The governess is the primary narrator and central character in The Turn of the Screw. She is twenty years old and was raised in Hampshire, the youngest daughter of a poor clergyman. From the stories she tells her young charges, we know that she had many sisters and brothers, as well as a dog. She has just left home when she interviews in London for the position of governess to two children in a country house in Essex. From the prologue, we know that she is smitten with her employer, and throughout the novel, she hopes to gain his respect or affection by succeeding at her job. The governess may be a loving, strong woman, whose struggle against the evil ghosts she encounters for the souls of the children in her care show her to be a good person. Or she may be mad - sexually repressed and delusional, imagining ghosts and evil that is not there - responsible for the destruction of young Flora and Miles.
Mrs. Grose is the housekeeper at Bly. She was originally the maid of the gentleman in Harley Street's mother, and she has been responsible for little Flora since the death of Miss Jessel, the previous governess. She seems to be middle aged but her age is never stated. She is illiterate, and as a servant, she is afraid of angering her employer by bothering him. She acts as a confidant to the narrator and seems to accept and believe her conclusions about the ghosts at Bly. Mrs. Grose is the only source of information we have about Peter Quint and Miss Jessel. Unlike the narrator, she wants to involve their employer early, but is unable to stand up to her superior.
Eight years old, Flora is the niece of Bly's owner. She is blond and beautiful, capable of playing music and reciting poems, and a very friendly, docile child. The narrator first finds her angelic but later believes that at times she is "an old, old woman." Flora was left alone with her former governess Miss Jessel for many months, and she may now be carrying on a secret communication with the woman's ghost. Her outer perfection and innocence may be real or it may conceal a greater evil.
Ten years old, Miles is away at school when the governess arrives at Bly. She finds him to be just as angelic and beautiful as his sister and says that he possesses a gentleness. Miles was expelled from his school for an unspecified offense. That and his other actions, such as going outside in the middle of the night, may mean he's simply a naughty little boy or it may mean he is clever and deviant. Miles spent a great deal of time with "base menial" servant Peter Quint and the governess suspects Quint's ghost of continuing to corrupt Miles. He is an excellent little "gentleman," can play the piano, and his confrontations may result from a desire to get away from her and go to school or they may show Quint's control over him.
Quint was the gentleman in Harley Street's valet. Because he was ill, he was left in charge at Bly, where he would sometimes wear the master's clothes. He had curly red hair, red whiskers, sharp black eyes, and appeared handsome, but untrustworthy. When alive, Quint was a "hound" and had affairs with a number of women, including Miss Jessel, a woman above his station. He died by slipping on an icy path when drunk. As a ghost or possibly a hallucination, Quint appears to the governess and seems to want Miles's soul. Quint may also be a representation of the nineteenth-century stereotype of the sexually predatory male.
Miss Jessel was the children's former governess. Like the current governess, she was young and pretty. She seems to have had an affair with Quint and may have gotten pregnant. Miss Jessel died while away for her holiday and may have committed suicide. As a ghost, she appears wearing black and is often mournful. The governess believes that she wants Flora's soul and says that she speaks of suffering the torments of hell and wanting the child to suffer them with her. Miss Jessel in many ways parallels the governess and may be a projection of her fears.
The gentleman in Harley Street
Also referred to as the master and the uncle, he is the owner of Bly and the uncle of Flora and Miles, whose parents died in India. He is a young, attactive man who uses his power over the governess - and other women - to get them to agree to his demands. He is absorbed in his own affairs and refuses to allow the governess to contact him at all about the children. In that sense, he is indirectly responsible for the events that befall the children at Bly.
Luke is one of the servants, the only one given a name. He is charged with posting the governess's letter to the gentleman in Harley Street, but does not because Miles steals it first. Miles's final request is to see him.
Bly is inhabited by many servants, both "maids" and "men." The governess once mistakes Miss Jessel for a maid. She also frequently worries that the servants will learn about the ghosts and tries to keep her suspicions from them.
Douglas owns the manuscript which comprises the majority of the book and introduces the story of the governess in the book's prologue. Probably about sixty, Douglas knew and was in love with the governess as a young man, when she was his sister's governess. This may bias his description of her. He has kept her manuscript in a locked drawer in his home for many decades.
Though little description is given, the narrator is one of many people present in a country house telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve. The prologue is told in first-person from his point-of-view. He says that Douglas gave him the governess's manuscript before his death.
Another member of the party in the prologue, Griffin tells as an unsuccessful ghost story about a little boy which inspires Douglas to tell his tale.
Griffin's wife, who surmises that Douglas was in love with the governess, after he introduces his story.
Other guests at the country house where the ghosts stories are told. All are impatient to hear Douglas's story, though some ladies must leave before he begins it.
The Turn of the Screw Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Turn of the Screw is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Douglas knew and was in love with the governess as a young man, when she was his sister's governess. This may bias his description of her. He has kept her manuscript in a locked drawer in his home for many decades.