The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 15 | Summary



Shocked by what Miles has just said to her outside of the church about wanting to return to school, the governess considers the implications of Miles's statements. Miles has a plan. He's right; he should be in school. And he clearly knows she's afraid of something and aims to use her fear against her. There's nothing the governess can do.

At the door of the church she considers leaving Bly for good. For the moment she leaves church and returns to the house. She collapses in the hall, at the foot of the stairs, and remembers seeing Miss Jessel in the exact same spot more than a month before. When she goes into the schoolroom to gather her things she sees Miss Jessel, still dressed in black, sitting at the governess's table with such authority the governess herself feels like an intruder.

The governess calls out to her, and Miss Jessel looks up as if she hears. In the next minute the ghost disappears. The governess senses she must stay at Bly.


The governess's imagining Miles's use of the word "unnatural" recalls the supernatural events at Bly. The lines between natural and unnatural events have become blurred to the characters. The governess feels herself "hesitating, hovering," similarly to the ghosts.

And she's already failed at her job, through her own fault or not. She knows the children will continue to manipulate her by calling her "naughty," putting her in the role of the child.

With Miss Jessel's appearance in the schoolroom, the governess feels the takeover of Bly is complete. She's no longer at home or in charge there. The ghost's "indescribable grand melancholy" indicates her power; her silence intimidates the same way Quint's did. There's a tragic backstory to Miss Jessel's death James has only hinted at. The governess can see glimpses of the ghost's pain, and may fear she'll suffer the same fate. The timing of the ghosts may stem from the governess's mental state. Just as she fears she's "hurt myself beyond repair" at her job of minding Miles, she sees her predecessor in her seat in the schoolroom, preparing to do the work for her.

For the first time the governess speaks to a ghost and seems to receive a flash of insight as a result, which comes with the sunshine and the sense she feels in the schoolroom. Faced with outright competition, she decides not to leave Bly. She still has a battle to fight.

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