The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-16

Chapter XIII


For a month, the governess lives in the awkward state of suspecting her pupils and saying nothing. In all this, the governess's perceptions are sharper than ever. She is sure that it is not her imagination but that Flora and Miles are aware of her knowledge. Conversations take sharp turns whenever they approach the subject of the dead or life after death. The children seem to know that she wants to bring up the subject of Quint and Miss Jessel but cannot bring herself to do so. Instead, all talk centers around the governess's family, neighbors, and even pets, but none touches upon the children's past. The children's constant questions about her life make her feel most suspicious of their intentions.

Summer has turned to autumn since she saw Miss Jessel on the stairs, and she has not encountered either ghost since then. Even though there have been many instances in which she expected to see them, due to weather similar to the first night she saw Quint, she has not seen them at all. She in fact wishes she could see them and know the worst and wonders if she has lost her ability to see the ghosts. This especially frightens her because she believes the children continue to see the ghosts even when she cannot.

There are times that she is with the children when she is certain the ghosts are also present, though invisible to her. She wants to confront the children but their actions in these instances are all the more friendly and sweet. She practices her confrontations when alone in her room but even there cannot bring herself to speak Quint and Miss Jessel's names. It is as if there is a code of manners that cannot be violated, even when there is a hush in the schoolroom that makes her certain the ghosts are present.

Her greatest fear is that the children see much worse things than she has seen - and whenever that thought occurs, there seems to be a ritual by which she and the children deny it, by kissing and mentioning writing to their uncle in Harley Street. Wondering when the uncle will visit is a frequent occurrence and the governess allows the children to write letters to him that she does not send. She sees his failure to write or visit not as selfish but as evidence of his trust in her.

At this point, she says, she does not yet hate the children and she wonders if nothing else had occurred, would she have gotten frustrated and finally confronted them?


The element of the unsaid pervades this chapter. The content of the children's interactions with the governess has not changed. They still play the piano, recite poems, and ask her to tell stories, but now, when they do these things, she suspects that they do so only to steer her away from other topics. "The element of the unnamed and untouched became, between us," she says, "was greater than any other." What is unclear, however, is if this subject is unmentionable only by the governess or if there is, as she believes, a "tacit arrangement" between herself and the children not to mention death or the ghosts or the children's past with Quint and Miss Jessel. She cannot bring herself to speak the ghosts' names even when alone in her room. This suggests the enormous symbolic power the ghosts have come to hold in her mind. Whether or not they exist, they control her interactions with the children.

The governess's focus upon Quint and Miss Jessel as unnamable suggests that for her, they represent deeper unspeakable fears - fears that find representation in her conscious mind in the figure of this deviant couple. In Victorian England, sex was very much an unspeakable subject - one that the governess could not even think of, much less mention, directly. Miss Jessel and Quint, as sexual beings, represent her fears of sexuality and moral ruin.

Here, the governess is insistent that her belief in her pupils' unseen communion with the ghosts is not her "mere infernal imagination." Nonetheless, her belief in the children's relationship with the ghosts increases from chapter to chapter. In the last chapter, as they walked on the lawn, she simply believed that the children spoke of the ghosts and encountered them when she was not present. Now, she believes that the ghosts are present even while she is talking and playing with the children. Again, her proof does not proceed from any evidence of the children's awareness of the ghosts but from a complete lack of evidence - from the children's continued failure to mention the Quint and Miss Jessel. She calls the moments during which the ghosts are present "hushes" but states that these moments actually occurred when the children were more active and playful.

In this chapter, the governess refers to her watchfulness of the children and her understanding of their relationship with the ghosts as "the strange steps of my obsession." Whether or not the ghosts are real, the governess's behavior has clearly become obsessive and unhealthy. Rather than take the passage of time since she last saw Miss Jessel as an indication that the ghosts are gone, she devotes more energy to drawing conclusions about the children's behavior. "It was essentially in the scared state that I drew my actual conclusions," she says, and the fear which she builds up in herself through her continuous worrying about the ghosts may lead her to make false conclusions.

