Bad “Turn of the Screw” Book Covers




And today we’re going to look at Henry James’s 1898 maybe-ghost story novella, The Turn of the Screw.

This post was inspired by a single cover, sent to me by a friend:



The best part is that it’s not even a screw, it’s a nut.

A fucking nut.

Okay, but seriously, after hyperventilating for about five minutes, I slowly got depressed, because I realized that there will never be another cover–certainly not for this book, and possibly not for my entire “Bad Book Covers” series–that could ever beat this one.

But, hey ho, let’s carry on anyway.

Quick Summary of the Novella

For those of you who don’t know The Turn of the Screw, it’s a great, sinister read and can be found online here. It’s an awful lot like Heart of Darkness, in that it deals with barriers breaking down at the turn of the century, you can sense the impending literary shift to Modernism, and it can sometimes be a very confusing read due to its feverish, slightly experimental tone.

The story is about an unnamed governess–who may or may not be bat-shit bug-fuck nuts–who is hired to watch two children, Miles and Flora–who may or may not be FUCKING CONDUITS FOR THE GHOSTS OF THEIR TWO DEAD SERVANTS–in an isolated family house in the country.

The governess is hired by Flora and Miles’s uncle and guardian, who lives in London far away from the kids and wants nothing to do with them. He gets all Miranda Priestly on her and tells her to do her damn job and don’t bother him with, like, literally anything, ever.


With Hyper-Gothic Isolation™ achieved, the governess starts being super creeped out by the kids she’s watching. The boy, Miles, has been expelled from school for . . . something. They don’t tell us what, but it’s kind of implied that it’s something sexual. With a boy. Or something. Miles about 8-10 years old, which will be important later.

Then the governess starts seeing a random woman, and sometimes a random dude, hanging around the place. It’s super eerie, because no one else ever sees them, except maybe the Spooky Kids™, but she’s not sure, because the Spooky Kids™ are really vague about it.

She then hears from the housekeeper that the old governess, Miss Jessel, and another employee, Peter Quint, have both DIED recently, and also they had ILLICIT SEX, and also also they spent an uncomfortable amount of time around the children, so maybe the super young Miles learned his maybe-sex behavior from the once-alive Sex Ghosts, or maybe they’re still doing sex stuff from beyond the grave, or maybe the governess is just imagining things, but it’s getting all kinds of Turn of the Century Psychological™ up in hurr.

The governess tries to get Flora the goddamned hell out of that place and sends her off, but the governess ends up staying at the house with Miles, for some reason (he’s not as worth protecting? I don’t remember). One night, they get into discussing ghosts and expulsions and generally creepy things, and then the governess sees the ghost of Peter Quint at the window! Oh no! She attempts to shield Miles from the ghost and tells Miles that the ghost has no power over him any more.

When the ghost disappears, she looks down and discovers that Miles is dead in her arms. THE END.

In conclusion:

1.) She is MAAAAAAAD, and strangled Miles in one of her own fits of fancy; OR

2.) There really were ghosts, and the kids were to an uncertain degree being tormented/controlled by and/or aiding the ghosts, and Miles was some sort of collateral damage in the governess’s spiritual fight with Peter Quint; OR

3.) The kids orchestrated all of it, because they’re dealing with the psychological issues of perhaps being sexually abused by their former servants; OR

4.) This is all some kind of hilarious misunderstanding, and boy, oh boy, is the governess’s face going to be red when her employer comes down from London to see what all the ruckus is about!


Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Moonstone, Dracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Jekyll and Hyde, Pamela, Ivanhoe, Anne of Green Gables, and Vanity Fair.

Usual disclaimers:

1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.

2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself.

3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.

On to the covers!

Let’s show this old favorite one more time, for the cheap seats in the back.


Okay, right, I’m done. I swear.

One of my friends was (jokingly) trying to make the argument that this is a decent cover, because it portrays a nut–the governess–caught between two horrible forces.

I like the way she thinks, mostly because it means that I can show this picture again and again and again!

Let’s start with some Good Covers, shall we?

images5 turnofthescrew-cargo_375

Eyes are always good, especially in texts where perspective and reliability are so thematically important. The second cover might be a bit overloaded (multiple pair of eyes, spooky faceless children, backwards Rs to indicate a lack of order, the blooming waterlilies which, as we know from Tennyson, indicates a woman’s fragile mind during a sexual awakening), but it’s still solid.


