The Turn of the Screw

The Turn of the Screw Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9-12

Chapter IX


The governess resigns herself to wait as the days pass, keeping her fears from her pupils. She worries that they will notice the extra attention she shows them and wonders if perhaps their increased affection for her covers deeper secrets, just as hers for them does. They are very fond of her and dedicated to their lessons. Often, they will act out stories and surprise her by reciting poems they have memorized.

She continues to avoid the subject of Miles's schooling and continues his lessons herself. Still, she finds it unbelievable that the Miles she knows was kicked out of school. At Bly, Miles and Flora demonstrate their musical talent, and Miles is especially adept at playing the piano by ear. The children's tenderness toward each other is remarkable.

There is a library at Bly full of eighteenth-century novels. The governess has borrowed Fielding's Amelia and sits in her room reading it by candlelight one night, as Flora sleeps in her little curtained bed. As she reads, the governess has the sense she had on her first night there that something is going on in the house. She takes her candle, locks the door behind her and goes into the hall to investigate.

As she reaches the top of the stairs, her candle suddenly blows out. In the moonlight coming through a window, she can see Quint standing on a landing half-way up the stairs. She is terrified, and they stare at each other for an interminable period of time, saying nothing. Finally, Quint turns his back and moves off down the staircase.


As the governess describes the events of the schoolroom, we can begin to see that she herself is doing that of which she accuses Quint and Miss Jessel - controlling the children. Here, she finds the closeness between Flora and Miles, and their signals to occupy the governess while the other prepares a surprise for her, to be touching. Likewise, she is proud of Miles's cleverness. When those same abilities allow the children to keep secrets from her, the governess will see the children in a wholly different light.

The relationship between Miles and Flora is only acceptable so long as the governess can see them as a "little boy" and "little girl." Psychoanalytic critics argue that the governess's extreme watchfulness over her charges forces her to recognize that, as children entering puberty, they will one day become sexually mature adults with desires for adult men and women beyond each other. This reading argues that the governess's actions all result from her attempts to stifle their sexual development - as symbolically represented by the adult, sexual ghosts.

Certainly, if the ghosts are real, the governess's insistence on staying in the house and protecting the children has the potential to be harmful to the children. One must wonder why, if she worries about Miles's secret interactions with the ghost of Quint, she refrains from finding him a new boarding school.

This chapter also offers more support for the argument that the Quint whom the governess has described to Mrs. Grose is actually a physiognomic stereotype of the sexually predatory male. The book Amelia which the governess is reading just before Quint appears to her on the stairs contains a character with red hair, a red beard, and a long pale face - a man with secrets, vices, and a criminal past. Though he later in the novel repents, the governess has not yet finished the book when this sighting occurs. Amelia also contains stories of young women ruined by attractive men - including Mrs. Bennet, the daughter of a clergyman, whose story, if the governess had begun the book before her first encounter with Quint, may have reminded her of her own infatuation with the gentleman in Harley Street and incited a hysterical hallucination.

The class differences which so upset the governess in learning of Quint and Miss Jessel's rank-transgressing affair are made physically apparent in her encounter with Quint's ghost on the stairs, which symbolize the class hierarchy of upstairs/downstairs Victorian society. Quint appears below her, halfway up the stairs, and at her appearance, does not come any higher. The man, who she calls a "low wretch," referring both to his class and physical position, finally turns and goes down the stairs. In this symbolic instance, the governess has thwarted Quint's ambitions to rise above his lower class background.

The context of this encounter is significant, whether the governess is crazy or the ghosts are real. The late night and Gothic novel may well be playing tricks on the governess's mind. She could be sleep-walking or even dreaming. On the other hand, the noises the governess heard on the first night in the house recur here - the foreshadowing has been justified, the source of the stir in the house revealed to be ghosts. Nonetheless, this incident, like the others, occurs at a time and place at which no one can confirm or deny the ghost's presence.

Given her class-consciousness, however, the "something undefinably astir in the house" which the governess senses may in fact - at least in the opening scene - be the servants who live there but are little-mentioned. The appearance of Quint - a ghost and a servant - demonstrates the governess's Victorian attitudes towards servants, who in many ways do not count to her as human, just as the ghost Quint is not truly human.

Chapter X


The governess returns to her room and sees that though its curtains are closed, Flora's bed is empty. She gives into her terror and tears at the bed sheets. Finally, she sees movement behind the curtain covering the window, and Flora emerges from behind it.

