Catch up with past entries:
- “The Turn of the Screw” — Introduction through Chapter 2
- Steve’s Response: “The Turn of the Screw” — Introduction through Chapter 2
- “The Turn of the Screw” — Chapters 3 – 5
- Steve’s Response: “The Turn of the Screw” — Chapters 3 – 5
She herself had seen nothing, not the shadow of a shadow, and nobody in the house but the governess was in the governess’s plight; yet she accepted without directly impugning my sanity the truth as I gave it to her. — The “she” there is Mrs Grose. And we’ve touched on the class differencesbetween the governess and Mrs Grose in an earlier exchange. Mrs Grose simply isn’t in the position to challenge a lot of what the governess is saying. Mrs Grose certainly can’t outright call the governess a liar without risking, well, everything.
Also: the governess is honest about saying that Mrs Grose has seen nothing. This is going to be a common refrain from the governess. Either someone hasn’t seen something, or someone willfully doesn’t see something — whatever that means.
“He was looking for someone else, you say—someone who was not you?”
“He was looking for little Miles.” A portentous clearness now possessed me. “That’s whom he was looking for.”
“But how do you know?”
“I know, I know, I know!” My exaltation grew. “And you know, my dear!” — Guess what point I’m about to make. (“A portentous clearness now possessed me.” — I just bet it did, mad governess.)
“He wants to appear to them.” — The governess says this to Mrs Grose. And here, I’ll say: the governess is on to something. And I don’t think she’s jumping to random conclusions. It makes sense, even though it really isn’t happening, that the ghosts would want to target the children. It’s the most horrible thing that governess can conceive of. It’s not just the children physically, but the children’s souls that are in danger. (But more on that later. Because the governess seems to be trying to have it both ways.)
I also wrote in the margins by this, “She continually turns the screws of her observations.” It goes like this: I see a man >> That man is a ghost >> That ghost is Peter Quint >> Peter Quint isn’t looking for me >> Peter Quint must be looking for someone else >> That someone else is the children. Nothing has happened externally to provide this road map. This is simply the governess, riffing like a jazz musician (“What’s important, man, are the ghosts you can’t see…”).
I had an absolute certainty that I should see again what I had already seen, but something within me said that by offering myself bravely as the sole subject of such experience, by accepting, by inviting, by surmounting it all, I should serve as an expiatory victim and guard the tranquility of my companions. — I’m cheating a bit, because I know the ending: but this ultimately isn’t going to be the case, is it? Also, she’s a bit of a Dorothea, right? Hoping for a grand life — something for which she can sacrifice herself?
I continued to think. “It is rather odd.”
“That he has never spoken of him?”
“Never by the least allusion. And you tell me they were ‘great friends’?”
“Oh, it wasn’t him!” Mrs. Grose with emphasis declared. “It was Quint’s own fancy. To play with him, I mean—to spoil him.” She paused a moment; then she added: “Quint was much too free.” — There’s quite a bit going on with this passage. (Well, two things. But I think both are substantial.)
1) The governess has put ‘great friends’ into quotation marks, suggesting that at some point Mrs Grose used that phrase in describing the relationship between Quint and Miles. Only Mrs Grose hasn’t. At no point in the story (up to this point) has she used the phrase “great friends” to describe anyone’s relationship. This appears to be another instance of the governess and her unreliability. She’s trying to force words into Mrs Grose’s mouth. And I think James is doing this on purpose.
Additionally, though: if we’re to believe that at some point Mrs Grose said to the governess that Miles and Quint were “great friends” then I may have found a way to rescue myself from the clutches of that scene where the governess describes Quint perfectly. I had said at that time that we can’t assume that there was a scene not in the novel. We don’t see the governess having access of any kind to descriptions of Quint. But here we might have an instance where a characterdoes have access to information that the reader doesn’t. And that may be my salvation. (Not that I’m worried. I’m totally going to win this.)