Love this one. The two shadowy ghosts overlooking the domestic space they’re about to torment (undoing the traditional male/female relationship inside a home with children), with the children’s toys giving a subtle sense of destruction.


Not the best cover in the world, but I appreciate how murky it is. Additionally, it all comes down to perspective. There is nothing objectively sinister about this cover–it could easily be a lovely evening out on a boat–unless you decide to see it as sinister.


Ditto for this one. These could either be a photograph of perfectly normal children, taken in a distracted moment, or a photograph of disturbed children who are maybe too close for comfort.


What I really like about this one is that the governess is the creepiest figure of all, and their shadows are deeply distorted.

Okay, on to the bad covers, which is why y’all come to me. I know what you want. I know what you need.


The first pattern I found was Creepy Doll Heads. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with these, but they’re a bit on the nose for my taste.

the-turn-of-the-screw-and-other-stories 85f08420-3092-0132-097d-0eae5eefacd9

Plus, I can’t hear anything else but “Creepy Doll” by Jonathan Coulton.


There’s another very common trope called Women Holding Candles


She’s the sort of slasher-flick gal who wanders around a dark house alone, saying “Is anyone there?” 500 times.


Uhhhhh, governess? Did you do your hair, grab the fanciest candelabrum, and wear your best negligee for ghost hunting?

You did, didn’t you, you kinky, weird bitch.


Lynn? You’re in a wealthy home. You can afford a candlestick. You don’t need to fight ghosts with hot wax dripping on you.

Unless . . . that’s the point? Oh, sweet Jesus, this is Turn of the Screw. EVERYTHING has the potential to be a sex game.


I’m trying to make some sort of “Peter Quint is a priest?” joke, but then I remember the subtext with Miles, and I’m not going to touch this one with a twelve-foot pole.




Then, of course, we have Spooky Children Are Spooky, and Children, which is another staple of good horror.

images turn-of-the-screw-cover

don’t mention that Miles looks like one of the Trump children

don’t mention it

it’s too easy



What are they all looking at?

It’s too late to close my browser, they’ve already seen into my soul.


Normal fucking day for rich Victorian kids, let’s be real.


We can’t forget the category that gets the Tone Completely Wrong.


“I’m so fucking bored. I could actually shit on the floor, that’s how bored I am. It would give me something to think about. Shitting on the floor. I’m going to do it right now, Peter Quint. See how much you like haunting people when they’re shitting, you  dull-ass mother fucker.”


I . . . almost like this one? Because the woman has no reflection, which is cool? But it also looks like they’re about to start singing while they go through a magical portal to the fairy kingdom? So . . . no?

Penguin, you’re better than this. I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.


“Awwww, did the big bad ghostie-wosties tire little Flora out?”

(also, they’re dressed like it’s the 1860s)

(also also, that kid’s clashing outfit hurts like a hangover)


Yes, this is the governess’s problem: plucky, impish children who make faces behind her back.

This one got me thinking: do you reckon Mary Poppins and Bert were actually Miss Jessel and Peter Quint? There’s no doubt that they were banging, and also that they gave those kids some emotional distress.

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Bert’s gonna get you when your sleeping, kids. Beware Bert. He sings in a minor key. I don’t know how we never noticed how evil he is before now.


This cover was designed by someone who has never set foot in a Victorian home before. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure this story would be equally scary if it were set in this Florentine monastery, but guys.


Okay, this cover might actually be the most sinister of them all, largely because the woman in the background is paying NO ATTENTION to the happy-squeaky-fun color saturation everywhere else.

Ghosts don’t give a single shit if they’re fucking up the only sunny day Britain has seen in 5 months. Not a single shit.


Ahhh, at last we have my favorite category: What the Actual?

295548-m 542122_orig

Is there a sub-plot I did not notice in which the governess is an honest-to-god mermaid?

To be fair, this book is dense for its size. I could have easily missed that sub-plot.


Are those

Are those coffee beans?

Peas in pods?


They’re shittily drawn eyes






Dude, sex parties in the ’80s were weird.


