The Turn of the Screw

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Peter Quint Character Analysis

Formerly the valet at Bly, Quint is the first ghost the governess encounters at the estate. According to Mrs. Grose, he was something of a scoundrel while alive, and apparently a bad influence on the children, Miles in particular. Mrs. Grose also says that he had a scandalous relationship with Miss Jessel.

Peter Quint Quotes in The Turn of the Screw

The The Turn of the Screw quotes below are all either spoken by Peter Quint or refer to Peter Quint. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Supernatural Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of The Turn of the Screw published in 2007.
Chapter 3 Quotes

That was exactly present to me—by which I mean the face was—when, on the first of these occasions, at the end of a long June day, I stopped short on emerging from one of the plantations and coming into view of the house. What arrested me on the spot—and with a shock much greater than any vision had allowed for—was the sense that my imagination had, in a flash, turned real. He did stand there!

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Peter Quint
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

A few weeks have passed since the governess's arrival, weeks she has described as joyful and carefree. The only thing she wishes during this period is that "someone" would look on at her life at Bly and that "he" would approve. In the midst of having this thought she sees a strange man in the distance, looking at her. The governess is shocked, and feels that her imagination has "turned real." The man she sees turns out to be the ghost of Peter Quint, though she does not realize this yet.

It is important to note the context in which this first appearance of Peter Quint takes place. Note that the governess had just been longing for "someone" to witness her life with the children; the fact that she uses male pronouns to describe this person both connects him to the male ghost who does appear and suggests that the person she is hoping would watch her might be Miles and Flora's mysterious uncle (whom, it's suggested, she might feel a romantic attraction for). This is significant as one interpretation of the novel holds that the ghosts of Peter Quint and Miss Jessel are indeed figments of the governess's imagination. One possible motivation for her experiencing visions of ghosts is a sense of loneliness at Bly and unrequited love for Miles and Flora's uncle. On the other hand, of course, it's entirely possible that there really are ghosts in this ghost story, and the figure of Quint appears just when the governess is feeling most alone.

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Chapter 4 Quotes

There were shrubberies and big trees, but I remember the clear assurance I felt that none of them concealed him. He was there or was not there: not there if I didn't see him.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Peter Quint
Related Symbols: Windows
Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess has seen the ghost of Peter Quint again, this time through a window. She goes outside to find him and cannot see him, though insists that this is not because he is hidden by the trees but because he has actually vanished. This passage shows that the governess is quick to dismiss a plausible explanation (that the man she saw is now simply hidden by other objects in her sightline), and instead jumps to the conclusion that, because she can't see him, he has disappeared. 

Depending on the reader's interpretation of the story, the governess may seem suspiciously quick to trust her own perceptions, perhaps suggesting that she has a loose grip on reality. The statement "He was there or was not there: not there if I didn't see him" indicates the governess' certainty that the man is appearing to her in particular, thereby centering her own role in the narrative as more than a mere witness. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

"The children?"
"I can't leave them now."
"You're afraid—?"
I spoke boldly. "I'm afraid of HIM."
Mrs. Grose's large face showed me, at this, for the first time, the faraway faint glimmer of a consciousness more acute: I somehow made out in it the delayed dawn of an idea I myself had not given her and that was as yet quite obscure to me.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Flora, Peter Quint
Page Number: 311
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess has described the man she has seen to Mrs. Grose, who is rather dismissive and says they should head to church. The governess protests, saying that she can't leave the children because she is afraid of the man. Mrs. Grose then seems to display a hint of recognition, indicating to that Mrs. Grose may know more than she has so far revealed (and indeed more than the governess knows). This mysterious sense of recognition advances the governess's coming suspicion that, despite the fact that the governess trusts and confides in Mrs. Grose, Mrs. Grose may be keeping secrets from her. Meanwhile, the governess's unwillingness to leave the children confirms her feeling of duty to protect them and her paranoia that the man she has seen intends to harm them. 

Chapter 6 Quotes

"He was looking for someone else, you say—someone who was not you?"
"He was looking for little Miles." A portentous clearness now possessed me. "That’s whom he was looking for."
"But how do you know?"
"I know, I know, I know!" My exaltation grew. "And you know, my dear!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Peter Quint
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:

The governess has vowed to Mrs. Grose that she will approach her task of protecting the children with renewed vigour, and goes on to say that this is because she knows that the ghost of Peter Quint was "looking for" Miles. This moment certainly adds a disturbing element to the story, though––as this passage shows––it is not quite clear how the governess knows Quint is targeting Miles. As in many parts of the novel, she seems to be relying on a strong yet inexplicable sense of intuition.