Again, the subject of the uncle in Harley Street seems to be at the root of the governess's actions. The children's letters - written as "exercises" which the children know will never be sent - function as examples of the unspoken. The governess says that she still has copies of those letters in her possession, and the reader must wonder about the alternate narrative they provide. For the governess, the unsaid is paramount. She sees the uncle's failure to write to the children and lack of communication with her as flattery "for the way in which a man pays his highest tribute to a woman is apt to be but by the more festal celebration of one of the sacred laws of his comfort." This may simply be a Victorian belief celebrating the woman's place in the domestic sphere, or it may illustrate the governess's delusions about her employer's love for her - believing his self absorption somehow flatters her.

Chapter XIV


On the way to church one Sunday morning, the governess walks with Miles while Flora walks with Mrs. Grose. The governess wonders why the children are so obedient when she keeps them with her at all times - especially Miles, who dressed up like a little gentleman, seems independent and is just about to begin what the governess calls a "revolution."

Miles suddenly asks the governess when he will go back to school. Though he speaks charmingly, the governess stops short and feels helpless to respond. Miles says that he is a fellow and cannot always be with a lady, even if she is perfect. He says he has been good except for the one night he snuck outside. The governess takes the opportunity to ask him again why he did it, and he says that it was to show her that he could but that he won't do it again. He asks again when he is going back to school.

Hoping to put him off until they get into the church, where he cannot ask any more questions, the governess tries to find out why Miles wants to go back to school if he is happy at Bly, and he finally tells her that he wants to see more life and wants his own sort. When the governess suggests that Flora is his own sort, he is offended by the comparison to a "baby girl," which upsets the governess.

Miles then asks about his uncle's opinion on his schooling, and the governess lets it slip that the uncle doesn't care. Miles wonders if he can be made to come visit and says he will be the one to make him do so.


The governess's past observations of Miles's silence on the question of school foreshadowed its significance, and in this chapter, it is brought to a head. The governess's lack of action on this matter, separate from the question of ghosts, must make the reader question her responsibility in performing her job. In truth, she has only followed part of her employer's stipulations. She has not bothered him but neither has she dealt with the problem herself, instead choosing to ignore Miles's dismissal from school. Miles's question about going back to school suggests he may not be aware that his dismissal is permanent and may therefore provide evidence of why he has not mentioned it until this point.

This chapter provides evidence of the governess's - rather than the ghosts' - desire to possess the children. Logically, Miles should be in school. His uncle had enrolled him at school and clearly intends for him to be there. If there are ghosts at Bly, Miles would be safer away from them at school. The governess has had months in which to find him a new school. And yet, she asks him why he wants to return when in fact he has no reason not to expect to return to school after a summer holiday.

The governess's reactions to Miles's reasons for wanting to return illustrate her personal reasons for keeping him at Bly. She is distraught when Miles implies he would be just as happy at school as he is with her at Bly and is confused when he says he wants more of his own sort. To the governess, Miles is a special little angel, matched only by his equally angelic sister. Miles seems to simply refer to wanting to be with other little boys, but the governess's desire to believe that her pupils are special - which thus makes her special - does not allow her to see the obvious.

The subject of the uncle, brought up in the previous chapter and here as well, remains an important one in influencing the actions which occur in the remainder of the book. The governess herself says that with Miles's "revolution," "the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful drama, and catastrophe was precipitated." Miles's announcement, at the end of the chapter, that he will do something to make his uncle come is the significant decision that will push the catastrophe forward. The governess, though she desires the uncle's approval and had previously imagined him visiting Bly, paradoxically seems terrified that he will actually come - first at Mrs. Grose's suggestion and now at Miles's. Looking at her fear from a psychoanalytic perspective, we must remember that her romantic imaginings about the uncle precipitated her sexual hysteria and that her fears of his tangible presence are intertwined with her fears of Quint as a representation of male sexuality. More so than Miles's desire to see his uncle, the governess's reaction to the boy's decision will be the deciding factor in the coming catastrophe.