That’s all from me today! Some more upcoming posts include The Count of Monte Cristo, The Jungle Book, and The Hound of the Baskervilles, but other suggestions are very welcome.

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Coronation Troubles

I found this story on an episode of QI (series N, episode “Not Nearly”).

When Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837 at the age of 18, the public was very suspicious of a teenage girl all of a sudden having a huge amount of influence over the country. She was the result of the coronation crisis (her father was never king, as he died when she was little, but rather her grandfather was king, and then two of her uncles–George IV and William IV–both of whom did not have heirs in wedlock).

So Victoria, who had been kept fairly well isolated from everyone, seemed to pop up out of nowhere and be like, “I’m queen now!” She had an awful, awful lot to prove to both Parliament and her people in the first few years of her reign.

It also didn’t help that at her coronation in 1838, just about everything went wrong. Not an auspicious start.

First, the Archbishop of Canterbury forced the coronation ring on the wrong finger, causing her great pain. They couldn’t get the ring off afterwards, and the Archbishop would make the same error with Victoria’s wedding ring three years later.

Then the Bishop of Bath and Wells turned over two pages of the service book by mistake and accidentally missed out the bit in which Victoria is declared queen, meaning the coronation was invalid. She had already left Westminster Abbey before they spotted the error, so she had to come back and do it again.

Finally, the elderly and aptly named Lord Rolle became globally famous for tripping over the steps leading to the throne and rolling all the way down. When he did, Victoria leaped up to help him. This act of kindness was actually the first thing she did that helped make her people warm to her.

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Circus Assassin

I found this story in a collection of ‘on this day in history’ stories.

November 16, 1900: “As Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany tours Breslau in an open coach, Selma Schnapke, a circus performer-turned-shopkeeper, throws an axe at him, Apache-style, with considerable accuracy and efficiency.

It narrowly misses the Kaiser’s head and embeds itself into the interior of the carriage. She is later ruled to be insane”.

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Félix Faure

I’ve frequently heard the bit of C19th trivia that French President Félix Faure (30 January 1841 – 16 February 1899) died in office while getting a blowjob from his mistress.


So  I decided to look him up. According to Wikipedia:

“Faure died suddenly from apoplexy in the Élysée Palace on 16 February 1899, while engaged in sexual activities in his office with 30-year-old Marguerite Steinheil. It has been widely reported that Felix Faure had his fatal seizure while Steinheil was fellating him, but the exact nature of their sexual intercourse is unknown and such reports may have stemmed from various jeux de mots (puns) made up afterward by his political opponents.

“One such pun was to nickname Mme Steinheil “la pompe funèbre” (wordplay in French: “pompes funèbres” means “death care business” and “pompe funèbre” could be translated, literally, as “funeral pump“). George Clemenceau’s epitaph of Faure, in the same trend, was “Il voulait être César, il ne fut que Pompée” (another wordplay in French; could mean both “he wished to be Caesar, but ended up as Pompey”, or “he wished to be Caesar and ended up being blown“: the verb “pomper” in French is also slang for performing oral sex on a man); Clemenceau, who was also editor of the newspaper L’Aurore, wrote that “upon entering the void, he [Faure] must have felt at home.”

I don’t know too much else about Faure, but he also kind of sounds like a jerk:

“In 1898 (and for the first few years of the following century) the French automobile industry was the largest in the world. President Faure was not impressed. Invited to address industry leaders at what, in restrospect [sic], is recorded as the first Paris Motor Show, Faure told his audience, “Your cars are very ugly and they smell very bad” (“Vos voitures sont bien laides et sentent bien mauvais!”)”


“The French barque President Felix Faure, named for the President, was involved in a 1908 case of shipwreck at the Antipodes Islands, south of New Zealand, the survivors being stranded for sixty days before being rescued.

Well, that’s fairly symbolic. Not a great legacy all ’round.

His mistress, Marguerite Steinheil, meanwhile, seemed to recover okay. She was the wife of the famous French artist Adolphe Steinheil and after Faure’s death, she became the mistress of several other important men of the day (if anyone has a list, it would be much appreciated).

This drawing of the fantastically, super-humanly bored Marguerite Steinheil was drawn in 1909 by George Scott:


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Respectful Debate

Just a quick reblog today. I found this story on Futility Closet’s blog here.

