The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 14 | Summary



On a Sunday morning in early autumn, the governess is walking to church beside Miles. Miles is wearing a waistcoat and looks more like an independent teenager than a young boy. Still the governess is caught off guard when he asks about going back to school. He says he can't stay in a house full of women forever.

The governess asks if staying with the "same lady" is the problem. She already senses she's lost control of the conversation. Miles says he's just "getting on"—getting older—and adds he's been well-behaved except for the night he walked onto the lawn. Even though he's happy at Bly, he wants to "see more life" and learn more than the governess can teach. The governess is hurrying to church, so the conversation can end when Miles says, "I want my own sort."

This remark makes the governess ask if he loves her and Flora. Yes, Miles says, but what if he didn't? He wonders if his uncle knows how he's progressing. The governess, still wanting to remain loyal to her employer but increasingly aware she won't be able to protect anyone at Bly, tells Miles his uncle won't care. Miles replies he'll personally get his uncle to come down to Bly.


The governess considers the situational irony of her admiration of the children's obedience right before they begin to rebel. Their "magnificent little surrender" indicates the children know they have power over the governess but choose to make her life easy by behaving themselves. Miles is turning into a teenager, dressed in adult clothing. The tailor's "free hand" recalls Quint's "free" behavior in the house and draws another parallel between Miles and Quint. Miles is the adult in this interaction, and the governess is the child experiencing a fall from grace, reinforced symbolically when she doesn't even make it into the church.

The recurring imagery of curtains—which both conceal and reveal—returns as the governess notes "the curtain rose on the last act of my dreadful drama." The curtain is drawn back to show Miles's true intentions and the governess's true fear. Miles may have already been possessed by Quint. He talks not as a content child but as a bored young man; his "my dear" becomes more condescending than affectionate. The "sweet, high, casual pipe" of his speech is meant to throw off the listener. He allies with a man—his uncle—against the governess and his sister. If he "struck for freedom" or walked off on the spot, the governess doesn't think she could do a thing.

But Miles may have already aged beyond his years through no fault of his own. If Peter Quint did abuse him sexually, he's going through real trauma. This, too, the governess is powerless to handle. One thing is clear: she can no longer think of Miles as innocent and uncorrupted.

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