This is significant, as it would have been unusual at the time for two women to be effectively running a household with no male supervision. Much of the governess and Mrs. Grose's distress can be read as anxiety over whether to trust their own instincts; this is reflected in the fact that the governess is constantly longing for the authoritative intervention of Miles and Flora's uncle. At the same time, this exchange reveals that the governess does strongly believe that both she and Mrs. Grose know that the "innocent" Miles is in danger, emphasized by her exclamations "I know, I know, I know! ... And you know, my dear!" 

"Oh, it wasn't him!" Mrs. Grose with emphasis declared. "It was Quint's own fancy. To play with him, I mean—to spoil him." She paused a moment; then she added: "Quint was much too free."
This gave me, straight from my vision of his face—such a face!—a sudden sickness of disgust. "Too free with my boy?"
"Too free with everyone!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Peter Quint
Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:

In response to the governess' suspicions that Quint's ghost is "looking for" Miles, Mrs. Grose confesses that, when he was alive, Quint was especially fond of Miles and liked "to spoil him." She then goes on to say that he was "much too free," a comment that horrifies the governess.

It is important to note that the use of euphemistic expression here leaves the true meaning of Mrs. Grose's words ambiguous. During the Victorian era, sexuality was often referred to with this kind of indirect language; at the same time, due to the strict social codes of the era, "much too free" could mean any number of transgressions. The governess's horror at the thought that Quint was "too free" with Miles suggests that she interprets Mrs. Grose as saying that Quint sexually molested Miles. However, Mrs. Grose's reply that Quint was too free with everyone again throws this interpretation into doubt, all while also hinting at the later revelation that Quint and Miss Jessel had a sexual relationship of their own. 

Chapter 12 Quotes

"Why, of the very things that have delighted, fascinated, and yet, at bottom, as I now so strangely see, mystified and troubled me. Their more than earthly beauty, their absolutely unnatural goodness. It's a game," I went on; "it's a policy and a fraud!"
"On the part of little darlings—?"
"As yet mere lovely babies? Yes, mad as that seems!" The very act of bringing it out really helped me to trace it—follow it all up and piece it all together. "They haven't been good—they've only been absent. It has been easy to live with them, because they're simply leading a life of their own. They're not mine—they're not ours. They're his and they're hers!"
"Quint's and that woman's?"
"Quint's and that woman's. They want to get to them."

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Flora, Peter Quint, Miss Jessel
Page Number: 344
Explanation and Analysis:

Here the governess confesses a major change of opinion to Mrs. Grose: she now believes that the children have been deliberately trying to seem innocent when in fact they have been corrupted by Quint and Miss Jessel. She says that this explains their extraordinary, "unnatural" sweetness and obedience, and she concludes that the children do not belong to the governess and Mrs. Grose, but to the two ghosts. This is a pivotal moment in the novel, the point when the governess's own innocence––manifested through her naïve insistence on the innocence of the children––suddenly falls away and she fully accepts her suspicion and paranoia. 

This passage also makes clear that it is impossible for the governess to imagine that the children are independent, autonomous beings. She says that she thought they were good because they were obedient, but in fact they have just been "absent.. leading a life of their own." She then goes on to tell Mrs. Grose that the children are "not ours. They're his and they're hers!" This shows not only that, when it comes to the children, the governess imagines goodness as being the same as obedience, but also that she believes the children must either belong to her or to someone else––they cannot simply exist as their own people.

Chapter 18 Quotes

“She's with her?"
"She's with her!" I declared. "We must find them."
My hand was on my friend's arm, but she failed for the moment, confronted with such an account of the matter, to respond to my pressure. She communed, on the contrary, on the spot, with her uneasiness. "And where's Master Miles?"
"Oh, he’s with Quint. They're in the schoolroom."
"Lord, miss!" My view, I was myself aware—and therefore I suppose my tone—had never yet reached so calm an assurance.
"The trick's played," I went on; "they’ve successfully worked their plan. He found the most divine little way to keep me quiet while she went off."
"'Divine'?" Mrs. Grose bewilderedly echoed.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Flora, Peter Quint, Miss Jessel
Page Number: 368
Explanation and Analysis:

Miles has been playing the piano for the governess, during which time Flora disappeared. The governess, having realized this, goes to Mrs. Grose and insists that they find Flora, who the governess is convinced is with Miss Jessel. When Mrs. Grose asks where Miles is, the governess tells her he must be with Quint and that the piano playing was a "trick" to distract her while Flora ran off with Miss Jessel. It is clear at this point that, like the children, Mrs. Grose is alarmed at the governess's behavior. Whether we interpret the ghosts as real or not, it is clear that the governess's belief in their influence over the children is leading her into a frenzy, which in turn isolates her from those around her.

Even at this crazed and climactic moment, the governess still seems fixated on the binary between innocence and corruption. She calls Miles's piano playing a "divine little way to keep me quiet." The use of the word "divine"––emphasized by Mrs. Grose's bewildered repetition––shows that the governess retains her obsession with the children's unearthly purity, even while she is accusing them of conspiring against her. 