I thought a couple of stories about asshole politicians beating the shit out of each other, and other politicians applauding actual assault and murder, would remind us that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


On May 22, 1856, South Carolina representative Preston Brooks approached Massachusetts senator Charles Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the U.S. Senate chamber. “Mr. Sumner,” he said, “I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine.” Then he began to beat Sumner savagely with his gold-headed walking cane. Blinded with blood, Sumner at first was trapped under the desk, which was bolted to the floor, but he wrenched it free and staggered up the aisle, Brooks raining blows on his head until the cane snapped and Sumner collapsed unconscious. Even then Brooks held him by the lapel and continued to beat him with half the cane until the two were separated.

Sumner had denounced South Carolina senator Andrew Butler in a speech two days earlier in a dispute over slavery in the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska. Brooks was convicted of assault and fined $300, but he received no prison sentence, and his constituents returned him to office. Pro-slavery Southerners sent him hundreds of new canes, one inscribed “Hit him again.”


On Nov. 9, 1889, Col. A.M. Swope encountered Col. William Cassius Goodloe in the corridor of the Lexington, Ky., post office. The two had been battling for control of the state Republican party, and tragically they had adjoining mailboxes.

You obstruct the way,” said Goodloe.

You spoke to me,” said Swope. “You insulted me.”

Goodloe drew a knife. Swope drew a Smith & Wesson .38. Goodloe stabbed Swope 13 times, piercing his heart and nearly cutting off his hand. Swope shot Goodloe twice, tearing up his belly and setting his clothes afire. Swope died on the post office floor, and Goodloe staggered to a doctor’s office. He died two days later.

One witness said he never thought he would witness “such a magnificent display of manly courage and bravery.” Goodloe’s uncle, Cassius M. Clay, said of his nephew’s conduct, “I couldn’t have done better myself.”


Well, that escalated quickly.

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William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley

A while back I wrote a couple of posts about dissipated nineteenth-century aristocrats who squandered family fortunes. These posts were inspired by a thread on the Victoria scholastic forum/listserv at Indiana. A few of the participants suggested the previous aristocrats I’ve blogged about. Today’s aristocrat was suggested by scholar Bob Muscutt.

According to Wikipedia, William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley (the name alone is worth a blog post) was “an Anglo-Irish nobleman notorious for his dissipated lifestyle”.

Those are words I always like to hear. Off to a wonderful start.

A few bullet points:

-He was the nephew of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington.

-His actual last name should have been “Colley”. An ancestor, named Richard Colley in 1728 received a large inheritance from a relative, on the condition that he take their last name, Wesley (later spelled “Wellesley”). This was extremely common practice amongst the upper classes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, hence why you get so many aristocrats with double-, triple-, and in this case quadruple-barrelled surnames.

-The inheritance/last name situation happened again and again to this family. When William’s father’s godfather, William Pole, died in 1781, he left great estates to William’s father on the condition that he took the last name Pole. So the family became known as Wesley-Pole (or “Wellesley-Pole”).

In 1812, when William was preparing to marry the heiress Catherine Tylney-Long (the richest commoner in England), her father insisted that William Wellesley-Pole take HER last names, as well.  So he became William Pole-Tylney-Long-Wellesley.

-Despite his own family wealth, and the incredible rents and investments his wife brought to their marriage, he managed to be so extravagant that he started mounting up serious debts–debts so serious that his friend George IV appointed him as Gentleman Usher in 1822, which was an appointment that protected him from being arrested for debt.


When you’ve married the richest commoner in England, have a vast family fortune of your own, and still have so much debt that you need the King to bail you out to save you from getting arrested, then you have more money than sense.

-Despite his new appointment, he had to flee England anyway to evade his creditors.


-Then, while in Europe, he started an affair with a woman named Helena Paterson Bligh, and abandoned his wife Catherine for her.

I don’t presume to know what sort of financial arrangement he and his wife had–it’s common knowledge that everything a wife owned or earned during her marriage became her husband’s property, but this is really more of a middle-class issue than an aristocratic one. Women with serious money often had certain contracts and agreements drawn up before their marriage to protect their inheritances, at least partially.

