The Turn of the Screw

The Governess Character Analysis

The book’s protagonist and main narrator, the governess is the young woman who has been assigned to take care of the education and supervision of Miles and Flora at their uncle’s country estate, Bly. Born to a family of humble means in the English countryside, the governess lived a sheltered life until she left for London to pursue the employment opportunity she settled on at Bly. She is a strong-willed and intelligent but emotionally volatile character, and she takes her position as the children’s caretaker with a seriousness that can seem either overbearing or admirably protective. Her emotional volatility calls into question the reality of the ghosts she eventually claims to see, and because no other character claims to see the ghosts, her stability remains an unsettled question.

The Governess Quotes in The Turn of the Screw

The The Turn of the Screw quotes below are all either spoken by The Governess or refer to The Governess. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet Classics edition of The Turn of the Screw published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The little girl who accompanied Mrs. Grose appeared to me on the spot a creature so charming as to make it a great fortune to have to do with her. She was the most beautiful child I had ever seen…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose, Flora
Page Number: 291
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

"I take what you said to me at noon as a declaration that you’ve never known him to be bad."
She threw back her head; she had clearly, by this time, and very honestly, adopted an attitude. "Oh, never known him—I don't pretend that!"
I was upset again. "Then you have known him—?"
"Yes indeed, miss, thank God!"
On reflection I accepted this. "You mean that a boy who never is—?"
"Is no boy for me!"
I held her tighter. "You like them with the spirit to be naughty?" Then, keeping pace with her answer, "So do I!" I eagerly brought out. "But not to the degree to contaminate—"
"To contaminate?"—my big word left her at a loss. I explained it. "To corrupt."
She stared, taking my meaning in; but it produced in her an odd laugh. "Are you afraid he'll corrupt you?"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

It would have been impossible to carry a bad name with a greater sweetness of innocence, and by the time I had got back to Bly with him I remained merely bewildered—so far, that is, as I was not outraged—by the sense of the horrible letter locked up in my room, in a drawer. As soon as I could compass a private word with Mrs. Grose I declared to her that it was grotesque.
She promptly understood me. "You mean the cruel charge—?"
"It doesn't live an instant. My dear woman, LOOK at him!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles
Page Number: 299
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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"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:

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Suddenly, in these circumstances, I became aware that, on the other side of the Sea of Azof, we had an interested spectator…My heart had stood still for an instant with the wonder and terror of the question whether she too would see; and I held my breath while I waited for what a cry from her, what some sudden innocent sign either of interest or of alarm, would tell me. I waited, but nothing came…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Flora, Miss Jessel
Page Number: 320
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

"They know—it's too monstrous: they know, they know!"
"And what on earth—?" I felt her incredulity as she held me.
"Why, all that we know—and heaven knows what else besides!" Then, as she released me, I made it out to her, made it out perhaps only now with full coherency even to myself. "Two hours ago, in the garden"—I could scarce articulate—"Flora saw!"
Mrs. Grose took it as she might have taken a blow in the stomach. "She has told you?" she panted.
"Not a word—that's the horror. She kept it to herself!”

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose (speaker), Miles, Flora
Page Number: 320-321
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

To gaze into the depths of blue of the child's eyes and pronounce their loveliness a trick of premature cunning was to be guilty of a cynicism in preference to which I naturally preferred to abjure my judgment and, so far as might be, my agitation. I couldn't abjure for merely wanting to, but I could repeat to Mrs. Grose—as I did there, over and over, in the small hours—that with their voices in the air, their pressure on one's heart, and their fragrant faces against one's cheek, everything fell to the ground but their incapacity and their beauty.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose, Miles, Flora
Page Number: 326
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

You were looking for me out of the window?" I said. "You thought I might be walking in the grounds?"
"Well, you know, I thought someone was"—she never blanched as she smiled out that at me.
Oh, how I looked at her now! "And did you see anyone?"
"Ah, NO!" she returned, almost with the full privilege of childish inconsequence, resentfully, though with a long sweetness in her little drawl of the negative.
At that moment, in the state of my nerves, I absolutely believed she lied…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Flora (speaker)
Related Symbols: Windows
Page Number: 336
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