Chapter XV


The governess does not follow Miles into the church but instead sits on a gravestone outside, considering the meaning of his words. By the time she has thought it out, it is too late to go into church without everyone noticing. She realizes that Miles has sensed that she is very afraid of something and believes that he will use that knowledge to gain himself freedom. She is afraid of dealing with his dismissal from school and even though she knows a visit from the uncle should be desired, she does not want to face the pain of such an encounter.

She knows that Miles has every right to demand a return to school, and her newfound awareness that he is consciously planning something keeps her outside pacing around the church because she is too afraid to sit in silence next to him for an hour. The idea of getting away dawns on her. She realizes that the house is nearly empty, with all the servants in church, but that even if she disappeared just until dinner, the children would confront her for her reasons.

Nonetheless, she rushes home, deciding to leave. She is overcome, worrying about arranging transportation, and she sinks down onto the stairs until she suddenly remembers that she saw Miss Jessel sitting in that very place. The governess rushes up to the schoolroom to collect her belongings. There, she sees a woman sitting at the table, with her head on her hand, who she first thinks is a servant. When the woman does not look up after she has entered the room, she realizes that it is Miss Jessel. Miss Jessel stands up and stares at the governess, who yells, "You terrible miserable woman!" The ghost then vanishes. The governess recalls feeling as if she, and not the ghost, is the intruder and knows that she must stay.


This chapter marks the governess's first ghostly encounter in several months. The circumstances surrounding the governess's sighting of Miss Jessel in the schoolroom suggest that the instances in which she sees the ghosts have less to do with any sixth sense - which she feared earlier she had lost - and more to do with her emotional state. As with previous encounters, this one takes place when the governess is emotionally distraught. She has finally discussed the unspeakable subject of school with Miles, and now, she must face a confrontation with the uncle or must leave. On top of all this, her encounter with Miss Jessel in the schoolroom is immediately preceded by her sudden memory of seeing the ghost on the stairs.

The governess's realization on the stairs emphasizes the many parallels that can be drawn between the governess and Miss Jessel in this chapter. These parallels suggests that Miss Jessel is, perhaps, a projection of the governess's fears about herself. She may recognize herself - particularly her own sexual desires - in Miss Jessel and fear that she will reach the same ruinous consequences. These parallels are emphasized when the governess sits in the same pose of emotional defeat on the staircase as Miss Jessel had previously. Her recognition of this similarity shocks and frightens her, leading us to realize her conscious fear of becoming like her predecessor. Likewise, she notes in the schoolroom that it is she, and not Miss Jessel, who is the intruder - that Miss Jessel seems to feel she has the same right to sit at the table as she. This recognition of their commonality, more than any observance of Miss Jessel's wickedness, may be what spurns her outcry, "You terrible miserable woman!" In condemning Miss Jessel, she is also condemning the part of her that she recognizes is like her predecessor and is thus attempting to deny their connection.

The causes surrounding the governess's decision to leave and then to remain are likewise illuminating. Interestingly, an earthly argument with Miles makes her want to leave while seeing a ghost leads her to decide to stay. Miss Jessel, of course, left her position as governess after she was "ruined" by Quint. The governess's decision to stay seems to be a rejection of her similarity to Miss Jessel by not running off like the previous governess did.

The governess's apparent reason for leaving, however, is even more troubling. She becomes so upset after Miles announces that he will make his uncle come that she cannot even enter the church. We might take her seeming inability to enter a church (just as she skipped church upon seeing Quint earlier) as evidence that the governess - and not the ghosts - is the true evil party here and that her reaction to Miles's announcement will be the thing that will truly corrupt the children. Though she has previous expressed her willingness to stay with the children no matter how great the danger and has also imagined the uncle visiting, here the prospect of "the ugliness and pain" of dealing with the boy's dismissal from school - particularly the prospect of speaking to the uncle about it - is so great as to make her want to run away. Though she at first suggests getting away only until dinner, her worries about hiring a conveyance suggest she is planning a more permanent exit. Despite her previous protestations of strength, this first straightforward confrontation with Miles seems to have precipitated the beginnings of a breakdown.