Before the governess can confront the child, Flora calls her naughty and demands to know where she was. Flora herself explains that knowing the governess was gone, she went to the window to look for her but saw no one out there. At that moment, the governess grasps the child tightly and is tempted to demand a confession from her. Instead, she asks why Flora closed the bed curtain, and the girl says she did not want to frighten her if she returned.

In the nights after that, the governess sits up late and often walks around the halls. One night, she comes to the stairs and sees a woman sitting below, her back to the governess, holding her head in her hands as if she is upset. The woman then vanishes.

On the eleventh night since she last saw Quint, the governess goes to bed on time but wakes up suddenly at one o'clock. The candle she had left burning has been blown out, she thinks by Flora. Once again, Flora is hiding behind the curtain, looking out the window, and she does not notice as the governess leaves the room.

Out in the hall, the governess searches for a room from which to look out and see what Flora sees. She is tempted to go into Miles's room, look out his window, and shock him into telling her the truth, but she decides not to, since he "might be innocent." Also, the ghost she believes is outside is concerned with Flora, not Miles.

Instead, the governess finally decides to enter a large empty room on the first floor. She quietly opens the window. The moon makes the grounds outside quite visible, and on the ground, she sees a figure looking up at a window above her. She feels sick to realize that the figure is Miles.


The control that the governess seeks over the children is manifested physically in this chapter. Previously, we have seen her desire to hug the children in order to allay her fears that they are "lost." Here, when Flora offers her reasons for looking out the window, the governess "gripped the little girl with a spasm that, wonderfully, she submitted to without a cry or a sign of fright." The joy the governess takes in the child's submission and this sign of her desire to possess the child is a physical counterpart to her need to control the children's actions and thoughts.

Though she reminds herself that the children "might be innocent," her suspicions have come dangerously close to controlling her behavior and launching her into demands which, if her fears are unfounded, could irreparably harm the children. In this chapter, she is "tempted" to force confessions from both Flora and Miles. The need to question Flora about the "truth" of her trip to the window comes after Flora has just explained her reasons and explicitly said that no one is outside. Her desire to shock Miles into a confession comes not when she has any evidence of his activity but when she hears silence in his room. One must wonder, then, if the governess were to interrogate the children and be met with denials, if their statements would mean anything to her.

The difference in the governess's encounters with the two ghosts on the stairs are significant. Though Miss Jessel, like Quint, appears below the governess on the stairway - thus suggesting her belief that the other woman is "lower" than her in class or morality - the governess reacts far differently to the female ghost than to the male. When confronted by Quint, she stares at him defiantly until he turns and leaves. She is threatened by his power, as represented by his gaze on her, and combats it by assuming for herself the masculine power of the gaze.

Miss Jessel, however, is not even aware of the governess's presence. Here, the governess holds all the power because she sees Miss Jessel and Miss Jessel does not see her. This is a reversal of the scene at the lake during which the governess was afraid to raise her eyes to see the figure she felt was looking at her. As such, Miss Jessel's appearance does not frighten the governess as does Quint's. Even after seeing the Miss Jessel on the stairs, the governess continues counting nights from Quint's last appearance, not from the most recent ghost sighting. Such importance placed on the male ghost may lend credence to the argument that the governess's is a particularly sexual fear - that she sees a handsome man as more threatening than a woman.

The image of Miss Jessel that the governess sees is far from threatening and - to the reader - might almost appear sympathetic. This appearance is more like an echo of a past spirit, repeating incidents from life, than a conscious, active ghost. Sitting on the stairs crying, Miss Jessel seems to be reliving an incident from her troubled life at Bly. Her disappearance, as the governess stands there looking at her, makes her more ephemeral, more like a memory or a vision, than Quint. Her actions, sitting and crying on the stairs do not earn the governess's disgust, as had Mrs. Grose's story of her sexual exploits, and in fact parallel quite strongly the governess's own frequent tears. Similarly interesting is the governess's ability to separate the authority of the two ghosts. She need not worry about Miles, she believes, because Miss Jessel only haunts Flora. In focusing on the gendered relationships between the children and ghosts, the governess reveals her sexual preoccupations and fails to predict what she will find out on the lawn.

