Here we are, at the end of our winding way through the maze of The Turn of the Screw. Based on some of your reactions on Twitter, I’m going to start by saying that this book is expertly ambiguous, I warned you at the beginning of the readalong, and I am still puzzling over certain parts of this story (especially the end). If you want simple answers, or even just ANSWERS, you might be out of luck. But let’s work through it and see where we are at.
Previously on TOTS: at the end of chapter 18, Butch Governess and the Grose Kid realized Flora had escaped the house while Miles was distracting them with his pianist wiles. Chapter 19 stresses me out because it evokes the panicked kind of searching one does when one is searching for a child, when said child has run off in a park or disappeared in a grocery store. TG and Mrs. Grose find Flora, who is incredibly unrepentant, similar to when she sneaked out of bed earlier, and similar to Miles when he sneaked outside the house. Flora is not bothered by everyone else’s panic, instead “smiled as if her performance had now become complete.” which again evokes relief/anger mix when after your panicked search you find the kid harmlessly playing nearby.
TG’s bias is very strong in this chapter, because we’re swept up in the idea that Miles is off with Quint and Flora is with Jessel, but we don’t see any actual proof of it. For example, she claims, “They say things that, if we heard them, would simply appal us.” HOW DO YOU KNOW, TG? And then when the boat is missing, she says that “Our not seeing it is the strongest of proofs”, which really sums up her argument throughout this book. The absence of witnessing something horrible is stronger than actually witnessing it, if you have hints or knowledge of it happening.
Even once Jessel has appeared (in chapter 20), it isn’t clear whether she’s been with Flora or just come onto the scene. TG is elated: “She was there, so I was justified; she was there, so I was neither cruel nor mad.” However, to TG’s disappointment, Mrs. Grose can’t (or won’t?) see Jessel, and Flora can’t (or won’t?) see Jessel. TG is the only one who A. can see Jessell and B. admits to seeing her. Do you think Mrs. Grose can see and is lying, or that she can’t? What bond does TG have that enables her to see the ghosts? Is it because she’s replacing Jessel? Is it because she’s emotionally close to the kids? Or, is TG just crazy and Jessel isn’t even there?
Personally, I think the book supports the idea that the ghosts are real. But it’s definitely a mess and could go several ways. If Jessel IS there, and Flora CAN see her, Flora’s grouchiness and rejection of TG is especially vicious; TG sees her as “hideously hard” and “common and almost ugly.” If TG is crazy, too many things in this story don’t add up and/or go unexplained. But I would also believe that Flora’s mere disagreement with TG would destroy her angelic beauty in TG’s eyes, because TG’s opinions are rather polarized that way.
Flora is so wound up by her outside adventure, TG’s sighting of Miss Jessel, and TG’s accusations to Flora, that the little girl makes herself sick. But is it from fear of TG’s insanity, or fear that TG will interfere with Jessel and Quint? According to Mrs. Grose, Flora is saying vicious, precocious, adult things about TG, which would support the idea that at the very least Flora was under a real bad influence in the past, and at the worst that Flora is currently under the influence of ghost Jessel and/or Quint.
“It’s beyond everything, for a young lady; and I can’t think where she must have picked up-“
“The appalling language she applies to me. I can, then!”
TG assures Mrs. Grose not to feel bad if she feels deceived by Flora, because “You’ve the cleverest little person to deal with.” The way TG talks about the kids is odd; sometimes she places all of the blame on the ghosts working their will through the kids, but sometimes she talks as if the kids, under the influence of the ghosts, are using their agency to be terrible awful sinners. Maybe she herself is confused on this point. In any case, she’s ludicrously happy that Flora is showing her true colors, so to speak, because “It so justifies me!” TG wants to put a stop to Quint and Jessel, but she also wants to make sure that she stands out as the one who hasn’t done anything wrong. Even though in the previous chapter, she admits to having lost Flora to Jessel, she agrees with Mrs. Grose to send the little girl away, in the hope that the ghosts’ influence will dissipate. I’m really not sure of the effectiveness of this plan.
As pertains to Miles, Mrs. Grose has identified that Miles must have taken the letter which TG wrote and left on the table to be sent to the employer. After all, noooooooo one else in the house has motivations to keep things from the employer (right? Right??). TG still wants to save Miles, which she can’t do by taking him away from the house because REASONS, I guess? DISCUSS.