2) “Quint was much too free.” This gets us to what I think may be the larger point: something happened between Quint and the children. I don’t think there’s any disagreement about this. And I think Mrs Grose is affected by her knowledge of this. She would be ashamed and self-reproachful, no doubt, that the children were harmed. The governess has sussed this much out; but she’s applying the wrong logic to it.
“Too free with my boy?” — ::sigh:: It’s now 18 minutes since she’s met the kids.
of the half-dozen maids and men who were still of our small colony. — This is neither here nor there, and doesn’t help either of us. I was just struck for the first time at this mention of other staff in the house: eight people in the house, plus the two kids, plus the two (non-existent) ghosts. It’s essentially New Delhi in there, or Tokyo.
I had restlessly read into the fact before us almost all the meaning they were to receive from subsequent and more cruel occurrences. — I’m just going to leave this here…
I began to watch them in a stifled suspense, a disguised excitement that might well, had it continued too long, have turned to something like madness. — And this.
It didn’t last as suspense—it was superseded by horrible proofs. Proofs, I say, yes—from the moment I really took hold. — And this, too.
Look: James wants us to suspect the governess. He is too psychologically acute. I don’t want to run too many other novels into this discussion — but the man gave us a frillion pages of Isabel sitting by the fire. And maybe it’s not fair to run in his family, but: William James, Henry’s brother, is no slouch in the psychology department. And while the psychology of the nineteenth century may not be as robust, say, as that of the twenty-first (all women were hysterics then; they all have fibromyalgia now), I think Will and Hank could have had some conversations about madness that made its way into The Turn of the Screw.
However: that’s entirely a supposition on my part — something the governess in this story would totally do. I won’t.
My heart had stood still for an instant with the wonder and terror of the question whether she too would see; and I held my breath while I waited for what a cry from her, what some sudden innocent sign either of interest or of alarm, would tell me. I waited, but nothing came. — Here’s another instance of no one but the governess seeing something. The first time, of course, the governess actually was alone. This time, Flora is with the governess. The governess, though, has a ready explanation for this: I was determined by a sense that, within a minute, all spontaneous sounds from her had previously dropped.
This doesn’t jive well with her insistence of the innocence of these children from several pages earlier. Of course, one could argue that the children are being corrupted by the presence of this supernatural evil. Fine. But then, if that’s the case, then it’s just happened, this corruption. Or, if it hasn’t just happened, then we can’t trust the governess’s glowing references from earlier about Flora and Miles.
Mostly, though: here’s a chance for someone else to see a ghost and James doesn’t give it to us.
“Two hours ago, in the garden”—I could scarce articulate—”Flora saw!”
Mrs. Grose took it as she might have taken a blow in the stomach. “She has told you?” she panted.
“Not a word—that’s the horror. She kept it to herself! The child of eight, that child!” Unutterable still, for me, was the stupefaction of it.
Mrs. Grose, of course, could only gape the wider. “Then how do you know?” — Indeed. How does the governess know? Especially since the governess herself tells us initially that Flora didn’t see: “I waited for what a cry from her…I waited, but nothing came. The governess is willing to lie — either knowingly or unknowingly — about what has happened in order to pursue her foregone conclusion.
“Was she someone you’ve never seen?”
“Yes. But someone the child has. Someone you have.” Then, to show how I had thought it all out: “My predecessor—the one who died.” — Here we get that neat trick the governess likes to play, only a little more rapidly: I saw a ghost >> the child pretended not to see the ghost >> the child knows who the ghost is >> Mrs Grose now also knows who the ghost is.
So, some things about this: the ghost of Miss Jessel is not on the same cut-and-dried continuum that Peter Quint’s ghost is. The governess has, when she sees Miss Jessel, heard of Miss Jessel, and knows of Jessel’s involvement with Peter Quint. Also, and we’ll get into this presently, she’s not even trying to be clear about her description of Miss Jessel.
In order to solidify her implications, she involves poor Mrs Grose. Again. Always.
“You don’t believe me?” I pressed.
She turned right and left in her distress. “How can you be sure?”
