The Turn of the Screw

Henry James
Characters

The Governess

Characters The Governess

Although the governess adores Miles and Flora when she first meets them, she quickly becomes suspicious of their every word and action, convinced that they hope to deceive her. She is fickle, however, and frequently switches back to being absolutely sure of their pure innocence. At these times, her affection for the children can be intense. She embraces them often and with passion, going so far as to kiss Miles. The ambiguity of the text allows these displays of affection to appear both harmless and inappropriate. Her volatile relationship with the children renders her an unreliable narrator and a dubious source of information. According to Douglas, the governess’s confidant and admirer, she is “the most agreeable person” he has ever known “in her position.” However, he says also that she was “in love,” as though this is an excuse for her behavior, which he admits is questionable. Mrs. Grose’s increasing skepticism casts doubt on the governess’s visions and fears and suggests that the governess may indeed be losing her mind.

The governess, with her overabundant concern for the children and her violent suspicions of them, may be regarded as either a heroine or a villain. On one hand, she seems to be an ambitious young woman who unwittingly places herself in a position in which she is forced to struggle heroically to protect her charges from supernatural forces. On the other hand, she seems to be a sheltered, inexperienced young woman whose crush on her employer and nervous exhaustion at being in charge of two strange children result in an elaborate and ultimately dangerous fabrication or hallucination. James provides only the governess’s side of the story, which may be inaccurate in whole or in part. In any case, the governess’s account is by no means the full account, which we never learn.