'Under the Moonbeams'was used to portray Bly on the cover of the Penguin Popular Classics edition
Public Domain'Under the Moonbeams'was used to portray Bly on the cover of the Penguin Popular Classics edition - Credit: John Atkinson Grimshaw

For almost its entire duration, The Turn of the Screw is confined to the grounds of Bly, an imposing country estate in a remote reach of Essex. Bly is as much a psychological as an architectural edifice, and its cut-off nature both reflects and exacerbates the governess’s state of mind. Features such as machicolated battlements, meanwhile, underscore its function as a scene of deadly conflict. Particularly interesting are the parallels between Bly’s structure and that of the novel. Not only is the building compared to a storybook and haunted by suggestions of characters from gothic literature, it also seems to have been built to the same blueprint as The Turn of the Screw. Bly’s gritty practicality (“a big, ugly, antique but convenient house”) is appended by two towers “dating, in their gingerbread antiquity, from a romantic revival that was already a respectable past”. Meanwhile, the book combines the descriptive realism of modernist writing with the gothic, a genre which was hugely popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and which underwent a popular revival in the 1880s and 1890s at the hands of Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde and Arthur Machen — Henry James came at the tail-end of the movement. The ultimate location of this highly self-reflexive work, then, is the book itself.

The Stour Valley and Dedham Village (1815)
Public DomainThe Stour Valley and Dedham Village (1815) - Credit: John Constable

Essex is an English county originally settled by the Celtic Trinovantes tribe before coming under the rule of the Roman Empire in 49 AD. During the Anglo-Saxon period, it formed the eastern portion of the Kingdom of Essex, part of what later became known as the Heptarchy. Despite its long history and proximity to London, Essex remains largely untouched by urban development outside of its major population centres.

The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5, remarks that "[m]uch of the surface, from combination of natural feature and artificial embellishment, exhibits a pleasing and ever-varying succession of rural landscapes". To the seaboard, it is low-lying and frequently marshy, whilst further inland, small villages dot the faintly undulant countryside. Much of its 3,670 km2 expanse is given over to agriculture. During the 1840s, cereals were the main crop, but beans, peas and vetch were also cultivated. 


The English artist John Constable is renowned for his portrayals of the Essex countryside, and works such as The Stour Valley and Dedham Village (1815) provide a romantic view of the county as it appeared in the early 19th century.