He was gentleness itself, and while I wagged my head at him he stood there more than ever a little fairy prince. It was his brightness indeed that gave me a respite. Would it be so great if he were really going to tell me? "Well," he said at last, "just exactly in order that you should do this."
"Do what?"
"Think me—for a change—bad!" I shall never forget the sweetness and gaiety with which he brought out the word, nor how, on top of it, he bent forward and kissed me. It was practically the end of everything.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles (speaker)
Page Number: 342
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Chapter 13 Quotes

What it was most impossible to get rid of was the cruel idea that, whatever I had seen, Miles and Flora saw more—things terrible and unguessable and that sprang from dreadful passages of intercourse in the past. Such things naturally left on the surface, for the time, a chill which we vociferously denied that we felt…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles, Flora
Page Number: 350
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 14 Quotes

I call it a revolution because I now see how, with the word he spoke, the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful drama, and the catastrophe was precipitated. "Look here, my dear, you know," he charmingly said, "when in the world, please, am I going back to school?"
Transcribed here the speech sounds harmless enough, particularly as uttered in the sweet, high, casual pipe with which, at all interlocutors, but above all at his eternal governess, he threw off intonations as if he were tossing roses.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles (speaker)
Page Number: 352
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 15 Quotes

Dark as midnight in her black dress, her haggard beauty and her unutterable woe, she had looked at me long enough to appear to say that her right to sit at my table was as good as mine to sit at hers. While these instants lasted, indeed, I had the extraordinary chill of feeling that it was I who was the intruder. It was as a wild protest against it that, actually addressing her—"You terrible, miserable woman!"—I heard myself break into a sound that, by the open door, rang through the long passage and the empty house. She looked at me as if she heard me, but I had recovered myself and cleared the air. There was nothing in the room the next minute but the sunshine and a sense that I must stay.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miss Jessel
Page Number: 358
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 17 Quotes

"Dear little Miles, dear little Miles, if you KNEW how I want to help you! It's only that, it's nothing but that, and I'd rather die than give you a pain or do you a wrong—I'd rather die than hurt a hair of you. Dear little Miles"—oh, I brought it out now even if I should go too far—"I just want you to help me to save you!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles
Page Number: 365
Explanation and Analysis:

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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:

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Chapter 20 Quotes

Miss Jessel stood before us on the opposite bank exactly as she had stood the other time, and I remember, strangely, as the first feeling now produced in me, my thrill of joy at having brought on a proof. She was there, and I was justified; she was there, and I was neither cruel nor mad. She was there for poor scared Mrs. Grose, but she was there most for Flora…

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Mrs. Grose, Flora, Miss Jessel
Page Number: 373
Explanation and Analysis:

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"I don't know what you mean. I see nobody. I see nothing. I never have. I think you're cruel. I don't like you!" Then, after this deliverance, which might have been that of a vulgarly pert little girl in the street, she hugged Mrs. Grose more closely and buried in her skirts the dreadful little face. In this position she produced an almost furious wail. "Take me away, take me away—oh, take me away from her!"

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Flora (speaker), Mrs. Grose
Page Number: 375
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 22 Quotes

Here at present I felt afresh—for I had felt it again and again—how my equilibrium depended on the success of my rigid will, the will to shut my eyes as tight as possible to the truth that what I had to deal with was, revoltingly, against nature. I could only get on at all by taking "nature" into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding, after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker)
Page Number: 385
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 23 Quotes

This inference grew in a few minutes to sharp intensity and seemed bound up with the direct perception that it was positively he who was. The frames and squares of the great window were a kind of image, for him, of a kind of failure. I felt that I saw him, at any rate, shut in or shut out. He was admirable, but not comfortable: I took it in with a throb of hope. Wasn't he looking, through the haunted pane, for something he couldn't see?

