The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 11 | Summary



The governess relates the events of the night to Mrs. Grose the next day: she went outside to bring in Miles and lead him to his room. Once they were in Miles's room, the governess knew Miles could not possibly produce a lie to explain sneaking out of his bedroom at night. She asked him why he went outside. He smiled and said he wanted her to think of him as "bad" for a change. The governess realized he had given her a reason that wouldn't allow her to ask more questions.

Flora, meanwhile, had been watching from her room. Miles explained they planned the whole stunt, and the governess realized Miles and Flora worked together to "trap" her.


When the governess enviously attributes Mrs. Grose's lack of concern with evil spirits to a "want of imagination," she admits imagination is an aspect of her ghostly encounters. She compares her own stories to a "witch's broth" of the occult. Mrs. Grose represents the real world and its concerns; she considers the real menace the children's neglectful uncle. Is the governess really dealing with unnatural forces or is she keeping herself entertained with a macabre story?

Miles too seems to be making up his own narrative as he goes along. As he tries to explain his presence in the yard, the governess thinks he's searching for "something plausible and not too grotesque." The two are competing with each other to tell the better story. Yet neither wants to be the first one to admit the truth. This push-and-pull between the governess and the children began in the previous chapter with Flora, and continues here with Miles. She's finally caught him in the act, declaring her triumph "a sharp trap for any game."

Yet Miles comes up with an explanation both charming and vague enough to gloss over any details. By admitting he's been bad on purpose, he clears up the governess's question of whether or not he's capable of misbehavior. This, he implies, is the worst she can expect—she should stop scrutinizing him.

He takes on the aura of an unreal or fairy creature; "a little fairy prince" who "fairly glittered in the gloom." His very gentleness and kindness, like Flora's sweetness in the previous chapter, is a weapon against detection.

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