Throughout the book, it seems as if real life is more frightening to people than spirits. The governess is less frightened by the fact that she is seeing dead people than by the behavior those people engaged in during their lives. Likewise, she is more shocked to see Miles - a living person who resides in the house - to be standing out on the lawn than she would have been to see Miss Jessel. Her surprise, it seems, is what "sickens" her - for she had until that moment believed that Miles was asleep in his room. Here, her ability to know her pupils every thought and move is proved wrong.

Chapter XI


The next day, the governess talks to Mrs. Grose. She is comforted by the housekeeper's calm attitude but believes that it is a result of a lack of imagination. Only if the children were physically injured would Mrs. Grose worry. The two women stand watching the children - whom the governess has decided to always keep in sight - playing on the lawn.

The governess reflect on the previous night. In order not to disturb the other people in the house, she had walked down to the lawn to meet Miles. He came straight to her and she walked with him in silence back to his room. She wonders how he will explain things to her, thinking first that he has finally been caught in a situation he cannot excuse or explain. As she thinks, she realizes that she is caught too - she cannot bring up the subject of ghosts without seeming monstrous.

The two reach Miles room, where the bed is still made and the window is open. The governess is overcome and sinks down on the bed, realizing that Miles is too clever for her. She does not know how to confront him and actually admires him throughout this encounter.

Finally, she asks Miles to tell her the truth about why he was outside and what he was doing there. He first asks if she will understand, if he is to tell her, and she quickly assents, eager to hear the truth. Finally, he says that he wanted her to do just as she is doing - "think me - for a change - bad!" Miles explains that he sat up and read till midnight, in order to be extra bad. He had arranged with Flora that she should look outside, so as to wake up the governess and get her to see him out there. The governess realizes she's fallen into the children's trap.

All she can do is tell him she is worried he caught a cold outside at night. He hugs her, saying he had to in order to be "bad enough," and the governess reflects that he was able to use his goodness to play this joke on her.


Much of the governess's nighttime encounter with Miles and her later thoughts on the incident will stem from the words the two use. The governess and Mrs. Grose have already created confusion in calling Miles "bad" - a word that, for the governess, means evil and for Mrs. Grose, means naughty. When Miles says, "When I'm bad I am bad!" he may simply be bragging about his naughtiness, as he purports to be doing, or he may be implicitly confessing what the governess already suspects - that, corrupted by Quint, he has become evil.

The terror of the chapter stems from the governess's inability to act. Feeling that she is "caught" by Miles, she cannot explicitly confront the child with her suspicions. Her continuing doubts that her fears may be unfounded and her awareness of what others will think - "who would ever absolve me, who would consent that I should go unhung, ifŠI were the first to introduce into our perfect discourse an element so dire?" - prevent her from eliciting any confirmation or denial of her suspicions from Miles. She proceeds, assuming she is right and that Miles understands what she means when she asks for his reasons for going outside, but in doing so, she ignores her own doubts. If her doubts are right - if Miles is innocent - then any "confession" this conversation has elicited is essentially meaningless. All Miles has confessed to is a joke, not evil.

The governess focuses in this chapter on mental capacity. First, she says, the housekeeper is not smart enough to worry about the children unless she can visibly see physical injury to them. In doing so, she sets herself above Mrs. Grose - using her power as narrator of the story and "reader" of the children to suggest her greater mental acuity. Others' inability to perceive that the children are haunted does not prove her wrong; rather it proves her smarter and more perceptive than the average person. Such a belief is born of hubris and may result in the governess's failure to see the truth and her eventual failure. A reading of The Turn of the Screw in which Mrs. Grose has deliberately attempted to make the governess goes mad exposes this dangerous pride even further; the governess may have overestimated herself and underestimated her adversary.

However, if the governess is correct and Mrs. Grose is simply amiable and lacking in imagination, we must discount her as a source of support for the governess's claims. She accepts what the governess tells her about the children, but she is not able to see the evidence which the governess purports to see for herself. Her "belief" in the governess's suspicions may only be a result of her agreeable nature. Likewise, the force with which the governess shares her suspicions with Mrs. Grose may be enough to convince the less imaginative woman that the governess's suspicions are true. Certainly, the use of the word "imaginative" is significant. She uses it to signify intellect, but perhaps it is better to be less "imaginative." Perhaps the more imaginative governess has imagined everything.