Related Characters: The Governess (speaker), Miles
Related Symbols: Windows
Page Number: 387
Explanation and Analysis:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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The Governess Character Timeline in The Turn of the Screw

The timeline below shows where the character The Governess appears in The Turn of the Screw. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Preface
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Douglas has access to the story’s original manuscript, which was written by the governess who was taking care of the two visited children. The governess had also been Douglas’s... (full context)
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Douglas gives his listeners some background information about the governess. The youngest daughter of a poor country parson, she had read of the position in... (full context)
Chapter 1
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The governess’s story begins with her description of her journey to Bly. She mentions the mixed feelings... (full context)
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Mrs. Grose informs the governess that Miles will arrive in a couple days by the same carriage the governess herself... (full context)
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...at Bly getting to know Flora. They play outside for some time and eventually the governess asks Flora to take her on a tour of Bly. Flora agrees happily and shows... (full context)
Chapter 2
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The governess reveals that on her second evening at Bly she had received from the children’s uncle... (full context)
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The governess confides in Mrs. Grose about the announcement of Miles’s expulsion, and she seeks from Mrs.... (full context)
The Supernatural Theme Icon
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The next day is the day of Miles’s arrival. Before leaving to meet Miles, the governess asks Mrs. Grose what happened to the previous governess. Mrs. Grose replies that she does... (full context)
Chapter 3
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The governess picks up Miles and when she sees him she is impressed by what she calls... (full context)
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The governess reminisces on her first few weeks at Bly. She says they were the first time... (full context)
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The chapter concludes with the governess’s description of an unexpected encounter with a man—a stranger—at Bly. She says that while out... (full context)
Chapter 4
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After seeing the strange man up in the tower, the governess returns into the home and sees Mrs. Grose in the hall. She decides not to... (full context)
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The governess describes her developing relationship with the children. She says that she is both developing an... (full context)
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The chapter finishes with the governess’s description of another encounter with the strange man. While on her way out of the... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Having seen the governess standing outside the house, Mrs. Grose goes outside and asks the governess what had left... (full context)
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The governess describes the man to Mrs. Grose. She tells her that he was not wearing a... (full context)
Chapter 6
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The governess describes her decision to begin pursuing her position as the children’s caretaker more seriously, almost... (full context)
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The narrative returns to the governess’s conversation with Mrs. Grose about her encounters with Quint. At the end of the conversation,... (full context)
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A later scene is described in which the governess and Flora venture together outside. While watching Flora play beside a lake, the governess spots... (full context)
Chapter 7
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The narrative continues to the afternoon following this lakeside encounter with the new visitor. The governess tells Mrs. Grose that she believes the children see the visitors but are not telling... (full context)
The Supernatural Theme Icon
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The governess describes the visitor she’d seen to Mrs. Grose. She says she was an “infamous” looking... (full context)
Chapter 8
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The narrative continues to describe the time following the governess’s conversation with Mrs. Grose. The governess decides to continue on with her duties, to plow... (full context)
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Later, the governess questions Mrs. Grose, hoping to draw out of her when, if ever, Mrs. Grose had... (full context)
Chapter 9
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The governess reflects on the days following her conversation with Mrs. Grose. Her time spent with the... (full context)
The Supernatural Theme Icon
After this period 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... (full context)
Chapter 10
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The governess returns to her room after her encounter with Quint. She is terrified to notice that... (full context)
The Supernatural Theme Icon
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On a night when she feels particularly tired, the governess allows herself to fall into a deep sleep. She awakes suddenly when she realizes a... (full context)
Chapter 11
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The day after seeing Miles out on the lawn, the governess speaks privately with Mrs. Grose about what had happened. Before describing what she says to... (full context)
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The governess then describes what she says to Mrs. Grose about her encounter with Miles. After seeing... (full context)
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In response to the governess’s question about why Miles had been outside, Miles said that he wanted her to think... (full context)
Chapter 12
