The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

The next morning Mrs. Grose tells the governess Flora has a high fever. The governess is still resentful about the way Flora treated her at the lake the previous day, and doesn't want to see Flora again. Mrs. Grose says Flora doesn't want to see the governess again either, but still asks when she's coming back. Flora has said no more about Miss Jessel.

Concerned Flora will give a bad impression of her to the children's uncle and aware Mrs. Grose may be trying to get her to quit, the governess says Flora has to leave instead. Mrs. Grose should take Flora back to her uncle and away from the ghosts. The governess will deal with Miles, whom she doesn't trust not to turn on her. But she wants to separate the children and keep Mrs. Grose's loyalty. Miles, she thinks, may be waiting for the ghost of Peter Quint. She only needs a day or two to get the truth from him.

Mrs. Grose confesses she'd rather not stay at Bly now. She hasn't seen any ghosts, but she's heard "horrors" from Flora's accounts. Flora has said appalling things about the governess—Mrs. Grose doesn't know where Flora heard such words, but the governess thinks she's heard them from Miss Jessel. The governess seizes the moment of Mrs. Grose's fear to get the housekeeper to confess she believes in the ghosts.

As Mrs. Grose prepares to leave, the governess remembers she's already given the uncle some warning about the troubles at Bly in her letter. Mrs. Grose confesses the letter was never sent. After the two women left the house the day before, Mrs. Grose returned and noticed the letter was missing. Luke, the messenger, hadn't seen or taken it. Both women suspect Miles.

Mrs. Grose thinks they've finally solved the mystery of Miles's expulsion—he must have been kicked out for stealing letters. The governess doesn't think the mystery is that simple. But she knows Miles has given up some of his leverage. The letter didn't have much information in it, only a request to see the uncle. But now Miles is guilty of theft and he'll have to confess. Mrs. Grose leaves and promises the governess, "I'll save you without him!"

Analysis

Both the children are taking on the roles of adults. Mrs. Grose thinks Flora's become "quite old." The girl's dealt with more trauma than most children have, and the effects are aging her. Miles, as the governess said in the previous chapter, has the independence he requested. She can't compel him to do anything anymore.

Since her authority as a guardian and instructor is gone (Miles may honor this authority in a perfunctory way, for show, but he no longer respects her) the governess relies on leverage. She still does not blame Miles completely for his actions, calling him a "poor little exquisite wretch!"—at the mercy, she thinks, of evil.

When it comes to Flora the governess is less forgiving. She declares petulantly, like a child herself, she'll never speak to Flora again. The governess's resentment may conflate Flora and Miss Jessel. She's felt anxiety about living up to her predecessor and competitor for both the uncle's and the children's attentions. Mrs. Grose implies Flora learned strong language from Miss Jessel. This detail implies the bad influence of Miss Jessel is not entirely in the governess's head.

Feeling everyone else slipping away from her, and fearing how clever the ghosts are, the governess turns again to the simpleminded Mrs. Grose for an ally. Yet Mrs. Grose is surprised when the governess responds to reports of Flora's horrible visions with, "Thank God!" The governess's first priority is for others to believe her version of events. She wants to be vindicated in her belief she's fighting a battle of good versus evil. Mrs. Grose sees the evil of the children's inexplicable, out-of-character bad behavior and Flora's compromised health, not the evil of stolen souls. But it's enough for her to believe.

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