Six Degrees of Separation: From The Turn of the Screw to The Turn of the Key

It’s the first Saturday of the month which means it’s time for another Six Degrees of Separation, hosted by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best. The idea is that Kate chooses a book to use as a starting point and then we have to link it to six other books of our choice to form a chain. A book doesn’t have to be connected to all of the others on the list – only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month we are starting with a book that I have actually read – not something that happens very often! The book is The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and if you haven’t read it, here is the blurb from Goodreads:

In what Henry James called a ‘trap for the unwary’, The Turn of the Screw tells of a nameless young governess sent to a country house to take charge of two orphans, Miles and Flora. Unsettled by a dark foreboding of menace within the house, she soon comes to believe that something malevolent is stalking the children in her care. But is the threat to her young charges really a malign and ghostly presence or something else entirely?

John Harding’s Florence and Giles (1), a Gothic novel about two children who believe their lives are in danger after the arrival of a sinister governess, is inspired by The Turn of the Screw (as you might have guessed from the very similar names of the characters: Florence and Giles, and Flora and Miles).  I loved it, although I hadn’t actually read The Turn of the Screw at the time, so didn’t fully appreciate the extent to which it was a homage to that other book.     

Another book with lots of ghostly and Gothic elements and a plot involving a governess with two young charges is This House is Haunted by John Boyne (2).  The influence of The Turn of the Screw is clear here too, although the story probably owes as much to Charles Dickens or Wilkie Collins as it does to Henry James.  It was the first John Boyne novel I’ve read and still one of my favourites.

Sheridan Le Fanu’s classic novel, Uncle Silas (3), also features a governess – an evil and villainous one called Madame de la Rougierre, who arrives at the Ruthyn family estate of Knowl to become a companion to Maud Ruthyn. A very entertaining tale of “gloomy, eerie mansions, graveyards, laudanum addiction, an evil governess, locked rooms and locked cabinets, poison and family secrets.” 

Not all governesses are as evil as Madame de la Rougierre!  Linda Martin in Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart (4) is a governess and she is the heroine of the novel. As soon as Linda arrives at the de Valmy family chateau in France to become governess to young Philippe de Valmy, she is convinced that something is wrong and the tension builds and builds until the truth is revealed. I’ve read most of Stewart’s novels and this is probably my favourite; it’s certainly the most exciting and atmospheric. 

Nine Coaches Waiting shares some plot elements with Jane Eyre, as does Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (5).  Jane Steele herself is a fan of the Charlotte Bronte classic and becomes aware of some of the parallels between her own life and Jane Eyre’s.  After her unhappy schooldays come to an end, Jane returns to her childhood home, Highgate House, to take up a position as governess to Sahjara, the young ward of the house’s new master, Mr Thornfield.  Mystery, romance and suspense follow!

It’s not often that I am able to link the last book in one of my chains back to the first, but as soon as I saw that we were beginning this month with The Turn of the Screw I knew I would have to end with The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (6).  Not quite a governess, but a ‘live-in nanny’, our narrator Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House in Scotland to find that she is just the latest in a long string of nannies in a very short time period. Could the ghostly occurrences taking place in the house be the reason?


Well, that’s my chain for October. I usually try to link each book to the one before in a different way each time, but this month I’ve kept it very simple: all of the books in my chain include a governess, children and a house that is either haunted or hiding secrets of some sort.

For November’s starting point, we can use a book with which we’ve ended a previous chain and continue from there.

30 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation: From The Turn of the Screw to The Turn of the Key

  1. Alyson Woodhouse says:

    I love the way this chain turned into a circle, and it’s interesting to think about the multiple re-tellings of the Turn of the Screw. The original novella didn’t actually do much for me, probably because it has slipped into pop culture, so I knew what to expect.

    • Helen says:

      I didn’t love The Turn of the Screw either and I also found that already being familiar with the plot spoiled it slightly. I’ve enjoyed some of the retellings much more!

    • Helen says:

      I was surprised to find that I’d read so many Gothic novels about governesses! Nine Coaches Waiting was my first Mary Stewart too and one of her best, I think.

  2. Margaret says:

    I usually try to use different links – but not this time! Apart from The Turn of the Screw I haven’t read any of the books in your chain, but I like the sound of them all, especially the John Boyne book. I’ve enjoyed Mary Stewart’s Merlin books but not tried her other books.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve read and enjoyed most of John Boyne’s books, but This House is Haunted is one of my favourites. And I highly recommend Mary Stewart’s suspense novels! They are very different from the Merlin books but equally good, I think.

