This post contains spoilers for chapters 7-12 of The Turn of The Screw!
It’s really hard to write about this book and not give you just my own emotional reactions because this book is WILD. So. I’ll try to give you actual discussion and thoughts.
Mrs. Grose and the governess have a very unequal partnership (OR DO THEY??? it could be argued that Mrs. Grose is manipulating their relationship the whole time but you would have to convince me.). The governess (TG from now on, short and simple, thanks Aubrianne!) frequently bosses Mrs. Grose around, forcing her to tell her things or treat the children a certain way. TG even refers to Mrs. Grose in chapter 7 as “the victim of my confidence.” It’s phrases like that that make me sympathize with readers who think TG is completely off her rocker (to put it idiomatically). Please don’t victimize the only person here who is at least ostensibly on your side, TG! The other servants haven’t had any dialog, the ghosties are clearly not friendly, and the kids, as we’ve seen, have TG wrapped around their little fingers.
Speaking of the kids, in chapter 9 TG comments that they were “extravagantly and preternaturally fond of me” but that this made sense because she was so affectionate toward them. She seems to walk a fine line between being aware of their charm and its affect on her, but still ignorant of how much power they have over her ideas and conceptions. For example, in that same chapter she notes that sometimes “one of them should keep me occupied while the other slipped away.” If she notices this, and she’s also trying to keep an eye on them because of ghosties, why doesn’t she do more to stop them? Bizarre.
TG has formed her ideas so firmly at this point that she doesn’t even ask Mrs. Grose to identify Miss Jessel; in chapter 7, she tells Mrs. Grose flat out that the figure watching little Flora across the pond was certainly “My predecessor – the one who died” despite the fact that TG has never seen Miss Jessel before. TG has several chapters worth of interrogating Mrs. Grose, but Mrs. Grose is an expert at vague-tweeting about former employees’ behavior. “They were both infamous,” she finally said. TG can make of that whatever she wants, which is unfortunate because she doesn’t need any encouragement.
Even more ominous is this exchange between them about Quint:
“I’ve never seen one like him. He did what he wished.”
“With them all.”
Like yeah okay this guy was hella abusive. It sounds like Miss Jessel was his willing accomplice but can we really conclude that for sure? DISCUSS.
In chapter 8, TG shows her determined but pessimistic attitude: “We were to keep our heads if we should keep nothing else.” I’m honestly not sure what TG is referring to, here. It’s in the context of Mrs. Grose and TG planning together as to what they should do. Does she mean, keep their heads i.e. their wits about them, even if they lose other things like….their emotions? Their soul? And then again, is she worried about keeping the figurative heads of their intellect or their actual heads; is decapitation and dismemberment a concern here? DISCUSS.
As we see in chapter 8, once TG gets Mrs. Grose to admit to specifics on Miles’ bad behavior, TG says: “His having lied and been impudent are, I confess, less engaging specimens than I had hoped to have from you of the outbreak in him of the little natural man. Still,” I mused, “they must do, for they make me feel more than ever that I must watch.” TG has already made up her mind on a few points; the chief being that Quint is influencing Miles, he is influencing him negatively, and that the best TG can do is keep watch over the kids and by so doing, obstruct Quint’s influence. Miles is observed as being “under some influence operating in his small intellectual life as a tremendous excitement,” (chapter 9) but this observation is made by TG in the future narrating the story, rather than TG noticing it at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 (if this is indeed a case of hindsight).
Ok but the moment on the staircase. I said I wasn’t going to get emotional buT I LOVe ThIS SCenE sO MUcH! It’s so freaky. My personal nightmares and daymares are full of thinking I saw a person where a person shouldn’t be and then looking again, so the moment where TG’s candle goes out and then she realizes there’s a person there is VERY REAL and terrifying.
Of course, as soon as TG has triumphed in her stare down with Quint’s ghost, both of the kids completely ruin her mood. In chapter 10 Flora is caught outside of her bed, and in a classic move known by babysitters everywhere, defends herself by accusing TG of naughtiness, rather than going on the defensive for sneaking out of bed. She also argues that her deception was motivated by not wishing to scare TG. Good grief I hope Flora is actually under a ghost’s influence because otherwise this tiny child is way too clever for her own good.
In chapter 11, Miles is caught outside at night, and defends himself by claiming that he wanted to prove to TG that he could be naughty after all, that she has TOO GOOD AN OPINION OF HIM thus far. TG only manages to feel “a curious thrill of triumph” over the embarrassment she senses from Miles. But after thinking over his words, TG explains to Mrs. Grose: “He knows down to the ground what he ‘might do.’ That’s what he gave them a taste of at school.” Up to this point, TG was firm in her belief that Miles did nothing wrong at school, that it was a mistake or a misunderstanding. Now she has begun to acknowledge to herself that Miles CAN be bad, but it’s not even his own fault, it’s because of the influence of Quint and Jessel, and that Flora and Miles are “steeped in the vision of the dead restored to them.” Mrs. Grose, who is either very trusting, very good at dissembling, or really bored with her job and enjoys the entertainment of ghosts, puts forward the question of WHY Quint and Jessel would even WANT to hang out with 2 kids in their afterlife. TG has firmly decided on a reason: “For the love of all the evil that, in those dreadful days, the pair put into them.” Again, vague-tweeting.
I’m not sure what she explicitly means; like, they were influencing the morals of the children and want to see how their handiwork turned out? They were physically abusing them and want to keep being jerks? You can take it in a bunch of different directions and I don’t like any of them. Certainly they seem to be negatively stalking the place and the kids, but we only get TG’s viewpoint on what’s happening. If someone else were to narrate these scenes, would they change in tone? How so???? I can imagine Mrs. Grose either purposefully ignoring any haunting, or just thinking, “Well, it’s probably fine…it wasn’t THAT bad when they were alive, after all.” Or some other character who has a positive opinion of Quint and Jessel? How would they view or describe the ghostly visits?
The employer is judged to be a useless ally by TG and Mrs. Grose, since “he do hate worry.” TG notes that “his indifference must have been awful” to ignore all of the injustices and abuses going on under Quint’s reign at the house. But if it was as bad as all that, who would have dared tattle on Quint? Regardless, the employer really doesn’t want to be involved in raising two kids, and in any case TG refuses to ask him for help.
TG acknowledges that “I go on, I know, as if I were crazy, and it’s a wonder I’m not.” I’m not sure if this is a layered piece of irony because she is mad and won’t admit it, or if it’s a sincere bit of defense of her steadfast persistence in the face of monsters. What do you think? How reliable do you consider TG at this point in the story?