James is considered a major figure in the literary realism movement. His contemporary and friend William Dean Howells noted that James tried to do something entirely new in literature: "A novelist he is not, after the old fashion," said Howells, "or after any fashion but his own."
One of James's most well-known works is The Turn of the Screw, a novella published in 1898. The book's narrator has become the teacher to two orphaned children whose caretaker, their wealthy uncle, did not want to take care of them. Instead, he allows them to live in a second home he owns among servants. The two well-behaved children, however, seem to be harboring a secret after the narrator discovers two ghosts in the home — ghosts of prior employees. She becomes quite suspicious of the children's well-mannered ways, assuming they are somehow corrupted by the ghosts and refuse to admit it. She becomes obsessed with proving both that the ghosts exist and that the children know them:
How can I retrace to-day the strange steps of my obsession? There were times of our being together [with the children] when I would have been ready to swear that, literally, in my presence, but with my direct sense of it closed, they had visitors who were known and were welcome. Then it was that, had I not been deterred by the very chance that such an injury might prove greater than the injury to be averted, my exaltation would have broken out, 'They're here, they're here, you little wretches,' I would have cried, 'and you can't deny it now!'