  3. Judy Krueger says:

    I have read many of the books in your chain. I am about to read my next Mary Stewart: Airs Above the Ground. I want to read something by Henry James and The Turn of the Screw sounds like a good place to start.

  4. Marian Librarian says:

    My six with children and caretakers of various types are: 1) The Broken Girls by Simone St. James. Idlewild Hall, in a small town in Vermont, is a boarding school for teen girls whose parents/guardians don’t want them at home. The setting goes back and forth from 1950 and 2014, when the buildings are in ruins. In both time periods Mary Hand, a ghost of a girl who had died in the late 1800s along with her baby, can appear to individuals at the site. 2) Passage, by Connie Willis. Set in a hospital where two main characters are studying near-death experiences. A feisty young girl is a third main character: her health problem doesn’t respond well to various doses, so she keeps returning to the hospital where she is close to death each time. She loves to read about disasters while her mother wants her to read/see DVDs that will keep her upbeat. 3) The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld. Naomi is a private investigator in Oregon with a talent of finding lost and missing children — not occult. The main search in this book is for a 6-year old girl who disappeared while her parents were choosing a Christmas tree in a forest 2 years ago. She’s another feisty girl despite abuse by the man who is holding her. 4) Good Night, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian. (Young adult book.) Willie Beech, an abused 8-year old child, is evacuated from London to a town in the English countryside in 1939. He is placed by a “gruff, kindly old man.” The New Yorker magazine described it as “an engrossing and poignant story, with much sunlight to balance the darkness.” 5) Ordinary People by Judith Guest. 17-year old Conrad tried to kill himself after he survived while his brother died on a storm in a small boat they were in. The story is set after he is home. His mother thinks his father is focusing on Conrad too much. Story includes a great psychologist Conrad sees. 6) Midnight Hour Encores, by Bruce Brooks. (Young adult book.) Sibilance T. Spooner is a 16-year old girl cellist prodigy who has been raised by her father as her mother gave her up to him the day she was born in the 1960s. Sib now wants to go to San Francisco where her mother lives because she has been asked to audition for a position at a prestigious musical Institue; her father sets out to drive them from Washington DC so he can educate Sib in what her mother was like in the 60’s and how she might be now. They’re both in for surprises.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for sharing your chain, Marian. That’s an interesting selection of books. I haven’t read any of them, although I’ve seen the television adaptation of Goodnight Mr Tom.

  5. Davida Chazan says:

    Fantastic chain! Most of my chains have one theme running through them, but once in a while I also like to mix it up by being more spontaneous and letting anything strike my fancy.

    • Helen says:

      I’m usually more spontaneous with my links, but after I noticed that the first two books in my chain both had governesses in them, I decided to stick with the same theme!

  6. Ludo says:

    I really enjoyed Florence & Giles as well, despite having already read The turn of the screw. I remember some heavily criticised the book by Harding saying that it could not stand on its own, without the knowledge of The turn of the screw. So, it is interesting that you could appreciated it.

    I have to shamefully confess that I cannot remember anything of This house is haunted.

    • Helen says:

      I thought Florence and Giles stood on its own very well – I might have appreciated it more if I’d already read The Turn of the Screw, but I was still able to enjoy the story anyway.

    • Helen says:

      I think you would enjoy Florence and Giles, especially as you’ve already read The Turn of the Screw so would be able to spot all the links between the two books.

  7. FictionFan says:

    Fab chain! I wonder why poor governesses have had such a tough time in ghostly fiction – you’d think just having to deal with children would be bad enough… 😉

  8. Calmgrove says:

    So many governesses in classic fiction, both ancient and modern, and if they’re not untrustworthy (Miss Slighcarp in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase) then they’re innocents abroad (the Brontë sisters and their novels) and occasionally — when they morph into nurses or nannies — magical (Mary Poppins or Nurse Matilda). I once did a post about fictional governesses, though I can’t locate it just now, and have concluded that though the occupation of governess has now I think disappeared the stern domestic archetype must live on in housekeepers and the like. A fine chain you’ve done here — I’ve been impressed with the responses to this month’s challenge, especially yours!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you! I was surprised to find I’d read so many books about governesses – there were a lot of others I could have chosen for the chain, but I decided to stick to the ghostly/Gothic ones.

  9. Marg says:

    I have had Mary Stewart recommended to me so many times. I really should try her books. Great chain this month, and love how you stuck with your theme!

    • Helen says:

      Thanks! I don’t usually stick with one theme, so this was something different for me. Mary Stewart is wonderful – I would definitely recommend trying one of her books and Nine Coaches Waiting would be a great place to start.

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