This drew from me, in the state of my nerves, a flash of impatience. “Then ask Flora—she’s sure!” But I had no sooner spoken than I caught myself up. “No, for God’s sake, don’t! She’ll say she isn’t—she’ll lie!” — I’m going to argue Steve’s point a little, because at this point it’s interesting: the governess, I think, is entirely more sympathetic to Miles than she is to Flora at this point. The governess goes quickly from “The children are blessed angels” to “that Flora is a lying monster” with a quickness. This coincides with the religious tenor of the time: women were evil because they caused the Fall. They’re punished in childbirth because of this sin. They’re seducers of men. They’re easily corruptible.
Mrs. Grose tried to keep up with me. “You mean you’re afraid of seeing her again?”
“Oh, no; that’s nothing—now!” Then I explained. “It’s of not seeing her.”
But my companion only looked wan. “I don’t understand you.” — You and me both, Mrs Grose. You and me both. (Of course, the governess would argue that Mrs Grose is being willfully obtuse. “She’s doing her best not to comprehend me! Because of the ghosts!”)
Mrs. Grose, at this, fixed her eyes a minute on the ground; then at last raising them, “Tell me how you know,” she said.
“Then you admit it’s what she was?” I cried.
“Tell me how you know,” my friend simply repeated. — This is a hint, I think. One of the things you want to exist is a character whom we can believe. I want to suggest that Mrs Grose is that character, but you’re going to say, “Well, if that’s the case, then you have to accept the ghosts because she confirmed that the governess saw Peter Quint.” And to that I say: Maybe she didn’t. Again, the governess gave a very detailed description of a man; but it was theclothes that convinced Mrs Grose. Not the description. Mrs Grose never said, “You described the physical attributes of Peter Quint with a thoroughness heretofore unheard.” But because the man was dressed as a gentleman, that’s what convinced Mrs Grose.
And Mrs Grose is having a hard time with the governess. And Mrs Grose is needing some reassurances here, because stuff’s getting super weird. Or, at any rate, this new governess is getting super weird. And the governess never gives a solid response to this question.
“The person was in black, you say?”
“In mourning—rather poor, almost shabby. But—yes—with extraordinary beauty.” I now recognized to what I had at last, stroke by stroke, brought the victim of my confidence, for she quite visibly weighed this. “Oh, handsome—very, very,” I insisted; “wonderfully handsome. But infamous.” — Here’s the governess describing Jessel to the governess. Note the lack of description. And note, too, this: “Handsome–very, very.” I want you to note that because of a conversation Mrs Grose and the governess had several pages ago:
“The last governess? She was also young and pretty—almost as young and almost as pretty, miss, even as you.”
“Ah, then, I hope her youth and her beauty helped her!” I recollect throwing off. “He seems to like us young and pretty!”
“Oh, he did,” Mrs. Grose assented: “it was the way he liked everyone!”
All she knows about the governess is that she’s pretty.
“I must have it now. Of what did she die? Come, there was something between them.”
“There was everything.”
“In spite of the difference—?”
“Oh, of their rank, their condition”—she brought it woefully out. “She was a lady.”
I turned it over; I again saw. “Yes—she was a lady.” — This is a further conversation between Mrs Grose and the governess about Miss Jessel. I think it’s interesting because of how it allows the governess to refine — after the fact — what she thinks she saw at the lake. She doesn’t mention that the figure she saw was a lady until after Mrs Grose has said “She was a lady.”
“I’ve never seen one like him. He did what he wished.”
“With them all.” — Not because it’s helpful for either of us. I just loved this exchange.
“Of her real reason for leaving? Oh, yes—as to that. She couldn’t have stayed. Fancy it here—for a governess! And afterward I imagined—and I still imagine. And what I imagine is dreadful.” — This seems to be a confirmation of an earlier thing I believed about Miss Jessel: she was pregnant with Quint’s child and that’s why she had to leave.
She doesn’t die at Bly. Or even near Bly, the way Peter Quint does. She dies very far away. The usual lore about ghosts, not that this helps me at all, is that they haunt the places where they died. But the lore also suggests that they haunt the places of great emotional resonance to them.