The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 16 | Summary



Mrs. Grose and the children return from church and don't mention the governess's absence. The governess goes to Mrs. Grose's room to talk. She says she left church to meet a friend, then admits she returned to Bly for a talk with Miss Jessel. According to the governess, Miss Jessel "suffers the torments ... of the damned" and has come for Flora.

To Mrs. Grose's relief the governess has decided to contact the children's uncle after all. The women know they'll have to deal with Miles's expulsion when the uncle asks questions. The governess is now sure Miles was expelled for "wickedness" since he has no other apparent flaws, like stupidity or infirmity. But she refuses to handle the situation herself. Mrs. Grose offers to dictate a letter to the uncle, but breaks down under the stress of communicating the problems at Bly, and the governess agrees to write the letter.


A question runs through the narrative: who communicates with whom, and how? The governess is consistently given control over the written words in the story. Mrs. Grose's illiteracy prevents her from exercising agency in writing a letter to the children's uncle. She has to wait until the governess decides what they should do to help the children, rendering Mrs. Grose—the only other potential voice of reason—helpless. The governess's resistance to allowing the bailiff to write "our story" means she's still fiercely exercising control over which details the uncle knows.

When the governess refers to "a talk with Miss Jessel" what is she describing? In the previous chapter she and Miss Jessel exchanged no dialogue. As soon as the governess spoke, Miss Jessel disappeared. This discrepancy could point to the governess being untrustworthy at best. She adds "it came to that" when Mrs. Grose asks if she and Miss Jessel spoke: perhaps implying the two women had a silent communication and understanding, and they might as well have spoken.

Mrs. Grose is now blaming herself for the children's corruption. The housekeeper's lack of imagination is framed as a blessing by the governess—she can't picture "the torments" the governess can. But Mrs. Grose is trapped, unable to communicate. When the governess thinks of how she remembers Mrs. Grose best, she imagines "a large clean picture of the 'put away'—of drawers closed and locked." She imagines unknowable information, like her own letter Douglas takes from a locked drawer.

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