I would assume that Catherine, who was a woman greatly sought after for her wealth, would have had such provisos. If this is the case, then our friend Willy here is dumb as a bag of hair. You’re lucky enough to marry one of the richest people in your country, spend that money like it’s nothing, have to flee for your freedom, exiled to the Continent, and then publicly abandon that same wife whose yearly income you’re relying on? Buddy. C’mon. Keep your mistress discreetly. This is, like, Aristocratic Business Arrangements 101.

But I suppose if he made good business decisions, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.

-Luckily for him (?), Catherine died only two years after he abandoned her. She insinuated in a letter to her sister that William had given her a venereal disease, likely syphilis. The problem with Catherine dying was that he only had a life-interest in her property and money, meaning he lived off her yearly income from rents and investments (which was no paltry sum, by the way), but he couldn’t actually touch any of the principal, sell any of the land, etc. The principal and property was in trust for their son, and upon William’s eventual death, all of Catherine’s yearly income/interest would revert to the son, as well.

-William eventually married his mistress, three years after Catherine’s death, but their marriage turned out to be disastrous, as well, due to his rakish lifestyle. Surprise, surprise.

-William had several clashes with Catherine’s sisters, who raised his children after Catherine’s death. William was particularly interested in gaining access to his son, upon whom Catherine’s property had descended. Her wealthy sisters were having none of it, and William had made the mistake of pissing of his uncle, the Duke of Wellington, who was at this point Prime Minister. William had voted, with some other Tories, against the Wellington ministry and caused its collapse in 1830.

As many of you know, the Duke of Wellington was not a man to be fucked with, so while still attempting to recover his government, he made special time to intervene legally on behalf of Catherine’s sisters and to keep William’s kids away from William.

-While going through one of these custody battles, William got himself in contempt of court and landed in Fleet prison for a while. He tried to plead for parliamentary privilege (i.e., “Do you know who I am? I’m too good for your rules and prison! Good day, sir!”), but this was rejected. For the next long while he was brought in and out of court on charges of libel regarding to the custody case.

-In 1836, his son (at the tender age of 23) even took William to court, because William had been caught selling off expensive furniture, pictures, and other family heirlooms that belonged to a property the son had inherited from Catherine. William, living only on a life interest, had no right to touch any of the property itself.

-Eventually William moved to Brussels, again to avoid creditors. Things got so dire that he had to live on only ₤10 per week, allotted to him by the Duke of Wellington’s son. That’s the equivalent of roughly $850 per week, or ₤675 per week, so still not too shabby. I imagine, however, for a man who could spend that in a single night out or in a single shopping trip–easily–that this must have seemed like absolute poverty.

-He became Earl of Mornington in 1845 when his father died, but only outlived him by twelve years, dying in London in 1857 of heart disease. His obituary in the Morning Chronicle read: “A spendthrift, a profligate, and a gambler in his youth, he became debauched in his manhood… redeemed by no single virtue, adorned by no single grace, his life gone out even without a flicker of repentance“.


-William’s son, who in turn became the 5th Earl of Mornington after William’s death, outlived his father by only six years, dying in 1863 of cancer of the tongue. He died without children, so the title and money reverted back to the Duke of Wellington’s son (by that point the 2nd Duke of Wellington). The title was absorbed under the greater Duke of Wellington title, which is still going strong today.

The Earl of Mornington title is now used as an honorary title, i.e. any direct heirs get to use their father’s lesser titles until the father dies and they inherit the main title. So the current Duke of Wellington’s son/heir apparent is known as the Marquess of Duoro, and his son/heir apparent is known as the Earl of Mornington. The current Earl was born in 2010.

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Battle of the Bees

Just a quick one today–I’m reblogging this from Futility Closet’s post here.


In Africa, World War I dawned with a buzz and a howl. The British Indian Army was trying to sneak up on an eastern seaport held by the Germans when they disturbed huge hives of aggressive African bees, which drove them into the sea. “I would never have believed that grown-up men of any race could have been reduced to such shamelessness,” said a British officer. One engineer was stung 300 times.

The Times wrote that the bees had been sprung by the German commander, Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck. When asked about this, he merely smiled and said, “Gott mitt uns [God is with us]”.

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