This is pretty much the most psychological gothic novel I've ever read. If you want to read something that will really make you question what's real and what's not, then you need to check this out. In comparison, other gothic novels like Dracula and Frankenstein are CSI and this is more Goosebumps (who didn't read about 50 of those when they were younger?!). Anyway, I've recently written on this for a university paper comparing it to The Yellow Wallpaper, so if you've read both it might be interesting to think about ways in which they're similar as they were both written by American authors in the same period.
A group of friends gather around a fire to hear ghost stories - but one participant claims he has a true one, taken from the diary of the governess at the heart of it. When the governess arrives at her new job, she is charmed by the distant uncle of the two children she is to care for. Meeting the unbelievably beautiful children Miles and Flora, she is shocked to discover that Miles has been expelled from his school for an unnamed reason. However, as the novel progresses and the governess begins to see the spectres of two socially transgressive deceased servants, she begins to wonder whether the children are as innocent as they seem.
Never knowing exactly what is going on makes everyone anxious, and the amount of critical debate over whether the spectres actually exist or not highlights just how much James leaves to the imagine in this text.
The critique of American family values and strictures comes through evidently in the discussion of the role of both the governess and Miles' social transgression. Queer discourse is snuck into the heart of the story, which is always enlightening to witness. This is what is the great unspoken crime of the novella, and bathos is used when it is finally exposed. In this way, James indicates that by not using queer discourse, we don't avoid it, but create anxiety around it.
Have you read it? What did you think?