“To gaze into the depths of blue of the child’s eyes and pronounce their loveliness a trick of premature cunning was to be guilty of a cynicism in preference to which I naturally preferred to abjure my judgment and, so far as might be, my agitation.”

Following a conversation with Mrs. Grose about Miles’s relationship with Peter Quint, the governess wonders whether the children might possess proclivities towards evil but ultimately decides they’re too lovely to be guilty of any wrongdoing. That is, the governess links their outward appearances with innocence, and insists to assume otherwise is cynical. This illustrates the governess’s early naivety—whether the children are indeed innocent is perhaps less important than the governess’s assumption that they can’t possibly be, based on their beauty.

“She was there, and I was justified; she was there, and I was neither cruel nor mad. She was there for poor scared Mrs. Grose, but she was there most for Flora.”

This quote, which takes place near the end of the novel when the governess and Mrs. Grose find Flora at the lake, is a culmination of the governess’s quest to prove the ghosts exist. Thus far, it has seemed as if the ghosts appear only to the governess. Though she suspects Flora and Miles of conspiring with Miss Jessel and Peter Quint, she has been unable to verify her suspicions with someone else. That Miss Jessel would appear before Mrs. Grose renders the governess elated; she is not, as others might believe her to be, and which she might have believed herself to be, “cruel” or “mad,” and the palpable relief she feels during this moment of vindication underscores the terror inherent in being thought insane. Through Mrs. Grose ultimately reveals she doesn’t actually see Miss Jessel, the governess remains convinced of her own sanity.

“Here at present I felt afresh—for I had felt it again and again—how my equilibrium depended on the success of my rigid will, the will to shut my eyes as tight as possible to the truth that what I had to deal with was, revoltingly, against nature. I could only get on at all by 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 this quote from Chapter 22, the governess is attempting to steel herself, recognizing that the only way out is through and that she must remain calm if she is to survive her ordeal, confront the spirits, and save Miles. That she is attempting to rationalize her experience as merely a strange occurrence rather than a supernatural one speaks to the intensity of the governess’s belief that what is happening is supernatural. Knowing that the maids and men around Bly are watching her, possibly thinking her insane, she resolves to ignore the fact that the danger she and Miles are facing is “against nature” and to instead conceptualize it as a slightly odd, but no less insurmountable, problem. The phrase “turn of the screw” refers to an increase in pressure, as in the turning of a screw on a machine. The governess uses this phrasing to place what is happening to her within the confines of “ordinary human virtue,” so that she may overcome it.