Chapter 24 Quotes

"It's he?"
I was so determined to have all my proof that I flashed into ice to challenge him. "Whom do you mean by 'he'?"
"Peter Quint—you devil!" His face gave again, round the room, its convulsed supplication. "Where?"
…"What does he matter now, my own?—what will he EVER matter? I have you," I launched at the beast, "but he has lost you forever!" Then, for the demonstration of my work, "There, there!" I said to Miles.
But he had already jerked straight round, stared, glared again, and seen but the quiet day. With the stroke of the loss I was so proud of he uttered the cry of a creature hurled over an abyss…We were alone with the quiet day, and his little heart, dispossessed, had stopped.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles (speaker), Peter Quint
Page Number: 395
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel's dramatic conclusion is a masterpiece of creepiness and ambiguity. Miles has confessed that he stole the letter the governess wrote to his uncle, and admits that he was expelled from school for "saying things." Meanwhile, the governess has seen Quint at the window. At first Miles seems confused by what she has seen, referring to it with female pronouns, but then he cries out "Peter Quint––you devil!" It is difficult to determine exactly what happens next, but the novel's conclusion is definite: Miles' heart has stopped, and he is dead.

One way to interpret the ending of the novel is as a final piece of evidence that the ghosts are real and that Quint did corrupt Miles. The fact that Miles shouts Quint's name and seems to expect to see him indicates that Miles believes he is there. It is possible that Miles' heart stops in fright, or because Quint kills him, or because he cannot survive the governess seizing him from Quint's possession (indeed, this is arguably conveyed by the use of the word "dispossessed"). 

Another interpretation reads Miles's fright as being directed at the governess and her frantic behavior. It is possible that Miles's cry "you devil!" is in fact directed at the governess. The governess's repetition of "the quiet day" perhaps suggests that there is indeed no one else there but the two of them. According to this interpretation, it is the governess herself who kills Miles––either by frightening him or by smothering him so tightly that he suffocates. Indeed, this would explain how she knows that his heart has stopped.

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Peter Quint Character Timeline in The Turn of the Screw

The timeline below shows where the character Peter Quint appears in The Turn of the Screw. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
...that he was a gentleman. Mrs. Grose concludes that the man she described was Peter Quint, who was once the valet for the children’s uncle, who had stayed behind after the... (full context)
Chapter 6
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...Grose as her confidante, she resolves to protect the children from what her encounters with Quint led her to believe was a threatening environment. (full context)
Secrecy Theme Icon
The narrative returns to the governess’s conversation with Mrs. Grose about her encounters with Quint. At the end of the conversation, the governess mentions that she believes Quint had been... (full context)
Chapter 7
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...children’s former governess. Mrs. Grose calls Miss Jessel a dubious character, and she says that Quint “did what he wished” with her, which the governess interprets to mean that the two... (full context)
Chapter 8
Storytelling Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...Grose to say that Miles had been secretive about the time he had spent with Quint. The governess continues to prod, and she infers from Mrs. Grose’s frazzled description of Miles’s... (full context)
Chapter 9
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...of reflection, the narrative moves forward to the night of the governess’s third encounter with Quint. One night, while reading in her room—a room she shares with Flora—she perceives in the... (full context)
Chapter 10
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Storytelling Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
The governess returns to her room after her encounter with Quint. She is terrified to notice that Flora’s bed is now empty—the curtain around it now... (full context)
The Supernatural Theme Icon
...the room they share to explore the area of the house where she had seen Quint. She does not see Quint again in the home, but she does encounter Miss Jessel... (full context)
Chapter 12
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...tells Mrs. Grose she believes the two children were meeting secretly with the ghosts of Quint and Miss Jessel. She tells Mrs. Grose that the children only seemed to be well-behaved... (full context)
Chapter 13
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...and Flora were conspiring against her. She believes the children know that she had seen Quint and Miss Jessel, and she believes further that the children know that she’s aware of... (full context)
Chapter 16
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...neither can hold it against Miles, and they blame his expulsion alternatively on his uncle, Quint, Miss Jessel, and Mrs. Grose herself (for allowing the children to go on meeting with... (full context)
Chapter 19
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...about what the children must say when they meet secretly to discuss Miss Jessel and Quint. She tells Mrs. Grose that the children likely say things that are horribly appalling, though... (full context)
Chapter 24
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
...to have sent to his uncle, she notices through the room’s window the face of Quint, staring threateningly into the room. The governess reacts to this with another surge of her... (full context)
The Supernatural Theme Icon
Exterior vs. Interior Theme Icon
Secrecy Theme Icon
Youth and Innocence Theme Icon
Suddenly, Quint reappears at the window. The governess latches onto Miles, and yells at Quint. Miles then... (full context)