/04/the-innocents-1961-movie-review/
5. “The Jolly Corner” (1908) – In this novelette, Spencer Brydon returns to his abandoned childhood home to check on property he inherited. There he finds the spirit of an alternate version of himself haunting the house.
Article by Matt Cowan