This essay examines the servants and shopkeepers who play a surprisingly central yet critically unacknowledged role in Henry James's fiction of the late 1890s, arguing that James's frequent depiction of lower-class life is a sign not of an unsuspected interest in class but of his familiar interest in consciousness. This interest has been memorably diagnosed by Sharon Cameron, who observes that in the work of James's last stage “consciousness is not in persons; it is rather between them”—that thoughts can be shared by characters without being spoken. Yet the writings that immediately precede James's last works offer a less reciprocal model of consciousness to the one that Cameron provides. Because the characters in What Maisie Knew (1897), The Awkward Age (1899), and The Turn of the Screw (1898) do not have access to the minds of those around them, they are forced to imagine other forms in which to measure both their own knowledge and that of others. The form they discover is the lives of the people who work for them. These subjects provide a fixed scale by which to measure the growth of consciousness in James's protagonists because they are assumed to have none of their own. Thus in The Turn of the Screw the terror experienced by the governess at the apparition of the ghosts of the former governess and valet can be understood as her realization that her identity is her situation; like them, she is reproducible, exchangeable, dispensable. The ghosts, that is, function as externalized figures for her own condition.

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