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Home » , » Summary and Analysis "The Turn of the Screw''

The Turn of the Screw, a novella by Henry James, was published in 1898. Literary critics have argued that the ghost story is a complex investigation into the psychology of the narrator, despite James' own dismissal of it as a "potboiler." The text is referred to in this study guide as The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Fiction, which was published in 1981 by Bantam Classics.

Douglas, a man, introduces a manuscript he plans to read to a small group in the novella's prologue. It was written by a governess, who gave it to Douglas shortly before she passed away.

The governess's first-person narrative begins with her arrival at Bly, an English country estate, following the Prologue. She landed her first job at the age of 20 as a governess for Miles and Flora, two orphaned children who live at Bly. The uncle of the children is their guardian and lives in London. She was enticed by the handsome uncle's charms when she interviewed for the position, but he told her to take full responsibility for the children and never talk to him again. The governess is worried because of how much she has to do, but when she meets Mrs. Grose, the friendly housekeeper at Bly, and her young students, her worries go away. Indeed, Miles, 10 years old, and Flora, 8 years old, exude such extraordinary innocence and beauty that the governess concludes that they will never trouble her.

A series of troubling occurrences occur, beginning with a letter from Miles's school, despite the governess's optimism. Without providing any additional information, the letter states that Miles has been kicked out. The governess asks Mrs. Grose for advice out of concern; however, the two of them are unable to comprehend how such a perfect boy could make a mistake that merits such severe punishment. For the time being, the governess decides to ignore the letter. The governess sees a strange man perched on one of Bly's towers one evening as she walks alone through the gardens. The days pass happily. She is shocked, but she doesn't tell anyone until she looks again at the man through the dining room window. She describes the man's appearance and describes her shocking encounter with Mrs. Grose after he vanishes. He is identified by Mrs. Grose as Peter Quint, the uncle's valet who passed away before the governess arrived. Mrs. Grose asserts that Quint was depraved and corrupted the deceased former governess Miss Jessel. The wicked couple was far too "free" with Miles and Flora when they were at Bly.

While Flora and the governess are sitting by the pond one afternoon, the governess spots an apparition of a black woman and recognizes Miss Jessel right away. Furthermore, the governess becomes convinced that the children are secretly communicating with the ghosts due to Flora's persistent disregard for the apparition. The governess decides to protect her children and prevent the demons from possessing their innocent souls after concluding that Quint and Miss Jessel have returned from the dead to continue their corruption of the children. She tells Mrs. Grose everything, and the surprised housekeeper says she will help the governess fight evil.

The governess only sees the ghosts twice throughout the summer, but she does notice that the children's behavior, especially Miles', is influenced by their vile presence. Even though he pretends to want to show that he could be bad when she finds the boy outside in the middle of the night, she thinks he was working with Quint. Miles later asks when he will return to school, bringing the question of what happened there to a new level of urgency; however, the governess is afraid to face the issue and remains evasive. Miles resumes his charming ways shortly thereafter and invites the governess to listen to him play the piano. She is temporarily lulled to sleep by the music, but she suddenly realizes Flora is not there. Mrs. Grose follows her as she dashes to the pond, convinced that the girl is there to communicate with Miss Jessel's spirit. The governess asks Flora and Mrs. Grose to acknowledge the sight of her predecessor across the pond just as they are about to locate Flora. Flora silently grimaces and asks Mrs. Grose to take her away while Mrs. Grose looks at the apparition but is unable to see it. Flora is "lost," the governess admits. Miles and the governess are left alone at Bly the following morning when Mrs. Grose leaves with Flora.

The governess is determined to succeed with Miles after failing with Flora because she believes she can save his soul by getting him to admit his mistakes at school. She asks him directly about the situation, but Quint appears again at the window before he can respond. The governess turns Miles quickly toward her and demands an answer from him until he admits that he said "things" to his classmates. She is overjoyed by this act of loyalty to her and interprets it as a rejection of Quint. She hugs the boy only to find that his heart has stopped. 


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