The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 4 | Summary



The governess keeps the incident to herself at first. She's afraid to worry Mrs. Grose. She wonders if the Bly residents are keeping the man's presence a secret. Eventually she decides a stranger has simply "taken a liberty rather monstrous" by breaking and entering.

Miles and Flora provide a pleasant distraction. The governess is even able to forget the problems at Miles's school, since Miles is behaving so perfectly she can't imagine his ever causing trouble. She believes if he had been scolded for doing something truly wrong she would sense dishonor or a wound in his personality.

One rainy Sunday the governess is retrieving a pair of gloves from the dining room. She sees the same man she's seen before. He's now standing on the other side of the window. This time she feels the man recognizes her. She notices he seems to be looking around the room, as if he's looking for someone else.

The governess runs outside to see if she can get closer, but the man has vanished. She stands where he stood outside the window, hoping to get more clues about his presence. Mrs. Grose happens to walk into the dining room. From inside she observes the governess, who is puzzled by how frightened Mrs. Grose seems.


The governess's attempt to place the ghost sighting within a logical framework—an intruder had broken into the house, but he wouldn't be back—means, at this point, she's tethered to the real world.

She only begins to feel afraid when she considers what to say to Mrs. Grose, and decides to protect her. For the first time the governess has a secret she needs to hide. And she's discovering a peculiar difficulty in her work with the children. They're so well-behaved she can't punish them. They're so interesting she doesn't, as most governesses do eventually, get bored with her charges. They're too good to be true. She's "dazzled" by them—James continues to use the language of possession. The children have possessed her already. James also implies the romantic world of Bly allows the governess to escape problems at home, making her even more vulnerable and susceptible.

Bly is a mirror through which the governess sees herself. She wants to believe she's as charming, sensitive, and free of painful history as she observes the children to be.

Again, when she sees Peter Quint, she rallies to the occasion with "duty and courage." This time she goes to meet him. She's beginning to discover his true nature as an apparition, not a human: "He was there or was not there: not there if I didn't see him." Like a story, Quint only exists if there's an audience, at least at first.

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