Chapter XVI


When Mrs. Grose and the children return from church, none of them mention the governess's absence, and immediately, the governess suspects the children of "bribing" Mrs. Grose into doing so. Before tea, she visits Mrs. Grose's room, where the housekeeper tells her that the children asked her not to ask why she had left because she would like it better. The governess tells Mrs. Grose that she went for a walk - to meet some "friends."

The governess informs Mrs. Grose that she in fact did not like their silence and then tells her that it is "all out" between her and Miles. Though Mrs. Grose asks, what "all" means, the governess interrupts her to say that she saw Miss Jessel and that the two had "a talk." She found her in the schoolroom, and she says that Miss Jessel said that she suffers the torments of the damned and that she wants to share them with Flora. Mrs. Grose is terrified.

The governess says all that doesn't matter, though, because she will send for her employer. Mrs. Grose begs her to do so, and the governess says that she will, even though Miles tries using her fear of doing so against her. The employer will not be able to reproach her for not sending Miles to school because she will show him the letter from the old school master.

What's more, she now believes that Miles was expelled for "wickedness" - since he is clearly perfect in all other respects. She believes it is the uncle's fault for leaving the children for Quint and Miss Jessel, but Mrs. Grose tries to take the blame on herself. Mrs. Grose tries to take charge of sending for the uncle, by having the town bailiff write to him for her, but the governess scoffs at having a stranger tell their incredible story and says instead that she will write.


The governess's account of her encounter with Miss Jessel plays a pivotal role in the argument that she is mad or deceptive. In her description of the encounter in the previous chapter, Miss Jessel said nothing and disappeared as soon as the governess spoke to her. Here, she describes a mutual exchange in which Miss Jessel speaks of the torments of hell and argues her intent to draw Flora into damnation with her. If the governess is a hysteric, it is possible that the encounter has expanded in significance during the hours when she waited for Mrs. Grose and the children's return. Notably, the intentions she attributes to Miss Jessel are the ones she already suspected.

One reading of the governess's retelling of the encounter hinges upon her statement, when asked by Mrs. Grose if Miss Jessel spoke, that "It came to that." In other words, she may be giving the housekeeper the gist of what she intuited from a silent Miss Jessel. Such a reading supposes that the governess is incredibly sensitive and intuitive to meaning - that she could tell from Miss Jessel's weary countenance that she suffered hell's torments and from her gaze could read her intention of damning Flora, just as she and no one else can recognize the ghosts' presence even when they are not visible.

All these things, of course, can also be used as arguments that the governess is delusional - that she imagines her greatest fears into reality. Certainly, her report of Miss Jessel's words coincides with her deep fear of sexuality borne of Victorian morality. Miss Jessel, who it appears was engaged in a sexual relationship with Quint and found herself pregnant, suffers the torments of hell. What worse punishment could a curate's daughter imagine for the unspeakable act of sex? Her fear that Miss Jessel plans to take Flora with her ties to her deep-seated desire to deny Flora's passage into puberty and sexual subjectivity.

Interestingly, it is this encounter with Miss Jessel, who the governess believes is only concerned with Flora, that leads to her certitude that Miles was expelled for "wickedness." This marks a significant shift from her previous reading of Miles as an angel. It is noteworthy, too, that the governess reaches this conclusion not after observing Miles in contact with a ghost but after what she perceives is his opposition to her control over the household.

The governess's decision to contact the uncle is a sharp turn from her previous fear of dealing with him. This may partially explain Mrs. Grose's desire to take the communication into her own hands. The governess's reaction to Mrs. Grose's suggestion to have the bailiff write the letter for her "had a sarcastic force [the governess] had not fully intended" and makes the housekeeper break into tears. In this too, the governess desires control.