Similarly, the governess may have overestimated the children. Miles is only ten and Flora eight. She recognizes the great planning that had to go into this "joke" - planning which Miles has been proud to share with her. However, she also believes that Miles is more clever than her. He has designed the incident so that she cannot confront him about the truth behind it. Such cleverness in a ten-year-old boy is frightening, for it implies that he must have had help, presumably in the form of Quint. But the governess's assumption about this cleverness is dangerous; because of its very basis in her inability to question Miles, she can never confirm her suspicions.

Chapter XII


Back on the lawn, the governess and Mrs. Grose continue their conversation. The governess emphasizes the last comment Miles made to her before she left his room: "Think, you know, what I might do!" Rather than take that as proof of his goodness, the governess believes he is referring to the far worse things he did at school.

Mrs. Grose can barely believe the governess, but the governess insists that anyone who had seen the children in the past nights would understand. She sees the fact that they have never mentioned Quint and Miss Jessel and that Miles has not mentioned his school as proof of their plan. Though Miles appears to be reading a story to Flora out on the lawn, the governess says, they are really talking of the ghosts. She says that she may appear crazy and that anyone else who had seen the things she has would be driven crazy, but she is actually more lucid.

A worried Mrs. Grose wants to know what her lucidity has shown her, and the governess explains that the children's beauty and goodness is all a "fraud." They have been living a secret life and belong to Quint and Miss Jessel. Mrs. Grose admits that in life they were "rascals," but wants to know what they can do now that they are dead. The governess proclaims that they can destroy the children - that right now they are watching and tempting but that the children will ultimately go to them and be killed - unless the governess and Mrs. Grose can stop them.

Mrs. Grose suggests that the uncle stop the ghosts, that the governess write to him. The governess angrily retorts that she cannot bother the man by writing that his house is haunted and the children are mad. Mrs. Grose admits he does not like to be worried, and the governess says that his desire not to be bothered kept Quint and Miss Jessel in power for so long, but that she will not deceive him as they did. Nonetheless, Mrs. Grose is adamant that the uncle come - until the governess threatens her, telling her that if she contacts the master, then the governess will leave both of them immediately.


Once more, Mrs. Grose's agreeable nature allows the governess a great deal of power at Bly. Still bolstering her own importance by emphasizing her perception, the governess embarks on a series of shocking observations that frighten and surprise the housekeeper. Whether or not the ghosts are real, the governess has little proof of their intentions and still less proof of the children's knowledge of them. Once again, she takes a lack of evidence - here, the fact that Miles and Flora have never mentioned Quint or Miss Jessel - as undeniable proof that the children have already been corrupted by them. The ghosts, when she has encountered them, have done nothing but watch and have never given her any reason to believe that they want to kill the children.

Here, then, the governess's assertion of her own lucidity is suspect. Mrs. Grose and the ghost both function as foils for her, revealing her own malicious influence. "I go on, I know, as if I were crazy; and it's a wonder I'm not. What I've seen would have made you so," she says to Mrs. Grose, "but it has only made me more lucid, made me get hold of still other things." When those "other things" are groundless, wild observations, one must wonder if the governess is not in fact crazy.

Likewise, the governess says of the children, "They're not mine - they're not ours. They're his and they're hers." Once again, we have more proof of the governess's desire to possess the children than we do of Quint and Miss Jessel's. The governess has hugged them so hard they have wanted to cry out. She has wanted to know their every thought. Quint and Miss Jessel, even if they are ghosts, seem to be, as Mrs. Grose suggests, impotent - watching and not acting.

The governess also compares herself to the ghosts when denying Mrs. Grose's suggestion of eliciting their employer's involvement. His desire not to be bothered allowed Quint and Miss Jessel to "take him in" for so long. "As I'm not a fiend, at any rate," the governess says, "I shouldn't take him in." Her extreme desire to keep the situation at Bly from the master - which leads her even to threaten a worried Mrs. Grose - suggests that maybe she, and not the ghosts, is the true fiend. Surely, the man's request not to be bothered has limits, such as a poisoned house and mad children. The governess's desire not to contact him seems to be an illogical extension of her previous desire to "pleasure" her employer by fulfilling the obligations of her job. What better way has she to prove her worth than by protecting his niece and nephew from ghosts - real or imagined - bent on stealing their souls. Conscious or not, the governess's decision not to contact her employer will prove to have negative consequences - especially when she finds she is unable to protect the children as she wants to do.