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After finishing her description of her night with the children, the governess tells Mrs. Grose she believes the two children were meeting secretly with the ghosts of... (full context)
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Mrs. Grose immediately accepts the governess’s evaluation of the situation, and, further, suggests that they must tell the children’s uncle right... (full context)
Chapter 13
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The governess divulges to the reader the thoughts that were going through her head in the months... (full context)
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Miles and Flora eventually mention to the governess their concern that they had not heard from their uncle in a long time. The... (full context)
Chapter 14
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The governess moves on to describe a particularly important interaction she has with Miles. While walking to... (full context)
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...around women all the time—he wanted to be with people of his “own sort.” The governess tells Miles that few people seem to be of his own sort, except perhaps Flora,... (full context)
Chapter 15
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After her conversation with Miles, the governess stays outside the church and reflects upon their conversation. She thinks that he knows he... (full context)
Chapter 16
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The governess then tells Mrs. Grose about her meeting with Miss Jessel. The governess tells Mrs. Grose... (full context)
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The governess says that she is concerned, though, that their uncle will hold it against her not... (full context)
Chapter 17
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The governess begins to write her letter to the children’s uncle. She cannot write, so she visits... (full context)
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The two discuss Miles’s school. The governess is concerned for him, and throughout the conversation she says how painful it is to... (full context)
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Because she is so disturbed by Miles’s unwillingness to confide in her, the governess falls to her knees at the boy’s bedside and yells that she wants to “save”... (full context)
Chapter 18
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The narrative continues on the day following the governess’s late-night interaction with Miles. After the governess has finished her lessons with the children—during which... (full context)
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The governess, panicked, runs to find Mrs. Grose, who also does not know where Flora has gone... (full context)
Chapter 19
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The governess and Mrs. Grose leave Miles behind to go find Flora outside. The governess decides to... (full context)
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When they arrive at the spot, Flora is nowhere to be found. The governess then notices that the boat that is usually there has gone missing, and she assumes... (full context)
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...get to the other side of the lake, they see the boat, exactly as the governess had expected. After looking for a bit, they see Flora. Mrs. Grose excitedly rushes to... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Still standing by the lake after having found Flora, the governess sees Miss Jessel staring at them from the opposite bank. The governess grasps Mrs. Grose’s... (full context)
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The governess accosts Mrs. Grose, saying that she must be able to see Miss Jessel. Mrs. Grose... (full context)
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The governess finds Flora’s behavior appalling. She accuses Flora of being under Miss Jessel’s influence, and she... (full context)
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Back at Bly, the governess heads to her room and notices that Flora’s belongings have all been removed from the... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...narrative continues to the morning following the day by the lake. Mrs. Grose enters the governess’s room early to speak about Flora’s condition. Flora, she says, has fallen ill, and she... (full context)
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The governess then says that she will not leave Bly, and she insists that Mrs. Grose take... (full context)
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...Miles will confess to this, he will be saved, redeemed from his misbehaved condition. The governess promises to save Miles. (full context)
Chapter 22
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With Mrs. Grose and Flora now gone from Bly, the governess prepares herself for her time alone with Miles. She is aware the maids and other... (full context)
The Supernatural Theme Icon
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...does not bring up the ghosts, but only asks if Flora has fallen ill. The governess says that Bly disagreed with Flora, and after she says so the two have a... (full context)
Chapter 23
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The narrative continues to describe the first evening Miles and the governess spend alone at Bly. While in the room outside of which the governess had once... (full context)
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The governess asks Miles if he likes staying at Bly. He says that he does, and he... (full context)
Chapter 24
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After the governess asks Miles whether or not he had stolen the letter she’d meant to have sent... (full context)
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...letter. He says he took it to see what she had said about him. The governess says it is clear to her that Miles knows he is in the presence of... (full context)
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The governess then asks what Miles found when he read the letter. He says he found nothing,... (full context)
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Suddenly, Quint reappears at the window. The governess latches onto Miles, and yells at Quint. Miles then asks “Is she here?” and the... (full context)