The Turn of the Screw by Henry James is a gothic frame story published in the late 1800s. The story takes place a few days after Christmas Eve in an old house, with a group of guests telling stories. One visitor, Douglas, reads from the manuscript of a young governess who worked at the Bly mansion. The manuscript depicts the governess with a wild, psychotic imagination, responsible for bringing evil to an otherwise innocent house.
The governess is a young girl who, at the age of twenty, is given her first such job by the master of the Bly House. He hires the governess to care for his orphaned niece and nephew, Flora and Miles, after their previous governess, Miss Jessel, mysteriously died. Upon first review, the governess sees Flora and Miles as two beautiful and innocent children, and enjoys her stay at the house. She describes Flora as having "angelic beauty"ÃÂ and describes Miles as having a "fragrance of purity."ÃÂ
However, her opinions begin to change following her suspicion and imagination of what may have happened to Miss Jessel, as well as Peter Quint, the master's former valet and supposed lover of Jessel's. She begins visualizing Jessel and Quint in various places. It starts with the vision of what appears to be Quint staring at her from a tower. Mrs. Grose, the housekeeper of the estate, confirms the governess's suspicion of the figure, saying it sounded like Quint, and hints that he and Miles were quite close. A short time later, the governess spots a figure across the lake where she and Flora were standing. Again, Mrs. Grose confirms her suspicion of the figure, saying it appeared to be Miss Jessel. However, both characters were already deceased, and were merely figments of the governess's imagination. She spots the two figures on several occasions, usually around the children. Nevertheless, she is the only one to ever see them. She begins to speculate that Flora and Miles are endangered by the ghosts of Quint and Jessel.
The first to be affected by the governess's psychotic imagination is Flora. The governess could not accept the fact that she was a perfectly innocent little girl, and inadvertently insisted on finding her flaws. One morning, while listening to Miles play the piano, the governess and Mrs. Grose lose sight of Flora. Immediately, the governess exclaims that she is with Miss Jessel. The two find her next to the lake. When they reach her, Flora smiles and hugs Mrs. Grose. The governess asks Flora where Miss Jessel is and then sees her directly across the lake. She points to her, but neither Flora nor Mrs. Grose sees her. Mrs. Grose says, "She isn't there, little lady, and nobody's there"ÃÂand you never see nothing, my sweet! How can poor Miss Jessel"ÃÂwhen poor Miss Jessel's dead and buried?"ÃÂ Flora burst into tears at once, crying, "Take me away, take me away"ÃÂoh, take me away from her!"ÃÂ The next morning, Mrs. Grose tells the governess that Flora has a high fever and is constantly fearful of her. The governess orders Mrs. Grose to take Flora away to London. She states that she has given up all hope for Flora, and will focus her attention to winning Miles over to her side. As of now, the governess's bringing of evil to the house is becoming very obvious. For no apparent reason, her mind has wandered so far as to experience hallucinations of the dead and to shun an "angelic and beautiful"ÃÂ eight-year-old girl. Beyond that, she now seems to have some sort of evil intentions involving Miles.
Miles is the last to be affected by the governess's psychotic imagination. Early in the story, the governess had received a letter from Miles' headmaster at school saying he had been expelled. Nevertheless, the governess could see no feasible reason for his expulsion. As the children become fond of the governess, Miles expresses that he does not wish to go back to school. However, as the governess keeps tighter surveillance on Miles, he becomes very uncomfortable. He states that he wishes to go back to school. Fearing that she will lose Miles, the governess decides to write to the master, the children's uncle, asking his opinion. After writing the letter, Flora is sent away with Mrs. Grose to London. During the disorder, Miles takes the letter. The governess notices it missing, and confronts Miles about it. He tries to elude her, but she catches him. In that same moment, she sees Peter Quint glaring through the window. The governess shrieks at Quint. Miles asks if she is shrieking at Miss Jessel, and she denies. He then asks, "It's he? Peter Quint"ÃÂyou devil! Where?"ÃÂ Miles is more or less blatantly pointing out that the governess is responsible for all evil brought to the house"ÃÂthere is nothing more evil than the devil. In a culmination of her hallucinations, the governess declares that she has Miles now and Quint has lost him forever. Miles cries out, and as the governess looks down, she realizes that his heart has stopped. She smothered him to death in her own madness.
The governess in Douglas's story is solely responsible for all evil encountered at the Bly House. The figures of Miss Jessel and Peter Quint that she saw were merely illusions. She corrupted the minds of two perfectly innocent young children, which ultimately led to their demise. She single-handedly killed Miles and tore apart a family, all because she had some eerie suspicions and a vivid imagination.