"I was at Trinity"
An 1887 caricature of Edward Benson from Vanity Fair
Public DomainAn 1887 caricature of Edward Benson from Vanity Fair - Credit: Leslie Ward

Trinity is one of the University of Cambridge’s 31 colleges (24 in 1898). Founded by Henry VIII in 1546, it has a reputation for both academic excellence and aristocratic standing — numerous members of the Royal Family have passed through its hallowed doors. Boasting courts, cloisters, a fountain and a library designed by Christopher Wren, its architecture is as stately and grand as its students.

It was a Trinity scholar, Edward Benson, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who gave James the original idea for The Turn of the Screw. The preface to volume 12 of the New York Edition tells how Benson, during an evening round the fire very much like this one, recalled a lady who once described a vaguely remembered experience of hers. It concerned "a couple of small children in an out-of-the-way place, to whom the spirits of certain ‘bad’ servants, dead in the employ of the house, were believed to have appeared with the design of ‘getting hold’ of them". Douglas, then, is a fictionalized version of Benson, and the narrator is James himself.

c.1840 engraving of the Great Court at Trinity College
Public Domainc.1840 engraving of the Great Court at Trinity College - Credit: John Le Keux