The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 12 | Summary



While talking to Mrs. Grose, the governess fixes on something Miles said: "Think, you know, what I might do!" Despite Miles's good behavior, he is capable of evil, and he knows it.

The governess now sees the children's outward perfection as a way to mask "their vision of the dead restored to them"; when they pretend to read fairy tales, they're really "talking horrors." She tries to explain to Mrs. Grose how the spirits of the dead are possessing the children. Mrs. Grose is troubled because she loves the children, but wonders what damage the ghosts can really do.

The ghosts haven't figured out a way to capture the children yet, the governess says, but they're trying hard. If the ghosts aren't stopped, the children will die.

Mrs. Grose says it's time to write to the children's uncle. The governess disagrees. Her job is to handle everything and not let the uncle worry. How can she admit his niece, nephew, and house are corrupted by evil spirits? The two women agree the uncle's aversion to conflict is the reason Peter Quint and Miss Jessel were allowed to remain employees at Bly for so long. But Mrs. Grose still feels the uncle's presence will help. The governess, however, considers the contempt the uncle will have for her hysteria. If he knows the truth, he'll think she's unable to perform her job, and they won't develop the romance she's hoping for. The governess threatens to quit if Mrs. Grose informs the uncle of anything.


At the halfway point in the narrative tensions have peaked at Bly. Mrs. Grose and the governess experience direct conflict over the right course of action. The governess is convinced the children are fully lost to another world, like the ghosts. For the first time she names their unnatural beauty and goodness as a "game ... and a fraud"—not on the part of the children, but the evil spirits possessing them.

As the governess points out the ghosts have deliberately stayed "in strange places and on high places" in the large house and grounds. They haven't gotten too close yet; they're only appearing on the edges of the human world. She hints they may have a larger agenda beyond Bly: "to keep up the work of demons." Yet the governess is more threatened by the "suggestions of danger" than of danger itself. For instance, though Miles didn't do anything particularly harmful to her by going outside at midnight (she found him fairly easily), he suggested he's capable of more deeds he won't tell her about or even perform.

The governess is in a painful situation, afraid of what she doesn't know, but she appears less than sympathetic in this chapter. She doggedly refuses Mrs. Grose's offer to intervene. She doesn't think of the welfare of the children but of losing the uncle's respect. The governess still wants to be the hero of her story—the story of Bly—and win the uncle's heart in the process.

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