The Turn of the Screw | Study Guide

Henry James

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The Turn of the Screw | Chapter 8 | Summary



The governess still wants to prove to Mrs. Grose she's really seeing ghosts. If she were making them up, she says, how could she describe the physical features of two former staff members she's never met? The governess feels certain she'll see the ghosts again. She returns to the children, whose presence comforts her. She still feels Mrs. Grose is hiding important details, like the truth about Miles's possible misbehavior.

Mrs. Grose admits Peter Quint and Miles were together frequently before Quint's death. Since Peter Quint was of a much lower social class, their friendship bothered the housekeeper. Miles also lied to cover up how much time he was spending with Quint. Miss Jessel didn't mind Miles's lying.

The governess, certain Mrs. Grose is still holding back details, presses her further. The governess believes "the two wretches"—Peter Quint and Miss Jessel—planned to keep the children separate in order to influence and corrupt them. She's also suspicious of Miles, and remembers she never settled the mystery of his expulsion. She resolves to wait.


The governess is suspicious of Flora but would rather not see the child's "premature cunning." As hard as she tries, though, the governess can't see the children as flawless or Bly as romantic any longer. She knows Flora is becoming livelier and more playful to distract her.

The metaphors become less subtle and more menacing. The governess's doubt brushes her like "the wing of a bat." She wants to give "the last jerk to the curtain" to reveal the truth. She's urgently pressing Mrs. Grose to tell her what Miles has really done wrong. She wants to know what she doesn't know, but she's still not sure what the consequences are for this knowledge. The search for truth suggests a fall from innocence, or a fall from grace—already represented by the children, who are portrayed as the picture of innocence at the beginning of the novella.

This chapter introduces the idea of Miles's agency and cunning, which become driving forces in the plot. Did Miles conceal the amount of time he was spending with Peter Quint out of shame and guilt, not wanting to reveal any abuse? Or has Miles, at 10, developed the capability to be deliberate and cruel in his lies? The governess guesses, correctly, Miles has told Mrs. Grose he is superior to her due to his social class. The implication is he will resist Mrs. Grose's authority. The reference to the "natural man" in Miles describes his human ability to misbehave, which Mrs. Grose forgives. The governess thinks something more evil is at work.

When the governess realizes what she's up against, she becomes cunning too. Without any evidence she can't accuse Miles of lying to her, but she plans to watch him. The conflict between the governess and Miles begins as tense secrets and slowly unravels into dialogue. With each chapter James is raising the stakes.

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