“If he confesses he’s saved. And if he’s saved-“
“Then you are?”
TG has her own salvation, or perhaps value in the eyes of the world/Mrs. Grose/her employer, wrapped up in what happens to the kids. So at this point in the story, TG feels that she knows everything that is going on with the ghosts, and her main goal is to get Miles to confess or to admit what is going on, and that he isn’t a perfect child but has been operating behind her back. If TG succeeds at this, she will have saved Miles because his facade will have dropped and the ghosts will have nothing to hide behind.
Miles returns from his own adventures in chapter 22, and TG is ready to have it out, but first they have to have a really awkward dinner with lots of vague table talk. TG has decided that her only hope lies in “taking “nature” into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.” In short, what she’s saying is that she can’t react to this whole crazy situation by freaking out, or running away, or treating it like a joke or a trick. She has to react to it like she would any other difficult situation, rationally and with compassion, but realizing that it will test her to the limits.
I think what makes me especially suspicious of Miles at this point is how chill he is about his sister coming down ill and being sent away with no warning. It seems like a normal kid, especially one as close to his sister as he is, would be really worried and ask a lot of questions. But they have a very calm civil dinner, and TG is very proud of herself for acting so normal and saying that Flora’s “journey will dissipate the influence” of her “illness” i.e. the ghosts. I don’t think I agree with her strategy of forcing everything to be normal as much as possible, in the hope of tricking Miles into giving her information. Why isn’t it okay to at least ask straightforward questions???
Chapter 23 really drives home that TG and Miles are queen and king of the land of vagueness. They talk about how “the others” are here with them, but they could be talking about the servants OR the ghosts. I think Miles especially is enjoying the vagueness and weird undertones. When TG asks Miles if he likes the freedom he has at Bly now that he is ignoring his lessons with her, Miles “stood there smiling; then at last he put into two words–” Do you?”–more discrimination than I had ever heard two words contain.” Pretty cheeky, but also interesting when you think about how free TG is at Bly. She’s one of many children to a country parson, and this is her first time away from home and independently making money. She’s also very free in terms of the kids – they don’t need or want her, and she can do whatever she wants, if she wasn’t so concerned with “saving” them.
All right, chapter 24. So here we are: Flora hates TG but is gone; Mrs. Grose still somehow believes in TG but is gone; TG wants to save Miles; Miles is feeling real chill about everything.
If we look at the “action” only:
- Peter Quint shows up at the window
- TG distracts Miles by grabbing him and hugging him
- Peter Quint disappears from the window
- Miles looks out of the window, removing himself from TG
- Quint shows up again
- TG grabs Miles again
- Miles struggles to get free and see who is there
- TG leaps at the window
- Quint disappears
- Miles looks out the window but sees nothing
- Miles dies
Miles is described throughout the chapter as struggling to speak or breath, and as “feverish.” It’s unclear if this is because TG is physically restraining him or because psychologically he is struggling to free himself from TG and/or Quint.
As far as things we learn through the dialogue: Miles admits to stealing the letter to his uncle, ostensibly to find out what TG was saying about him. Miles admits to “saying things” to boys at school he liked; I have no idea what that means but I assume he is a budding sociopath, due to Quint’s influence. Miles asks, “is she here?” and doesn’t disagree with TG when she names “she” as Miss Jessel. You could argue Miles meant Flora; but I’m not sure why he would be so desperate. Once Miles asks, “It’s he?” TG pins him down to admit that Miles means Peter Quint, whom he has not mentioned or named once up to this point.
Miles doesn’t seem to actually see Quint at any point in the scene. TG successfully keeps him from doing so, possibly because Quint is more powerful when Miles knows he’s there. I’m not sure how TG’s physical presence gets Quint to leave, while at the same time Quint’s absence kills Miles.
Of course, there’s the alternate reading, in which TG is completely deranged and kills Miles through a combination of terror and physical assault. I don’t quite buy this, but I really appreciate that the book can simultaneously support two wildly different interpretations.
What do you think? Which reading do you think is better supported by the story/characters/dialog/action? Or is there a third option that I’m not addressing? If you haven’t read the comments on these posts, I encourage you to read a very interesting theory that Kim commented on an earlier post. I’m sure there are others you might come up with.
Thank you for joining me on this readalong!